March 21, 2011

Six years ago today, a video revolution was born

An early screenshot from

How an era was born: Ourmedia, YouTube & grassroots media

JD LasicaIt’s hard to fathom now, but six years ago YouTube, free video hosting and democratic video sharing didn’t exist. Then, six years ago today, burst onto the scene and helped launch a video revolution.

The “media” part of social media has become so engrained in our culture in such a short time that it’s worth looking back at how quickly things have changed — and why it matters. (Given that the early history of the Internet is withering away, I’ll try to be as detailed as possible.)

At the Supernova conference in June 2004, Marc Canter, one of the pioneers of Internet media and a true character in the startup world, and I had a long talk about the need for a free online service to host video and rich media, which we saw as the next stage of the Internet’s evolution. I was spending time among creatives like digital storytellers and video producers who had created amazing stories that were locked away in people’s computers with no way to share them. Marc had already carved out a reputation as the go-to geek for creating online communities with open standards.

And so we envisioned a site that would host thousands, and eventually millions, of amateur works: grassroots videos, podcasts (just invented), independent films, photo and art galleries, Flash animations, video diaries, documentary journalism, home-brew political ads, music videos, children’s tales, student films, multimedia presentations and more. The site would have to be free. And the works would be stored online — forever.

It was, of course, a preposterous idea. Other video hosting sites had sprung up, but none offered free hosting and free bandwidth — something that was still awfully expensive.

Birth of a genius idea: Free video hosting & bandwidth


Dave Toole, JD Lasica, Brewster Kahle, Doug Kaye and Morty Wiggins at lunch in the Presidio.

We went to work to make it happen. This would be a public commons of shared creativity, not a closed system operated for profit. So instead of trekking to Sandhill Road for VC funding, we sat down with Brewster Kahle, the quixotic genius behind the nonprofit Internet Archive, who took the millions he made selling Alexa Internet to and poured it into an effort to archive the entirety of the World Wide Web on servers in San Francisco, the Netherlands and Alexandria, Egypt. (Think your website from the mid-‘90s is gone? Check out the Archive’s Wayback Machine.)

The Archive was then a prim, buttoned-down place for storing vetted digital collections – sort of an online version of the Library of Congress. It was, in short, a place for historians, scholars, librarians and researchers – not a place for the unwashed democratic masses.

We persuaded Brewster to open up the Archive for a six-month experiment. We would create a new site,, with a team of programmers from India and Canada. All the posts, comments and the front-end UI would take place on Ourmedia, while all the media files would live on the Archive’s servers. Ross Mayfield, meanwhile, donated a free wiki from Socialtext for about 200 volunteers from a dozen countries around the world to collaborate on the site’s front end. It was all built on Drupal, the open source publishing platform.

Yes, we came before YouTube was born

It proved to be unwieldy, chaotic, maddening – and a thing of beauty. The world’s first free media hosting site, open to anyone in any country. (While it was free to small Web publishers, we placed restrictions on large commercial operations. They already had places to serve their media; this project was intended for our media.)

Let the record show: We launched on March 21, 2005 – a month before a newcomer called YouTube opened its beta doors and two months before was born.

As I wrote at the time:

“Marc and I believe that real change in the mediasphere will only come about when millions of us pick up the tools of digital creativity. The tools are now at hand. Let’s go.”

A simple Slashdot post of two sentences on the day of our launch generated 327 comments – and knocked out our servers for half a day.

By launch, we had assembled a world-class Advisory Board: Lawrence Lessig, Doc Searls, Dan Gillmor, Howard Rheingold, the Harvard Berkman Center’s Charles Nesson, author David Bollier and Steve Rosenbaum, Leslie Rule and other luminaries. covered our launch, noting that we got 20,000 visitors in our first 24 hours. “The site is free to use and is likely to have particular appeal for video bloggers and podcasters: popular files usually mean costly data bills but Ourmedia will host files for free,” they reported. “The founders hope that the site will become a rich repository of shareable digital media including documentaries, student films, grassroots political adverts and artwork.”

