If you’re looking to watch people play games live there’s really only one place to look: Twitch. It started out its life as the bastard stepchild of Justin.tv, a streaming platform for all things, however it quickly outgrew its parent and at the start of last year the company dumped the original product and dedicated itself wholly to Twitch. Various other streaming apps have popped up in its place since then but none have been able to hold a candle to Twitch’s dominant position in the game streaming market. The one platform that could however has just announced YouTube Gaming which has the potential to be the first real competitor to Twitch in a very long time.
Whilst the product isn’t generally available yet, slated to come out sometime soon, it has already made its way into the hands of many journalists who’ve taken it for a spin. The general sentiment seems to be that YouTube has essentially copied the fundamental aspects of Twitch’s streaming service, mostly in regard to the layout and features, whilst adding in a couple of additional things which serve as bait to attract both streamers and consumers to the platform. Probably the most interesting aspects of YouTube’s platform are the things that are missing from it, namely the subscription payment system, alongside the dreaded ContentID system which will be in full force on all streams.
The main thing that will draw people to YouTube’s streaming service however is most likely the huge infrastructure that YouTube is able to draw on. YouTube has already demonstrated that it can handle the enormous amounts of traffic that live streaming can generate as they currently hold the world record for most number of streams at 8 million for the Felix Baumgartner jump back in 2012. Twitch, despite its popularity, has experienced numerous growing pains when it has attempted to scale up its infrastructure outside of the US and many have pined for a much better service. YouTube, with the Google backbone at its disposal, has the potential to deliver that however I’m not sure if that will be enough to grab a significant share of this market.
Twitch has, for better or for worse, developed a kind of culture around streaming games and has thus set a lot of expectations for what they’d want in a competing streaming product. YouTube Gaming gets most of the way there with the current incarnation of the product however the absence of a few things, like an IRC backend for chat and the paid subscriptions, could end up being the killer features that keep people away from their platform. The former is easy enough to fix, either by adopting IRC directly or simply providing better tools for managing the chat stream, however the latter isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Sure, YouTube has their one off payment system but that runs against the current community norms and thus will likely not see as much use. That then feeds into a monetization problem for streamers which is likely to deter many from adopting the platform.
All that being said however it’s good to see some competition coming to this space as it should hopefully mean more fierce innovation from both parties as they vie for more marketshare. YouTube Gaming has a massive uphill battle ahead of it if however if anyone has the capability to fight Twitch on their own ground it’s them. The next 6 months will be telling as it will show just how many are willing to convert away from the Twitch platform and whether or not it will become a sustainable product for YouTube long term.
Flash, after starting out its life as one of the bevy of animation plugins for browsers back in the day. has become synonymous with online video. It’s also got a rather terrible reputation for using an inordinate amount of system resources to accomplish this feat, something which hasn’t gone away even in the latest versions. Indeed even my media PC, which has a graphics card with accelerated video decoding, struggles with Flash, it’s unoptimized format monopolizing every skerrick of resources for itself. HTML5 sought to solve this problem by making video a part of the base HTML specification which, everyone had hoped, would see an end to proprietary plug-ins and the woes they brought with them. However the road to getting that standard widely adopted hasn’t been an easy one as YouTube’s 4 year road to making HTML5 the default shows.
Google had always been on the “let’s use an open standard” bandwagon when it came to HTML5 video which was at odds with other members of the HTML5 board who wanted to use something that, whilst being more ubiquitous, was a proprietary codec. This, unfortunately, led to a deadlock within the committee with none of them being able to agree on a default standard. Despite what YouTube’s move to HTML5 would indicate there is still no defined standard for which codec to use for HTML5 video, meaning that there’s no way to guarantee that a video you’ve encoded in one way will be viewable by HTML5 compliant browsers. Essentially it looks like a format war is about to begin where the wider world will decide the champion and the HTML5 committee will just have to play catch up.
