Youtube got bought over by Google for a whopping $1.6 Billion (no links here – its all over the place!). Going by how popular the site has become, it was only a matter of time before one of the big guys bought it out. Congrats to them! Our company, Tekriti, started off building one of the earliest video sharing sites back in Feb-March 2005 for our first client. Ourmedia.org was launched in March 2005. YouTube came along almost 9 months later. Ourmedia had a host of video and media experts on its panel of advisors and it had (and has) a team of volunteer editors to wean out copyright content. YouTube on the other hand has the policy of letting copyright content remain online until the copyright owner objects. Ourmedia allows users to download the original high quality video while YouTube only allows online viewing of very low res. flash versions. So for a site that started with a 9 month lead, it feels like Ourmedia was a missed oppurtunity. Of course, to be clear, Ourmedia is a non-profit and making billions of dollars wasnt even the aim and it still gets significant traffic and has over 100,000 videos hosted. But the kind of popularity that Ourmedia should have seen never came along. At a personal level, it helped us get our company started and gave us the initial credibility any startup needs. So Ourmedia remains very special to me.
Looking back, I think there are some very useful lessons to be learnt:
1. Keep it simple and stupid. A lot of time was spent on defining what metadata should be captured while uploading a video. The result was this huge page (login required) with hundreds of form fields to be filled in. Even though most of those fields were optional, it was daunting for the average user to figure out this form. A simple minimalistic user interface helps!
2. Reliability is the key. Ourmedia uses the Internet Archive for storing media. This is great because it provides for free storage. But there were major problems with getting this integration to work. Essentially the video was first uploaded to Ourmedia and then copied over to the Archive using FTP. This was slow and often the servers would simply not respond. I think this is the killer feature of YouTube. It just works!
3. Focus! In my opinion, Ourmedia tried to be too many things at the same time. The site supported audio, image and text uploads along with videos. It supported forums, groups, user profiles and social networking as well. All in the alpha version. In hindsight (which, of course is 20/20), it would have been much more prudent to have done just one core feature (video upload and view) and make it work 100% of the times. Feature bloat is also a side effect of using a prebuilt platform (Drupal in the case of Ourmedia) since you seem to get so many features for “free” so you might as well add them to your site. In reality, adding a feature to an application should be driven by user demand and not by how easy it is to implement.
4. Virality. YouTube allowed embedding videos published there on other websites and blogs. This contributed in a big way to the exponential growth of YouTube. Same can be said for Flickr as well. Ourmedia did not have that viral effect because the user had to come to the website to view a video.