Andy Carvin at Digital Divide Network (and now NPR’s social media wiz) spotted its significance right away:

Today is the official launch of, which I checked out over the weekend prior to the official launch. I can’t remember the last time a new website launch has had me so excited. The idea behind Ourmedia is really simple: it’s a community where anyone who creates online media – video blogs, podcasts, photos, you name it – can have a place where they can publish it and share it with others.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it really is an important step forward in the world of online citizen journalism. Now, you don’t need your own Web host to store that killer 50 meg video file you’ve just produced. Just become a member of Ourmedia, use their upload tool, and presto …

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April 12, 2010

GroundReport: Citizen journalism gets richer

A chat with the founder of GroundReport from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaFive years ago we launched as the first free hosting and sharing site for video and digital media (yes, before YouTube). Secretly, I wished that more of the videos, photos and text dispatches coming through the door were high-quality citizen journalism reports.

It took a few years, but citizen journalism has grown up. Exhibit A: GroundReport, a citizen journalism site with an international perspective.

Recently I caught up with founder and CEO Rachel Sterne. GroundReport is a New York-based news platform that allows anyone to submit his or her own news articles, videos and photos. The best submissions are then published. “The idea is to give anyone a chance to participate in the media,” Rachel says. “People who experience world events first-hand can give us authentic context, create more engagement around it and share their story for the world.”

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February 23, 2010

17 visionaries predict impact of social on the enterprise

Nicholas de Wolff, National Film Fes­ti­val for Tal­ented Youth: "Too many peo­ple are div­ing into the Web 2.0 and 3.0 pools before they even know with whom they are swim­ming."
Nicholas de Wolff, National Film Fes­ti­val for Tal­ented Youth:
“Too many peo­ple are div­ing into the Web 2.0 and 3.0 pools
before they even know with whom they are swim­ming.”

Social business seen as making seismic waves in marketing, sales, operations

Christopher RollysonThe adoption of Web 2.0 and social networking accelerated significantly over the past year, and it shows no sign of stopping. Global digital word of mouth is disrupting growing swaths of business models, and CEOs want to understand its opportunities and threats. Although the Web is resplendent with prognostications from social media gurus, the voices of enterprise practitioners are too rarely heard.

To remedy that, I’ve gathered the perspectives of highly experienced executives who share their thoughts on how Web 2.0 is changing their businesses and mindsets. They also share its limitations and problems. Keep in mind that each contributor wrote independently, and I have made no attempt to unify their views, although I will offer my analysis and conclusions as well as the intriguing backstory below. Here is a sampling of the group’s eclectic insights:

  • A seismic shift in marketing is emergent, and chief marketing officers will require robust strategies to succeed consistently with Web 2.0 and use it to their advantage.
  • Gamification will redefine “work” and “play” and gradually make them indistinguishable.
  • Performance demands on government will force it to shed its laggard stereotype and pioneer social business at local and federal levels.
  • Arguably the biggest disruption of all is that green energy is enabling billions of previously unconnected people to join the world as participants; China and India are two of the fastest growing economies of the world, and millions of people are jumping online every year. Infrastructure limitations are forcing extreme innovation.

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November 20, 2009

YouTube’s role in citizen journalism

Olivia Ma on YouTube as a news channel from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaDuring the recent annual conference of the Online News Association in San Francisco, I had a chance to sit down (literally on the floor) with Olivia Ma, news manager in YouTube’s News & Politics team.

YouTube is in the news again this week with the rollout of YouTube Direct, a tool to make it easy for YouTube users to submit clips that news media companies can choose to highlight. NPR, Politico, The Huffington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle are among the early participants. Scroll down to see the video explaining the program and YouTube’s announcement. (YouTube Direct was still in development when I interviewed Olivia.)

Olivia (@oliviama on Twtter — follow her!) talks about YouTube‘s astonishing growth, the birth of the YouTube Reporters Center — it’s a resource to help you learn how to report news, with instructional videos with tips and advice for better reporting from top journalists — and how YouTube has become a video platform for hundreds of US senators and congresspersons.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo
Watch the low-res transcoded version on YouTube
Watch the video on Blip

Some highlights from our conversation:

• Every 60 seconds, 20 hours’ worth of video is being uploaded to YouTube, which is equivalent to 86,000 full-length Hollywood films being uploaded every week.

• As of this past spring, the US Senate and House of Representatitves now have hubs on YouTube. Some 98 senators nearly 400 of the 435 members of the House now have YouTube pages, as well as many government agencies. “It’s amazing to see how governments around the world are starting to use this as a way to engage with their constituents,” Olivia says.