YouTube has unsurprisingly decided to go for Google’s VP9 codec for their HTML5 videos, a standard which they fully control. Whilst they’ve had HTML5 video available for some time now as an option it never enjoyed the widespread support required in order for them to make it the default. It seems now they’ve got buy in from most of the major browser vendors in order to be able to make the switch so people running Safari 8, IE 11, Chrome and (beta) Firefox will be given the Flash free experience. This has the potential to set up VP9 as the de facto codec for HTML5 although I highly doubt it’ll be officially crowned anytime soon.
Google has also been hard at work ensuring that VP9 enjoys wide support across platforms as there are already several major chip producers whose System on a Chip (SoC) already supports the codec. Without that the mobile experience of VP9 encoded videos would likely be extremely poor, hindering adoption substantially.
Whilst a codec that’s almost entirely under the control of Google might not have been the ideal solution that the Open Source evangelists were hoping for (although it seems pretty open to me) it’s probably the best solution we were going to get. I have not heard of the other competing standards, apart from H.264, having such widespread support as Google’s VP9 does now. It’s likely that the next few years will see many people adopting a couple standards whilst the consumers duke it out in the next format war with the victor not clear until it’s been over for a couple years. For me though I’m glad it’s happened and hopefully soon we can do away with the system hog that Flash is.
Twitch.tv started out as the bastard child of Justin.tv, a streaming website that wanted to make it easy for anyone to stream content to a wider audience. Indeed for a long time Twitch felt like something of an after thought as divesting part of an already niche site into another niche didn’t seem like a sound business maneuver. However since then Twitch has vastly outgrown its parent company becoming the default platform for content streamers around the world. The sponsorship model it has used for user’s channels has proven to be successful enough that thousands of people now make their living streaming games, giving Twitch a sustainable revenue stream. This hasn’t gone unnoticed of course and rumours are starting to circulate that Google will be looking to purchase them.
The agreement is reported to be $1 billion all cash deal, an amazing deal for the founders and employees of Twitch. The acquisition makes sense for Google as they’ve been struggling to get into the streaming market for a long time now with many of their attempts drawing only mild success. For the Twitch community though there doesn’t appear to be any direct benefits to speak of, especially considering that Google isn’t a company to let their acquisitions just do their own thing. Indeed if this rumour has any truth to it the way in which Google integrates Twitch into its larger platform will be the determining factor in how the brand grows or ultimately fails.
At the top of the list of concerns for Twitch streamers is the potential integration between YouTube’s ContentID system and the Twitch streams. Whilst most of the games that are popular on Twitch are readily endorsed by their creators (like League of Legends, DOTA2, World of Warcraft, etc.) most of them aren’t, something which has seen content producers and game developers butt heads multiple times over on YouTube. With the Twitch platform integrated into YouTube there’s potential for game creators to flag content they don’t want streamed something which is at odds with the current Twitch community ethos. If not handled correctly it could see much of Twitch’s value evaporate after they transition across to YouTube as arguably most of it comes from its wide community, not the technology or infrastructure powering it.
On the flip side though Twitch has been known to suffer from growing pains every time a popular event happens to grace its platform, something which Google could go a long way to fixing. Indeed that would likely be the only thing that Twitch has to gain from this: a global presence without the need to invest in costly additional infrastructure. If Google maintains Twitch as a separate, wholly owned brand then this could be of benefit to both of them as a more stable and available platform is likely to drive user numbers much quicker than Twitch has been able to do previously.
We’ll have to see if this rumour turns out to be true as whilst I wouldn’t begrudge Twitch taking the cash the question of what Google will do with them is what will determine their future. Whilst the combination of Twitch chat and YouTube comments sounds like the most unholy creation on the Internet since /b/ there is potential for both Twitch and Google to gain something from this. Whether that’s to the benefit of the community though remains to be seen.
The old saying goes that when you have a hammer all your problems look like nails. I first heard this saying quite late in my life, during a university lecture with one of my more inspired professors. He used it after describing one of his former classes who, enamoured with the latest and greatest chip from Motorola, sought to use it to solve every assignment they were given no matter how much shoehorning it took. The example is counter to all the proper engineering principles you should be taught in university as you should first gather requirements to solve your problem and then find a solution, never the other way around. This also implies a level of critical thinking when tackling any problem rather than rushing in head first in an attempt to solve the problem.
