If there’s room for one startup in a particular niche on the Web, there’s room for 15 or 20. At least that seems to be the Net’s resurrected credo.
And in some niches, it may even be true. When it comes to online photo storage and community photo sharing, for instance, the burgeoning population of amateur digital photographers is supporting many more sites than might be apparent at first, especially given all the media attention focused on one site: Yahoo’s Flickr. There’s also Bubbleshare, Fotki, Fotolog, Funtigo, Parazz, Phanfare, Photobucket, PhotoShow, PicPix, Picturecloud, Picturetrail, Pixagogo, Riya, Shutterfly, Smugmug, Snapfish, Tabblo, Webshots, and Zooomr, to name a few.
Now the boom in photo sharing has spread to the area of video sharing. New sites have been appearing every month, creating additional outlets and content choices for consumers who are snapping up – and using – increasingly affordable digital camcorders, video-recording cell phones, and portable media players. Most of these sites are free, to boot, and offer members the ability to upload their own digital videos to personal accounts, browse and search other members’ videos, and download video files to hard drives or watch streaming-media versions.
A partial list of new entrants: AOL UnCut Video, blip.tv, Buzznet, CastPost, ClipShack, Dailymotion, Google Video, Jumpcut, Ourmedia, Revver, Streamload, Veoh, VideoEgg, Vimeo, vpod.tv, vSocial, the just-refurbished Yahoo Video, and, most popular, YouTube. And more video sites are in the works, but haven’t officially launched, including Motionbox and Wallop. (Some of these sites also store photos, and vice-versa.)
The boom in “citizen” videography and video publishing arises from both recent technological changes and larger cultural shifts induced by a decade’s exposure to the Internet. “A number of factors came together to unleash the supply and the demand at the same time,” says Jason Zajac, manager of social media at Yahoo, “the mainstreaming of broadband Internet connections, the fact that both professionals and consumers are recording digitally now, the importance of TiVo [which made time-shifting and place-shifting of video consumption easier than ever], and this whole ‘viral’ generation of young people who want to be able to use the Internet to share with the world whatever they think is cool.”
But does this explosion of supply really mean that video sharing has come into its own – and that there is meaningful, compelling content being shared and downloaded? To some extent, the numbers speak for themselves. YouTube, for instance, is the 18th-most-trafficked site on the Web, according to the traffic-monitoring service Alexa. Every day, about three Internet users in every 100 stop there. Not bad, considering that Google, at 27 per 100, reaches only nine times more users.
But traffic statistics don’t necessarily measure the quality of visitors’ experiences. And it’s still difficult for visitors to gauge the differences between, say, YouTube and a Buzznet, Revver, or Vimeo.
The photo-sharing market has had more than five years to evolve, resulting in a variety of sites suited to different consumer needs and tastes. Flickr, for instance, appeals to “alpha geeks” who appreciate the ability to slap comments directly atop photos and label their images with metatags, while a site like Webshots has a county-fair, family-oriented feeling.
But the universe of video sharing is still poorly differentiated. All the sites offer consumers ways to participate in the growing culture of “social media” – the outburst of conversations and communities around user-contributed content, such as photos, videos, podcasts, and blogs. But their features are also largely the same, which was true of most photo-sharing sites back in 1999.