• Olivia reminds us that, with millions of people now carrying around video-enabled cellphones, Flips and Kodak Zi8s, you don’t need fancy video recording equipment to capture newsworthy or interesting moments. “Just do it,” she says. “If you’ve got the means, just start shooting video and start putting it up on the Web.”

• Some companies are still nervous about having a presence on YouTube. But Google encourages businesses to come on board. Olivia notes that YouTube now has thousands of professional content partners, ranging from Hollywood studios and tech companies to news organizations. So there should no longer be a hesitancy among online news organizations about whether you’re allowed to post to YouTube. You are.

Thanks, Olivia, for the interesting insights and for being good sport by agreeing to sit on the hallway carpet as the conference was winding down.

While I admire YouTube for all it’s doing to enable citizen media, I’m less than happy right now because I’ve tried several times to get high-def versions of my videos (including this interview with Olivia) working on YouTube, without success. So I’ll put that down as a to-do list for early December: Figure out why my standard compression settings for high-def H.264 video aren’t good enough for YouTube.

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August 13, 2009

Cali Lewis on what goes into a successful podcast

Cali Lewis of from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

The host of GeekBrief.TV also offers 7 secrets to podcasting success

JD LasicaIf you travel in technology circles, chances are you’ve heard of Cali Lewis, the extraordinarily gifted, personaable and successful Web show pioneer who hosts and co-produces GeekBrief.TV. She’s about to top 50,000 followers on Twitter at @calilewis.

Geek Brief, launched on Dec. 23, 2005, now boasts more than 600 episodes (I’ve watched most of them), done on location or at Cali and her husband Neal Campbell’s studio in Dallas. I don’t know how they keep up the pace, given the show’s high production values. Over the years in my talks on new media, I’ve often held up Cali and Geek Brief as a spot-on example of how to “break” into new media — and of how the next generation of Web video shows will look: fast-paced, interesting, fun, personality-driven, passionate and polished.

In this interview, conducted at WordCamp SF shortly before her talk, Cali discusses the genesis of Geek Brief (after 5 months, “we were done with our day jobs and began doing the show full time” — living the dream), podcasting’s place in the mediasphere (“What podcasting offers is that anybody can do it. They don’t have to be told by ABC or NBC or any radio station that they have the talent to do this. The audience is picking and choosing who is successful.”), and how she chooses which tech news to feature (new technologies that excite her and her viewers).

Social media’s role

We spent most of the interview discussing social media and how to engage an audience. The most important rule of audience participation is “you participating back,” she said. Putting questions to the users is a good technique, through Twitter, blog comments and directly on the show itself. She’s on a campaign to coax people to communicate via Twitter rather than email (“You can have a great conversation in 140 characters.”) She’s also particularly adept at using live video streaming during some of her episodes, calling it “a great way to interact.”

Her advice to those just starting out: “Think about what you want, and then just go for it!” I often echo her advice to not get tripped up by the technology. GeekBrief.TV offers some training materials on its Podcasting Tips page.

The lighting on this 9-minute video was subpar because it was bright outside and my LP-Micro fill light wasn’t up to the task.

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June 30, 2009

YouTube’s new Reporters’ Center

JD LasicaRegular readers know that covers not just social media but also citizen media — and it’s all melding together anyway into one giant conversational media ecosystem, right?

So I was gladdened to hear that Google and YouTube have taken another tentative step forward into the realm of citizen journalism with Monday’s launch of the YouTube Reporters’ Center. Above is one of the featured videos: NPR’s Scott Simon on How to Tell a Story.

YouTube has done some great work in the space with its pioneering Ask the presidential candidates a question in the CNN YouTube Debates and with its citizentube project currently documenting the turmoil in streets of Iraq.

While the pleas of some in the news profession for Google to step in and “save” the U.S. newspapers industry are downright silly, Google and YouTube are doing the smart thing by focusing on the journalism, not the underlying publishing platform, and by underscoring the need to uphold journalism values and standards instead of throwing it all on the scrapheap and starting from scratch, as all too many bloggers want to do.

Here’s a guest post by my friend Oliva Ma of YouTube’s News & Politics team announcing the new Center:

Helping you report the news

Ever captured a natural disaster or a crime on your cell-phone camera? Filmed a political rally or protest, and then interviewed the participants afterward? Produced a story about a local issue in your community? If you’ve done any of these things or aspire to, then you’re part of the enormous community of citizen reporters on YouTube — and now we’re launching a new resource to help you learn more about how to report the news.

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