In my career however the opposite has proven to be true more often than it should be. Working on the supply side of the equation whenever a customer came to me with a problem I could do nothing but suggest our product as a solution, lest I gain the ire of my supervisors. Jumping the fence to the other side (where I’ve spent the vast majority of my career) many “skilled” system administrators have one technology they know well and will never stray from that path. Depending on how much sway they have with the decision makers you can end up in quite the mess when all your problems are only half solved by an inappropriate product. Just ask anyone who’s tried to implement SAP or maintain Lotus Notes.
The same can be said for social networking tools. The serivce of choice today is Facebook whether you like it or not as they have the most users and therefore has the highest potential usefulness out of any the applications out there. For many people then Facebook is the medium with with they will communicate with the outside world and those be damned who don’t check their feed regularly to keep up to date with them. In essence Facebook has become their hammer to all their online problems and whilst it does a good job at solving quite a few problems it’s not the be all and end all of social based tools.
As of right now I’d consider myself an active user of at least 4 (well 5 if you include this blog) different social tools that all serve very different purposes. The first is of course Facebook which I use primarily for things that concern my direct social circle. Sharing pictures, video and anything else with friends and family is so much easier when I can just tell them to look at my wall rather than trying to explain how to view them elsewhere (even the gallery on this blog was far too confusing for many of my family). The second is Twitter which I find perfect for putting out those short updates that used to constitute my Facebook status updates. The difference is that anything I put on Twitter I want to be public whereas Facebook status updates aren’t usuallyfor general viewing. Of course I have the two interlinked but that’s purely for convenience sake, since not all of my friends have a Twitter account, nor do the majority that do actually use it.
The last two are Foursquare and YouTube. Now neither of these tools have a good chunk of my social circle in them but they both still solve a particular problem, even if it isn’t that big of a deal. Foursquare was (and still is really) a curiosity, something I got into after hearing gobs about about it and wondering what the hell all the fuss is about. Realistically all I was doing with it was appeasing my inner hipster that craves to be in on something before it gets cool and my use of Foursquare reflects that. YouTube on the other hand is something that I’ve come to appreciate after diving into the community a little more and getting a feel for the whole thing operates. In the future I’ll be using it to chronicle my various adventures overseas and product demos for my up and coming products, something it appears to be aptly suited for.
Every one of these tools I’ve described has some overlap with each other but for the most part none of the overlap is their core focus. Facebook could quite easily replace YouTube as a platform for disseminating videos amongst the wider public but it just not as good as YouTube. I could use Twitter to distribute pictures to my friends (and I do from time to time) but without Facebook integration most of them would go completely unnoticed. Each of these tools has a very specific purpose in mind and that’s why I’ll continue to use most of them.
This idea that a specific tool designed to solve a certain problem is what drove me to create Geon in the first place. Being able to go to a location and find out what’s going on there whether by viewing the information available or asking someone in the area isn’t solved by any of the currently available tools. Sure there are similar products (and one that if you didn’t know any better would swear was in fact Geon built by someone else) but they all go about it in a way that I don’t believe actually addresses the issue. Thus I have resigned myself to build the hammer to hit this particular nail, and in that hopefully build something of worth for everyone else.
Does this mean I think everyone should be using a raft of different services to do everything? Hell no. For the most part tools that accomplish several things work quite well for those who don’t have the time nor want to use other more appropriate for the task at hand. Thankfully this usually means that they just use Facebook which has done a good job of levelling out the learning curve on new features. Still for those of us who have specific use cases in mind there are tools available that will accomplish our goals much more efficiently, rather than bashing our heads against our platform of choice to get it to work the way we want it.
It really should come as no surprise that anything a large corporation does is usually done in their best interests. By definition their existence is centered around increasing profit for their respective shareholders within the bounds of the law and operating outside that definition will in turn make your company not long for this world. Still we manage to suspend disbelief for certain companies which have qualities we aspire to but make no mistake they are in the end driven primarily by motives of profit. Nearly all other secondary activities are conducted to further their primary directive, even if on the surface they don’t appear that way.
