Video is an extremely effective way to communicate with others—whether the video is a demo of your startup’s new product, a video blog of your opinions on the latest iPod, or just footage from your daughter’s birthday party for the grandparents who couldn’t make the trip.
But how can you easily share your video with the world once it’s ready? Even if you have your own Web site, those large files require lots of storage and bandwidth. So why not let someone else do the hard work for you?
Sharing is good
Sharing your videos on sites such as YouTube offers more advantages than hosting your own videos.
Low Cost or Free Providing sufficient server space and bandwidth for every user who downloads large video files can be expensive. Most video-sharing sites pick up the entire tab, and even do the encoding work for you (saving you from having to buy video-encoding software).
Built-In Audience If you post a video to your own Web site, only people who already visit the site and those to whom you send the link might watch it. In comparison, many video-sharing sites will promote related videos together, so your video can catch the attention of people browsing. And most sites let viewers subscribe to your videos and receive an alert when you add a new one.
Compatibility A lot of video-sharing sites encode video in Flash format, which almost all Web browsers support by default. The primarily photo-oriented site SmugMug streams video in H.264 format, which iPhone and iPod touch users can access—expanding your reach that much further.
Worry-Free If your video suddenly becomes as popular as OKGo’s “Here It Goes Again” (performed on treadmills), you don’t want to be hosting that file on your own Web server. Heavy viewing greatly strains your site and can even bring the whole thing down—not to mention draw the ire of your ISP or Web hosting service. Even if you’re not operating your own server, you can run into monthly bandwidth-usage limits. Video-sharing sites balance the load and handle the traffic for you.
Drawbacks To get all these wonderful features, however, you must give up something—and that’s usually control. Many video players from these sites are branded with the logo of the sharing site. And you never know what kind of related videos will be promoted on the same page as your video. Sites such as Vimeo offer a family-friendly viewing option, so an inappropriate link won’t show up on your video’s page. Still, your video may end up grouped with videos you don’t want it to be associated with.
The features you get also vary greatly from site to site. Size restrictions are a big drawback on some sites. MySpace, Yahoo Video, You-Tube, and others limit each file to 100MB, roughly ten minutes at 640-by-480-pixel resolution. Other sites such as Google Video and Vimeo impose no size limits. And some sites, such as blip.tv, aren’t as tolerant of video commercials.
Playback quality also differs from site to site—YouTube plays all movies at 320 by 240 pixels, no matter what resolution you upload. Other sites, such as blip.tv, use 640 by 480, and some (SmugMug and Vimeo) even play back high definition files at resolutions as high as 1,280 by 720.
Learning to share
All the sites I checked out make it easy to upload video via a Web-based tool; and some, such as Google Video and Veoh, have a desktop program that makes it faster to upload video—ideal when you’re talking about very large files. Generally, as you upload a video, you give it a title, a description, and tags (keywords)—which the sites use for searches and to suggest your video to people watching similar videos. On many sites you can make a file private.
Encoding Once you’ve uploaded the video, the site encodes it into Flash or another format. This can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour for a short clip, depending on the site—longer clips take longer to encode.
Getting Found After encoding, the video is available for others to watch. People can stumble upon your video through a search or by browsing the page of related video, but in most cases you’ll get the best exposure by sharing the video link through e-mail blasts and embedding the video on your site—follow the instructions on the site you choose if you want to embed files.
Who’s Watching? To keep tabs on your video’s popularity, sites track the number of times people view it. Some sites, like blip.tv, let you drill down further, showing views per day and how viewers came across your video.
Making Money The traffic you generate can earn you cash on some sites. YouTube, blip.tv, Revver, and others will tack ads onto your video if you choose, and then share the revenue with you. You’ll need to get a lot of views to earn money, though. On Revver, the measly 24 views my video garnered didn’t earn me a cent.
If you’re seeking an easy outlet for your videos, you may already have one in .Mac or iWeb. These two options work fine if all you want to do is send your friends a link to the video. But you’ll miss out on the built-in audience on sites like YouTube, where thousands of people may see your clip and become fans. You’ll also miss out on the ability to embed the video on other sites.
I determined that two sites provide the most for a variety of users: blip.tv and Vimeo.
For Small Businesses Blip.tv’s powerful statistical tools and ad-revenue sharing options make it a natural fit for a small business that wants to add video to its site. The customizable, embedded player lets you remove much of the blip.tv branding, too. In addition, you can impose copyright restrictions on a video, choosing from a number of copyright options.
For Personal Use If you just need to post a video so you can send a link to your family or friends, you want the process to be free and easy. Vimeo nails both of those qualities, and offers a few extras as well. With its stylish design, the site makes your videos look even better. The site is excellent at keeping you posted on the progress of uploading. You can also designate your video as private, so random people won’t chance upon it.
For Bloggers If you’re looking to add video to your blog, you need an embedded player. The best one for you will depend on your tastes, really. If you use one of the big blogging sites to host your blog, you may already have such a player—Blogger has its own branded version of Google Video, for example. But if you want more control, blip.tv’s embedded player lets you customize links and text that appear on the player, as well as colors, size, and more. And although Vimeo’s player isn’t as flexible, it makes adjusting size and color dead simple.
Elephant in the room
Obviously you can’t ignore YouTube if you’re talking Web video, because it has something that the others can’t match: lots of eyeballs. Luckily there’s a service that makes choosing a single site irrelevant. With TubeMogul, you upload your video just once, to the service’s site. You provide your login information for as many as 11 video-sharing sites—including Google Video, MySpace, and YouTube—and TubeMogul will submit your video to all the sites simultaneously. Once you get the hang of it, there’s no better way to mass-distribute your video masterpiece. It’s free for up to 150 submissions per month, and you can get more submissions and tools for a fee.
[Michael Gowan is a North Carolina–based writer who thinks video on the Web is superneat.]
[Updated on 5/28/08 at 1:06 PDT to indicate that Vimeo has a 500MB per week upload limit]