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Wikipedia Gets Ready for a Video Upgrade

The online encyclopedia is poised to let users find, edit, and embed clips.
June 19, 2009

The organization behind Wikipedia is close to launching an editable online video encyclopedia to enhance the current textual one. The hope is to revolutionize the popular reference site and goad content providers–from public broadcasters to the music industry–into allowing more video to enter the public domain.

Wiki video: Wikipedia will soon allow users to search for open-source videos and add them to existing pages.

Within two to three months, a person editing a Wikipedia article will find a new button labeled “Add Media.” Clicking it will bring up an interface allowing her to search for video–initially from three repositories containing copyright-free material–and drag chosen portions into the article, without having to install any video-editing software or do any conversions herself. The results will appear as a clickable video clip embedded within the article.

Later, Wikipedia plans to offer ways for users to search the entire Web for importable videos, and plans to provide tools to edit, add to, and reorganize the clips within the Wikipedia website, just as is now done with text.

“To have people be able to go in and annotate your video, edit your video, and improve upon it–in the same way people have been doing to your text posts–is pretty outstanding, and will create an audio-visual representation of our world that will rapidly become as definitive and collaborative as Wikipedia is in the textual world,” says Peter Kaufman, executive producer atIntelligent Television, a documentary production company in New York City that works with cultural and educational institutions, helping them bring their works online. “That may just be the holy grail.”

The initial video repository tapped by the new tool will be the Internet Archive, which holds nearly 200,000 videos, including documentaries, interviews, and oddities such as 1950s educational clips. Another source will be Wikimedia Commons, a database of more than four million media files, including many videos. (The database is maintained by the Wikimedia Foundation, which also created Wikipedia.) The third source, Metavid, is a repository of Congressional speeches and hearings. The closed-captioning text that accompanies such videos serves as a handy tagging system, and users can search for words or phrases and find the right section of a speech to import.

Key to Wikipedia’s video effort–funded partly by the Mozilla Foundation, makers of the open-source Firefox browser–is Wikipedia’s insistence that any video passing into its pages be based on open-source formats. In the future, the offerings behind the “Add Media” button will include a search function for scouring the Web for video content. The hope is that this requirement will force content holders–motivated by the desire for exposure on Wikipedia–to put their material into the public domain. “Once people see how open-source video will get much more visibility on the open Web, it will motivate the content providers to jump on board–or miss the ship,” says Michael Dale, a software engineer from Kaltura, a video startup based in New York City that is collaborating with Wikimedia on the effort.

Congress-ipedia: Among the early sources that will be tapped for video enhancements to Wikipedia pages is Metavid, an open-source repository of Congressional speeches and hearings.

The project also includes developing Web tools to create smooth methods for transferring and editing videos. When a Wikipedia editor finds relevant snippets, he will be able to preview them, and set the “in” and “out” points, without having to worry about file conversions. “Presently, the work flow is pretty atrocious” for people trying to download, convert, and edit video, says Dale, citing the notoriously confusing array of incompatible video formats now in use. With the new Wikipedia system, “people will be able to easily inject media into pages, in a way that wasn’t possible before,” he says.

Kaltura is helping develop the tools needed to simplify video importing. “It’s uploading, importation–all the things that have to happen before you can edit the files,” says Shay David, CTO and cofounder of Kaltura. The system will be publicly demonstrated for the first time this afternoon at the Open Video Conference in New York City.

Erik Moeller, deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation, says that he hopes the effort will help promote wider access to vast stores of historical material, political speeches, interviews, documentaries, and anything else that could figure into Wikipedia, the world’s seventh most popular website. “It is sad and unfortunate that the public broadcasters are not the ones leading this movement,” Moeller says. “The mission should be to do whatever they can do to maximize distribution, and I’m not seeing that right now.”

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