Video websites pop up, invite postings

Video websites pop up, invite postings

by Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES — Guillermo Garcia of Montreal recently took his digital camera to New York's Empire State building, shot a video clip and posted it on the new YouTube website for friends to see.
That simple transaction is something Garcia couldn't have done a year ago, unless he knew computer code and was willing to post it on a personal website, or he coughed up a monthly subscription fee for the handful of video sites that charge for their services.

Big changes in the way people shoot video — increasingly on small digital cameras instead of camcorders — and lower costs for website operators have enabled a host of start-up video sites to pop up in the last few months.


YouTube, Vimeo, Sharkle, ClipShack and all aim to be video versions of Flickr, the Yahoo-owned site that has drawn millions of people who post photographs, then discuss them.

Google's new has even bigger aspirations: to become a TV network of sorts on the Internet, offering personal footage that can be shared and TV programs that can be purchased.

Of YouTube, Garcia, a 28-year-old video-game tester, says, "I love how you can watch videos from all over the world, taken by people from almost any nationality."

The ultimate reality TV

The free video sites are similar to photo-sharing sites such as Flickr, Kodak Easyshare Gallery and Shutterfly, but with a big difference. The photo-sharing sites exist to sell prints and gifts.

The video sites, for the most part, haven't settled on how they're going to make money. Sharkle runs ads; the others are ad free.

"We put up the site to see what would happen," says Jakob Lodwick, the 24-year-old co-founder of Vimeo. He also runs the ad-supported and profitable site.

Vimeo averages 20,000 users daily. Like Sharkle, it wants to generate revenue through advertising and eventually offer "pro" subscriptions for those who want to post more than 20 megabytes a week (one or two digital camera video clips, at about 30 seconds each).

"People have a lot of different experiences out there, and they want to share them," says Chad Hurley, who started YouTube in Palo Alto, Calif., with two friends, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim. "That's what we're about. We're the ultimate reality TV, giving you a glimpse into other people's lives."

The video sites are all so new that they have yet to be tracked by Nielsen//NetRatings, which monitors online traffic.

But YouTube, by far the largest of the independent video sites, says it has more than 200,000 registered users and is showing more than 2 million videos per day. YouTube recently raised $3.5 million in funding from Sequoia Capital.

  A view of viewing sites

While the sites are free, there are limits to how much video you can put up. YouTube won't accept clips bigger than 100 megabytes — about 30 seconds of camcorder footage or 10 minutes of video from a digital camera.

This differs from paid video subscription sites such as Phanfare ($6.95 monthly) and Streamload (starts at $4.95 monthly), which offer either unlimited or more liberal usages, catering primarily to camcorder users.

What's made these new free video sites possible is a dramatic change in the way consumers make videos.

Small digital cameras have greatly improved video-capturing capabilities, and the video files are smaller and easier to share.

Thanks to digital camera video features, consumers are now shooting much more video — 34 million gigabytes' worth this year, vs. 24 million gigabytes last year, says research firm IDC.

Still, IDC analyst Chris Chute thinks it will take years for these sites to take off. He estimates that less than 10% of digital camera owners are savvy enough to take the time to sit in front of the computer and transfer video footage.

For most consumers, "It's just too time-consuming and complicated." He says companies such as Microsoft or Google could solve those problems if they make it a priority. But, he says, "I don't see it happening for quite some time."

Google Video accepts home video clips from consumers, although it's also been working with Hollywood and independent producers to put up content. Google recently struck one deal with the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to run oral histories from TV legends such as Andy Griffith and Barbara Eden alongside the amateur travel clips that make up the majority of the Google Video site.

How it works

Posting personal video footage on Google takes a lot more effort than using one of the video-sharing sites. First, users must download transfer software, then upload the clip and fill out reams of data, including the video's title, description and genre. Then Google must approve the clip, which can take a few hours — or a couple of days.

With YouTube, users sign in, type in a video's title and description, and upload. The clip goes up instantly.

The main difference between the Google Video site, and sites such as YouTube, Sharkle and Vimeo, is the community aspect. Friends can e-mail and instant message each other, and most sites have tools that make it easy to post clips to blogs.

"Blogs took off because people have something to say," says Trevor Wright, 34, Sharkle's founder. "Now, with video on blogs, we're finding that some of these amateur videographers are also pretty darn good."

The free sites have policies against pornography and copyrighted material. But since they don't screen clips, they still end up with video some might find objectionable. YouTube and Vimeo have a lot of what Lodwick calls "amateur strip-tease." Other clips feature people lip-synching songs in their own music videos, using copyrighted material.

"I don't have time to watch every clip," Lodwick says. "My policy is, if someone complains, we'll deal with it."

Wright, who gets 50 clips submitted daily, does watch them. He removes those with nudity. "We have advertising and don't want to offend our sponsors," Wright says.

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