Take for instance the current web standards warthat’s brewing between Apple and Adobe. Whilst both companies would have you believe that their stance is the only answer to the problem the fundamental issue that they face is not one of ubiquitous web standards, more it is about control over the future of the Internet and who will be the dominant player. I’m on record as stating that Adobe will win out thanks to its current market penetration and support from many big players. It’s no secret that Google is more on Adobe’s side in this war than Apples, as a recent post from one of their (well their subsidiary) employee states:
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about whether or not the HTML5 <video> tag is going to replace Flash Player for video distribution on the web. We’ve been excited about the HTML5 effort and <video> tag for quite a while now, and most YouTube videos can now be played via our HTML5 player. This work has shown us that, while the <video> tag is a big step forward for open standards, the Adobe Flash Platform will continue to play a critical role in video distribution.It’s important to understand what a site like YouTube needs from the browser in order to provide a good experience for viewers as well as content creators. We need to do more than just point the browser at a video file like the image tag does – there’s a lot more to it than just retrieving and displaying a video. The <video> tag certainly addresses the basic requirements and is making good progress on meeting others, but the <video> tag does not currently meet all the needs of a site like YouTube:
Cast your mind back 15 years, what was the most common way to get into contact with someone? Your answer was probably a land line telephone as the Internet was still low in its adoption rates and sending letters was starting to feel a little antiquated. Additionally faxing was beginning to take over as the de facto standard for sending documents around the globe further cementing the telephone as the goto means for trying to communicate with someone. The alternatives where thin on the ground and realistically if you wanted to send a message to a large, multi-national audience you’d have to shell out some serious coin to get that done. Today however it seems that no matter who you are or who you want to talk to there’s already infrastructure in place to facilitate your desire to communicate and with that comes some interesting problems for those who used to dominate the international communications space.
This blog is a great example of just one of these forms of communication. Realistically if I wanted to write about things on a daily basis to a decent sized audience my options were fairly limited. Usually I’d have to have some kind of journalistic cred in order to get myself a daily column and that would also subject me to being under an editor. I could have wrote everything up, printed out thousands of copies and then hung them all over the place but that would be both time and cost prohibitive. Today I can reach a daily audience of dozens of people all for the cost of an hours work, an Internet connection and a bit of electricity to power my home server. If I was so inclined I could eliminate most of those costs by moving to a hosted solution, but I like tinkering too much to do that 😉
For the most part though I know that blogs don’t suit everyone, especially the kind of style that I’ve adopted for myself. Writing a post a day can seem like a chore to most people and if you’re like me you’re not prone to fits of creative inspiration often leading me on a frustrating hunt for something to write about. Additionally many people were already happy with their more traditional forms of communication and saw no need to start up a blog or similar to communicate to their intended audience.
Many of the new forms of communication are based around making the more traditional forms of mass communication (television, radio, newspapers, etc) much more accessible to the everyman. Primarily we have the Internet to thank for this as its pervasiveness opens up the largest potential audience for any content that you might dare to distribute. The rapid change from traditional media to the current user centric Internet experience has seen many corporations playing a game of catch up to make the most of this new medium with many just being outright hostile to what they perceive as being a threat to their bottom line. I can’t say that I blame them as any good corporations main goal is to maximize its profit for its shareholders but realistically if you’re trying to fight a fundamental change to your business model rather than adapt to it you’re not long for the technological world. There’s already a dozen hungry start ups that would be willing to take your place.
On the flip side though the various means of communication can be a bit of a curse. Although there is always a dominate player in the respective field the success of any new form of communication means there will be multiple players, all with their own distinct set of benefits. Ultimately this leads to a fragmented audience meaning either you attempt to cover off all your bases to hit the largest audience possible (exponentially increasing your work) or just target one potentially segregating off a large audience. In the end though content is still king and if you do good work people will overlook the medium in which its delivered.
What all this means for the everyman is that no matter who you are, what your message is or who your audience is there’s probably already a form of communication that’s perfectly suited to you. Want to start a TV show? Get a YouTube channel. Feel like exposing every little nuance of your life to the Internet? Get a Twitter account. Have aspirations of being a journalist but don’t want to do the training but hope that some technology/gaming/space big shot will see your potential and then pay you to write for them? Get off my territory and start a blog somewhere else boy! 😉 The traditional content gatekeepers no longer apply for those of us lucky to live in the age of the Internet, where those who wish to express themselves and their audience is only separated by a few clicks and bit of bandwidth.
