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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February 26, 2009

Social media meets the real world

East Bay Social Media Breakfast

JD LasicaToo often in the world of social media, we connect with each other virtually but hesitate to actually get off our duffs and interact in person. Yesterday was one small victory for face time.

At the first East Bay Social Media Breakfast, 35 of us got together to schmooze, swap ideas, discuss business and consider how to advance the social good. (Above is a photo I took of the gathering.) I was honored to be the first guest speaker.

I talked about social media and the rise of the Sharing Economy, beginning with a trip back on the Wayback Machine to February 2005 — just four short years ago — when Glenn Fleishman, a technology journalist in Seattle, was hit with a $10,000 monthly bill from his ISP because one of his videos became popular. (I’m not sure of the amount and couldn’t find it in a search but remember that an online fund-raiser was held to pay it was.) That was the way it was: create a video people want to see, and you were penalized for it.
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April 16, 2007

At Stanford’s MediaX conference

I just finished a talk, along with Dave Toole of Outhink Media, at the fifth annual MediaX conference at Stanford, being held today and Tuesday. About 300 educators and business people in the audience. (Why oh why did they have to schedule this smack in the middle of the Web 2.0 Expo? I’ll be there tomorrow and Wednesday).

From the MediaX program:

More people on earth will purchase a cell phone for the first time this year than have ever used any other electronic device in history. Web 2.0, serving the “last mile” at the last outpost on earth, participatory media creation by “smart mobs” – the information age has indeed arrived. Emergent technologies and organizations stimulate new ideas  and cause disruption, creating new tensions and opportunities. anticipating the unanticipated, reducing ambiguity to knowledge, focusing attention on the critical issues – all become essential ingredients for a world in transition.

MediaX was conceived with a strong belief that interdisciplinary perspective is crucial to better understanding and solution definition for these issues, coupled with a realization that nearly all academic research is conducted departmentally without involvement by either industry or other disciplines. our model is that MediaX industry partners provide crucial questions and modest funding for Stanford faculty and student scholar research that spans multiple disciplines. The resultant insights exemplify the best intersection of industry need and academic research,
accelerating understanding and progress on critical topics.

Ourmedia, a partner with Stanford media groups, and in the Humanities and communications departments, is proud to sponsor media X for vBlog
team collaboration. Key factors that set ourmedia apart: 1) support for video producers as well as the grassroots media community; 2) specific support for the educator community. 3) an open-media, open-standards, open-source, open registry that supports remix culture to create a space for people to mash up and remix video, audio, music and images.

Dave and I gave a presentation about Ourmedia, digital media producers, and the opportunity for us to work together with — and provide resources for — the educational and business communities.

A fascinating array of speakers here:

You likely saw Scott Burns, producer of An Inconvenient Truth, on stage at the Oscars accepting the Academy Award for best documentary. He talked about making the ground-breaking film with Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore. It’s now the third highest-grossing documentary of all time.

Roy Pea, professor of education and learning sciences at Stanford, showed off DIVE, an academic effort that’s about ready for a real-world rollout. With DIVE, users point into a streaming video with a mouse-controlled camera
viewfinder to mark interesting frames or record a movie within a movie. DIVE is the clip collection with its annotations. By selecting and annotating video segments, a user authors a POV on specific video moments.

Interesting factoid from the morning session:

Intel, HP and Cisco have 1.4 million employees globally. Three out of four employees there work on a distributed team. One in five employees has never met her supervisor face to face. Two out of three employees work on three or more teams simultaneoulsy.

Paul Brown of Stanford showed off some fascinating 3-D imagery of
mummies as well as real-world applications — such as dental patients.

B.J. Fogg, who runs the Persuasive Technology Lab and put on the Mobile Persuasion conference here two months ago and who developed online voice service YackPack: "The more you use email to manage your closest relationships, the more likely those relationships will weaken or end. Email is a poor substitute for the emotional richness in our other interactions. … It’s an inability to connect emotionally to people because of its rigid structure."

