March 21, 2011

Six years ago today, a video revolution was born

ourmedia-screenshot
An early screenshot from Ourmedia.org.
 

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, Ourmedia.org 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

brewster-and-friends

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 Amazon.com 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, Ourmedia.org, 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 Blip.tv 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.

Journalism.co.uk 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 Ourmedia.org, 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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July 15, 2009

Prediction: Local TV newspeople will compete with their former stations

JD LasicaOn the flight back from London on Sunday I finally had a chance to answer a Q&A email interview with Terry Heaton, a longtime friend who, as co-founder of AR&D, is one of the most forward-thinking people in the world of broadcast media.

For the full interview, see see the AR&D Media 2.0 Intel Report. Here’s an excerpt from our interview:

You were the person who coined the phrase “personal media revolution.” What does that really mean? Who are people revolting against? How widespread is the revolution?

The people are revolting — that’s from the Marx Bros. movie Duck Soup, no?

youtubeIt’s hard to recognize tectonic shifts when you’re still in its beginning phases. Almost any intelligent discussion of our media culture today needs to address the rise of personal media. By the early 2000s, consumer gadgets and computer applications had come down far enough in price and were becoming simple enough to use that millions of us began creating personal media. Low price, simplicity and the fluidity of digital media combined to allow us to do more than just snap photos (which has been around for decades) but also to become amateur filmmakers, create digital stories and mashups, record audio interviews and the like.

The real revolution came when these works weren’t merely stored on our personal devices but released into the wild, unleashing an anarchic, democratic cacophony of voices and viewpoints. By sharing and connecting on sites like Flickr, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook, we turned our personal media into social media.

Like Dan Gillmor’s “We, the Media,” Darknet was one of the seminal works about the rise of personal media. Given all that’s taken place since, do you feel your vision has been validated?

darknet_180pI wrote the book as warning call in anticipation of escalating clashes between media titans against grassroots media publishers in the areas of copyright law, remix culture and innovation when it was becoming plain that we were entering an era of media that was becoming more decentralized, fragmented and personalized.

So, yes, everyone is still sticking to their scripts. By and large, traditional media have not embraced the ethos of community and sharing that underlie this emerging new bottom-up media culture. But my view of the fundamental shifts in the mediasphere has evolved since “Darknet” was written.

One of the things about the personal media revolution that I find most intriguing is that the people formerly known as the advertisers are also among those “playing media.” They have their own revolt, it seems. Do you see that as well?

Keep in mind that “media” can refer to content creators (production houses) or distribution channels (networks). While most brands still haven’t found sufficient payout in playing media, we’ve certainly seen campaigns like Dove Evolution become online sensations.

I think the smart play is for brands not to try to create the next “viral hit” on YouTube but to work with content partners to create useful community platforms that foster dialogue and discovery. If local TV news goes away, this is where the stations’ talent will migrate to. In fact, I suspect we’ll increasingly see former broadcast news people set up their own sites that compete with old-guard stations still stuck in Web 1.0. With the advent of cloud computing, startup costs are approaching zero, so there’s no question that a handful of talented video producers and journalists can do a better job than 95 percent of the TV station websites out there today.

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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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October 16, 2006

Flavors of participatory media

Participatory media

Here’s the 5-minute music video I put together for the Idea Festival called Flavors of participatory media. It shows the wide range of citizen media — videoblogs, podcasts, citizen media sites, place sites, photo sharing sites, mash-ups — and carries a message: There’s far more to this revolution than lip syncing on YouTube. (Ourmedia page | watch video)

Format: MPEG-4 (iPod compatible); 13MB; 5:01; Ourmedia page | watch video; video quality: ** (out of 5)