I’ve had a strange relationship with the world’s largest video sharing site. Way back when it debuted in early 2005 I was still one of those unfortunate people who was rocking blazing fast 56k dial up, due to my remote location. If I wanted to watch any videos on the site I’d have to stop all browsing actions for a good 30 minutes while the darn thing loaded, so for the better part of 2 years I ignored the site completely. I only started using the site after I got a reasonable form of broadband after moving into Canberra, but even then I still wasn’t a big user of it. At the start of the year however I started to notice it’s market pull with a lot of media giants and startups, and I’ve been an avid user ever since.
Primarily what caught my eye was the YouTube Partner program which is basically Google Adsense for videos. If you’re successful in applying to be a partner you get a cut of the ad revenue that your videos generate. The caveat is of course that you have somewhat of a proven record in making videos that people actually watch so for the most part the partner program is free of spammers attempting to get in to make a quick buck and the quality of YouTube partners content remains fairly high. There’s also been some perks like most partners getting a free Nexus One if they did a video about it, which led to some very interesting clips. I guess it was also a bit of a paradigm shift for me as well since I didn’t really know that anyone could generate revenue from the site, save for sponsorships and external sales.
What really got me interested however was the common thread amongst the top YouTubers: they’re almost all just individuals or small independent groups. Really this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as the YouTube grew on the backs of users who submitted content to it so it makes sense that the community creates its starlets from within its own ranks. Still the marketing power of viral videos has been known for quite some time so it still seems a bit odd that most corporations aren’t ranking too highly as you would think they’d try everything to break into this platform. There is one notable exception however in Universal Music Group who owes their success to their acquisition of VEVO and the two starlets they dug out of this social network (Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga).
So the question remains, do corporations actually understand YouTube?
From what I’ve seen on the various “news” channels that focus on YouTube events it would seem that as a whole the YouTube community is rather hostile to traditional corporate entities. This phenomena isn’t limited to YouTube either as other social networking sites like Twitter seem to shy away from the big organisations and gravitate more towards real people. Take for instance the (rather short lived) backlash that President Obama got hit with when he publicly admitted that he’d never used Twitter, despite the fact that he had a verified account in his name. It would seem then that corporations are doomed to flounder in these new social mediums because, to the communities, they’re not part of their social circle.
Taking a step back for a second though you can see why things like viral video marketing began to take off. Faced with the prospect that such large communities will actively reject any of their advances corporations began looking for more innovative ways to sneak their advertising under the community’s radar. Whilst sponsored videos from community starlets work to a point people are quick to label people sell-outs, thereby diminishing a starlets marketing potential over time. Developing a video that appeals to the community yet does not make reference to the product or service you’re attempting to market will hopefully help it sneak under it under the radar and if its good enough you’ll have a flurry of people searching to figure out what its all about, and there your product will be.
Realistically I think most corporations that are seeking to use YouTube understand it completely, and that’s why many of them are maintaining a presence there but don’t spend a lot of time trying to break into the community. There’s notable exceptions of course that have managed to strike the balance between being a community member and a corporation but for the most part the YouTube community remains dominated by people like you and me. Personally I like it that way as it gives people the opportunity to work on a global scale without having to have the resources of a global company, and history has shown just how powerful a large community like YouTube can be in propelling people from the unknown to the spotlight.
As for myself? I have some plans to start something on YouTube just for fun, but I’ve got a couple other projects to knock over before I do. Stay tuned 😀
If there’s one defining feature about Web 2.0 is that the focus shifted from one way information delivery to user centered interactions. Primarily I’d attribute this to the resulting fallout from the dot-com crash that fostered an environment for innovators to rise from the ashes of the former Internet giants. Such companies didn’t have the built in following that the companies that preceded them did so their best bet for success was to focus on drawing users into their various services. Once it became the in thing to be big on the Internet we saw the explosion of user centric services we see today and the current starlets of the Web 2.0 stage are of course the social networks.
