Websites and blogs are a fine way of sharing news, but the world of Web 2.0 is about stimulating multiple sensory organs and sharing your ‘views’ with others in quite a literal sense. Thanks to sites such as Flickr, PBase, Picasa, Metacafe and, of course, YouTube, photos and video clips have become as easy to upload and broadcast as the written word. In their most basic form, these services give us the means to share photos or home movies with family and friends, but on the larger scale they enable a kind of amateur, collaborative broadcast (look out for our feature on pod-casting next week!) These sites offer space to upload your media to their servers, and a range of tools with which to define who can see it and how they do so. These are more than basic Web galleries, however; you can accompany images or videos with text and categorise them via a system of intelligent, updateable metatags.
You can then collect them in albums, blogs or your own TV-style channels. When your collections reach a wider audience than your friends and family, that audience may need a way to have their say. They can comment, rate, or even add further metadata so yet others will find their way to your handiwork. It’s this social aspect that makes the web 2.0 world so compelling; if enough people see and like what you do, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get your 15 minutes of fame – if that’s what you are after.
The technology behind these sites is generally standard (and standards-compliant) such as Flash, PHP, MySQL, Java or Perl. On YouTube or Metacafe, you don’t even need to worry about file format conversions or plug-in viewers; the website does it all for you. You also get space on a server that can handle thousands of concurrent users, ease of use and having a high-profile platform from which to operate; YouTube receives an estimated 72 million visitors each month.
For the service providers, the kickbacks vary. The photo-sharing service Pbase relies on subscriptions, while Flickr, Metacafe and YouTube work on advertising models, offering the service for free but earning revenue from embedded adverts. In some cases, content producers get their own cut. Metacafe’s rewards system means producers of successful videos can earn thousands of dollars.
Content sharing is a huge Web 2.0 growth area, and the long-established Internet players have been keen to get involved. Flickr is now part of the Yahoo empire while Microsoft is trialling its own YouTube-style service, MSN Soapbox. However, copyright issues are the thorns in the rosebush. Within weeks of YouTube’s appearance, users had started to upload TV shows, music videos and movies, and Hollywood was quick to respond. Google bought YouTube last October and even though they may have anticipated lawsuits like the one that Viacom has brought, with more than 100 million clips viewed each day, the potential ad revenue is huge. Universal Music is known to be taking legal action against similar video-sharing sites, Grouper.com and Bolt.com.