Web Video, Global Innovation, and Free Software

Web Video and Global Innovation

Chris Anderson (the curator of TED) gave an insightful TED talk about Web Video and Global Innovation [1]. Probably most people who have used the Internet seriously have an intuitive knowledge of the basic points of this talk, Chris had the insight to package it together in a clear manner.

He describes how the printing press decreased the importance of verbal communication skills and services such as Youtube have caused a resurgence in the popularity and importance of speeches. He has some interesting theories on how this can be leveraged to improve education and society.

Lectures for Developers vs Users

Now how can we use these principles to advance the development of Free Software?

It seems to me that a good lecture about Free Software achieve will achieve some of the following goals:

  1. Promoting projects to new developers.
  2. Teaching developers some new aspects of software development related to the system.
  3. Promoting projects to new users.
  4. Teaching users (and prospective users) how to use the software.

The talks aimed at developers need to be given by technical experts, but talks aimed at users don’t need to be given by experts on the technology – and someone who has less knowledge of the software but better public speaking skills could probably do a better job when speaking to users. Would it do some good to encourage people to join Free Software projects for the purpose of teaching users? It seems that there are already some people doing such work, but there seems little evidence of people being actively recruited for such work – which is a stark contrast to the effort that is sometimes put in to recruiting developers.

One problem in regard to separating the user-training and developer-training parts of Free Software advocacy and education is that most conferences seem to appeal to developers and the more Geeky users. Talks for such conferences tend to be given by developers but the audience is a mix of developers and users. Would it be better to have streams in conferences for developers and users with different requirements for getting a talk accepted for each stream?

Publishing Videos

It has become a standard feature of Free Software related conferences to release videos of all the talks so anyone anywhere in the world can watch them, but it seems that this isn’t used as much as we would like. The incidence of Free Software developers citing TED talks in blog posts appears to exceed the incidence of them citing lectures by their peers, while TED talks are world leading in terms of presentation quality the talks by peers are more relevant to the typical Free Software developer who blogs. This seems to be an indication that there is a problem in getting the videos of talks to the audience.

Would it help this to make it a standard feature to allow comments (and comments that are rated by other readers) on every video? Would having a central repository (or multiple repositories) of links to Free Software related talks help?

Would it help to have a service such as Youtube or used as a separate repository for such talks? Instead of having each conference just use it’s own servers if multiple conferences uploaded talks to Youtube (or one of it’s competitors) then users could search for relevant talks (including conference content and videos made by individuals not associated with conferences). What about “video replies”?

What if after each conference there was an RSS feed of links to videos that had one video featured per day in a similar manner to the way TED dribbles the talks out. If you publish 40 videos of 45 minute lectures in one week you can be sure that almost no-one will watch them all and very few people will watch even half of them. But if you had an RSS feed that gave a summary of one talk per day for 6 weeks then maybe many people would watch half of them.

Defining Success

Chris cites as an example of the success of online video the competition by amateur dancers to create videos of their work and the way that this was used in selecting dancers for The LXD (Legion of eXtraordinary Dancers) [2]. I think that we need a similar culture in our community. Apart from people who give lectures at conferences and some of the larger user group meetings there are very few people giving public video talks related to Free Software. There is also a great lack of instructional videos.

This is something that anyone could start doing at home, the basic video mixing that you need can be done with ffmpeg (it’s not very good for that purpose, but for short videos it’s probably adequate) and Istanbul is good for making videos of X sessions. If we had hundreds of Free Software users making videos of what they were doing then I’m sure that the quality would increase rapidly. I expect that some people who made such videos would find themselves invited to speak at major conferences – even if they hadn’t previously considered themself capable of doing so (the major conferences can be a bit intimidating).

How do we Start?

Publishing videos requires some significant bandwidth, a cheap VPS has a bandwidth quota of 200GB per month, if short videos are used with an average size of 30MB (which seems about typical for Youtube videos) then that allows more than 6000 video views per month – which is OK but as my blog averages about 2000 visits per day (according to Webalizer) it seems that 6000 views per month isn’t enough for any serious vlogging. Not to mention the fact that videos in higher resolution or a sudden spike in popularity can drive the usage a lot higher.

It seems that a site like Youtube or is necessary, which one is best?

There are lots of things that can be changed along the way, but a hosting service is difficult to change when people link to it.


I don’t claim to have many answers to these questions. I’m planning to start vlogging soon so I will probably learn along the way.

I would appreciate any suggestions. Also if anyone has a long suggestion then a blog post will be best (I’ll link to any posts that reference this one). If anyone has a long suggestion that is worthy of a blog post but they don’t have a blog then I would be happy to post it on my blog.

1 comment to Web Video, Global Innovation, and Free Software

  • Tobias

    If you want to avoid the big video portals (for whatever reasons), it helps to have connections to datacenters with really big pipes (like universities). This is how things like are even possible ;)