Owing their success to people’s inate desire to belong and a non-obvious competetion element (read: the friend/follower/whatever counts) the social networks started out as just that, a place for you to keep in touch with real world friends. However as their popularity grew they inevitably attracted the attention of big business who, after many years no longer had the bitter after-taste of the dot-com crash in their mouths, saw a large and as of yet untapped market. From there it wasn’t very long before the user centric service became yet another essential part of every marketing campaign known to man, save for the few who see the social web as a passing fad.
For the most part though this actually increases the allure of social networks for most people. The fact that there’s even a tenuous connection between you and the celebrity du jour or your favourite company, whether it be following them on Twitter or becoming a fan of them on Facebook, gives the Web 2.0 generation that same sense of belonging that they craved when they first joined their social networks. This also works well for the other side of the equation too (the celebrities, Internet starlets et al) as there is little disconnection between themselves and their fans, meaning that they are much more able to command the attention of their audience. When your audience numbers aren’t big enough for you to command your own research and marketing teams social networks become your lifeline to staying in touch with your audience and hopefully keeping them on as fans.
However after using the top tier of social networks for a couple years I’ve started to notice an interesting yet puzzling trend. For the most part people will usually settle on their network of choice which is largely centered around what their highest percieved value of said network is. For the wide majority the pervasiveness of Facebook amongst a wide demographic makes it the best for connecting with friends. Others crave the constant stream of consciousness that is Twitter whilst some may just prefer to see videos from a select bunch of people, thus gravitating towards Youtube. For those on the other side of the equation, those looking to exploit the ability to capture an audience, it seems that you can’t be as choosy with your social networks. You’ve basically got to be on all of them.
Readers of this blog may or may not know the many different ways I promote it, but I know how many of you come through my different channels. Taking a gander of my Google Analytics reveals that about 11% of you have this site bookmarked (or type the address in manually every time, you sadists!), 9% come from Facebook and a mere 2.5% come from links on Twitter. The vast majority of people who get here come through searches, just under 50%. But as many marketer’s will tell you ignoring the long tail can be quite foolish and that is the exact reason why I’m publishing myself through all of those mediums (hey come on I never made it much of a secret that I thought this blog would be my shot at Internet fame and fortune :P).
For many of the current generation of Internet starlets they are in the exact same position. The place that I see this being most prevelent is on Youtube with every single big channel littered with links to follow them on Twitter and fan them on Facebook. They know that if they deliberately abstain from being available through these mediums they’re losing a potential audience. Never mind that the content that they delivered is what made them popular in the first place the fact that someone doesn’t participate in a certain social medium says more than “I can’t be bothered” to the social networking crowd. They would seem to take it as you don’t really care about them, almost tantamount to ignoring them in public.
Partially this is what spurred my current conquest of aggregating a whole lot of information from across the Internet. Whilst I’m under no delusions that I will be the next big thing on the Internet I’m finding more and more that the delivery of information doesn’t seem to matter as much as the people and places that it is coming from. Whilst I’m still aghast to calling my current project a social network (although I will admit I’m about to cave on that point) the high value information streams come from said networks. Thank the Web 2.0 gods for the mantra of being open and accessible or I probably wouldn’t be working on the application at all.
I guess what I’m really getting at here is that the segmentation of social networks would on the surface appear to be capturing different markets when in reality it’s just the same market duplicated several times over. Hats off to them for doing it though as traditional industry couldn’t of fathomed capturing the same market 3 times over but it feels like there’s so much duplication of effort for little benefit.
Maybe it’s the engineer in me seeing redundancy when its not needed that has lead to this feeling of wasted effort but every time I see those familiar icons on the side of a blog or whatever page to link up via various social networks I always twinge a little inside. We live in an age where information is so accessible yet we seem intent on erecting walled gardens everywhere that serve no purpose but to make dissemination of that information harder than it needs to be. Maybe I’m wrong and the simple act of providing an aggregate interface to all these services will change people’s view of such networks, but if that’s the case I’m one genius kid in a garage away from being over taken as the aggregator to use on the Internet.