Later: Pithy quotes from Paul Saffo, the big-ideas guy who left the Institute for the Future and who calls himself a forecaster and not a futurist:

“Most ideas take 20 years to become an overnight success in the media world. …

“You create it, you own it. That’s what personal media is all about.” Personal media, in one form or another, has been around for decades, says Saffo, who uses the term more frequently than anyone other than myself.

“Cherish failure and don’t chase success. … You want to look for short-term success? Look for something that’s been failing for 20 years. Something that when people hear it they say, ‘That’s an old, tired idea.’ … Silicon Valley is built on the rubble of cherished failure.” He cited Habitat, an early online game derided by skeptics who said people don’t want to talk to each other on screen as cartoon characters. Years later, up sprang Second Life, which millions of us now use. “People say they love change. Bullshit. They’re afraid of change, they don’t like change.” Resist that impulse. “Embrace change. Change is opportunity.”

“The next big thing is not movies on a handheld. The next big thing that comes out of nowhere and blows people’s minds is robots. … Consumer robots will be everywhere, and there are going to be lots of surprises."

March 8, 2007

YouTube’s 4 big failings

I like YouTube. I really do. I use it, and credit them with blowing the doors off the grassroots video revolution by making it brain-dead simple to upload and share videos. But when author David Weinberger cited YouTube as a public commodity — "it’s ours" — it was a bit too much. I cornered David afterward, explained my objections, and he came away persuaded with a better understanding (see his comment below).

So thought I’d list the reasons why I think YouTube is partly ours — and partly not. I mentioned these points quickly in my talk today at the NewComm Forum.

• YouTube doesn’t let you download videos. You can only stream them by watching videos on the YouTube site. (Every video on Ourmedia, and some other sites like, can be downloaded.)

• YouTube doesn’t allow Creative Commons-licensed videos. (Ourmedia does.)

• YouTube doesn’t let video producers create social groups or communities in any meaningful way.

• YouTube doesn’t let you watch videos in the (higher-quality) format chosen by the video producer. (Ourmedia does.)

And I didn’t even mention the hundreds of thousands or millions of copyright violations on the site.

The site’s appeal can’t be understated — 60 percent of video watched on the Web takes place on YouTube. All I’m saying is that YouTube isn’t the end of the story. Sites like Blip, Revver and Ourmedia deserve a look, too.

Related: The Digital TV Weblog: YouTube doesn’t get it.

February 10, 2007

Ourmedia: Almost 2 years old

Next month it’ll be two years since Marc Canter and I started with what then was an outlandish idea: giving free hosting and bandwidth to regular people — a place where they could store and show off their videos and other media for free. Now, with 270-plus video hosting sites out there and the YouTube boys $1.65 billion richer, the idea seems like a no-brainer, but it was a bit of a shot in the dark at the time. We still have a lot of wrinkles to iron out, since we don’t have Google’s bank account behind us, but we’re making progress again, especially with our Learning Center and Open Media Directory.

Andy Carvin, who heads up NPR’s new media strategy, cornered me at Web 2.0 two days ago and just posted this video interview with me about Ourmedia, past, present and future.

August 18, 2006

The future of music and media

I spent an hour in San Francisco this afternoon on a panel at Bandwidth, a conference about the intersection of music and technology, a subject I wrote about in Darknet. Fellow panelists included Maryrose Dunton, Director of Product Management, YouTube; David Todd, VP of Content, eyespot and Sudhin Shahani, CEO, Musicane; moderator was Kevin Crouse, Product Manager, Not sure if the session was podcast or videotaped. About 150 people were in the audience.

We chatted about the major music labels, business models, user-generated video, independent music, mobile platforms, ecommerce and where all this is headed. Maryrose Dunton was particularly perceptive about YouTube’s lynchpin role — and responsibilities — at the center of the personal media revolution.

Also bumped into Ted Cohen, who left EMI Music to co-found his own consultancy; author-consultant Kelli Richards; Brian Zisk of the Future of Music Coalition; Robert Kaye of MusicBrainz; attorney Colette Vogele; Morty Wiggins and Shane Tobin of Outhink, and several others. A pretty good gathering.