Monday, May 1, 2006

YouTube - A contrarian view

Paul Boutin wrote today that YouTube succeded because they “made it head-slappingly easy to publish and play video clips by handling the tricky parts automatically. Umm, not quite.

I agree with Paul that they got uploading right. And they got public videos right. What they didn’t get right was sharing to a limited group. By this, I mean that we’ve been taking a bunch of short videos of the kids lately with our new camera — perfect for YouTube, which limits uploads to 100 megs. While uploading a 100 meg file can take a bit of time on a DSL connection, it’s not an eternity. The catch is when you choose whether to make your video public — which YouTube says is “recommended.”

I can only assume that they recommend it because they know the alternative is ugly. Because the videos were of my kids and we didn’t think the rest of the world should be watching voyeuristically, I chose to make the video private to my “family” and “friends” group. Bad idea.

Turns out, people you share with must already be a member of the group you share to; you can’t add them in after the fact. On this approach, I think Shutterfly has it right: once you upload content, just email invitations to people who you want to see the files. Is it absolutely secure? I suppose someone could “guess” the unique 32 digit code that would allow them in to see our pictures, but somehow I doubt it. YouTube, on the other hand, requires viewers of private videos be members — resulting in everyone we shared with having to sign up for an account (something none of them wanted).

So rather than a head-slappingly easy process, to borrow Paul’s phrase, we had a head-poundingly maddening process. And I ended up fielding more than a dozen confused emails from family and friends who couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t see our videos.

It may be that I did something wrong. I’ve gone back through the upload process, and while I think I’ve done it right, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility that I screwed up. But as someone who’s been online for 17 years, used photo sharing sites like Shutterfly for seven years, and who knows a thing or two about web services, I tend to think that the user interface is the culprit. Either they’ll get it right by making it easier to share with a select group, or someone else will step in and do so.

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