Your Own Private YouTube
YouTube is part of the social fabric of the Internet now, with "watch this video" e-mails of the new millennium replacing the joke-list e-mails of the '90s as high-level corporate time-wasters. YouTube has made stars of some and fortunes for a few. In doing so, it has defined video as an easy, common way for regular folks to communicate with one another. Google is taking the easy video concept to business collaboration with Google Video, a video-sharing service designed for intra-business communications with team members, partners, and business colleagues.
As with most Google properties, simplicity is the primary characteristic of the user interface. The UI, presented in the simple shapes and colors common to Google Apps, makes it possible to push a video onto the site, complete with tags and descriptions, in a matter of a few moments.
[ See our review of Google Apps in "Cloud versus cloud: A guided tour of Amazon, Google, AppNexus, and GoGrid." See the review of Google Docs and Spreadsheets in "Office killers pack some heat." ]
Once on the Google Video server, the video is presented in a format that will look vaguely familiar to anyone who’s been on YouTube. In fact, according to the company, Google Video is built on the same platform that hosts YouTube. If you simply place videos on Google’s servers and define the list of those who can view them, you can get good use of the service while thinking of it as a private YouTube. If that’s all you do, though, you’ll be missing out on much of the power that lies beneath the basic video infrastructure.
Take viewing, for instance. Videos can be watched in either high quality or standard quality. You’ll want to choose high quality unless you’re reaching the service through dial-up or other low-bandwidth connections. In the Google Video viewer, a "Scenes" button provides a group of thumbnail images from various points throughout the video. Clicking a thumbnail takes you directly to that point in the video. This is a great feature for those who need to see, and comment on, specific parts of a video. Once you’ve seen the video, you may be able (at the discretion of the person who placed the video on the server) to download the file in MP4 format at either high or standard quality.
The uploader can also control who may post comments on the video. At upload time, they can designate individuals as collaborators (who can rate, tag, and comment on the video) or viewers (who can simply watch the video). It’s also possible to avoid an explicit listing of viewers and collaborators and check a box allowing everyone with an address at the Google domain to view the file.
The video you place can be in any of a wide variety of formats, including AVI, Windows Media, QuickTime, and MPEG. Google has some recommendations on quality (640 x 480, 30 fps, de-interlaced, etc.), although the file cannot be larger than 300MB. Once uploaded, the file will be converted by Google in a process that will take as much as three times the length of the video. So don't expect a 10-minute video to show up in Google Video until 30 minutes later; you might want to upload and grab some lunch.
One of the cooler features of Google Video is the ability to embed the video in a Google Sites Web page or a Google Gadget. It’s important, here, to note that the embedded video retains the same sharing privilege as the original video rather than taking on the viewing privilege of the Web site. This means that you can’t use Google Video to share a video with the whole world (that’s what YouTube is for), and you can’t use it for broadly sharing video with partners and customers unless they have log-in accounts on your Google Apps domain.
This last point emphasizes something I mentioned at the beginning of this article: Google Video is a collaboration tool, not a video distribution tool. As a video collaboration tool it is easy to use and nicely integrated into Google Apps. Starting Sept. 2, Google Video will be part of the Google Apps Premier Edition set of tools, with no additional licensing required for those customers. Google has also announced that there will be an educational user edition of Google Video, which will be free from Sept. 8, 2008, until March 9, 2009, after which it will be $10 per user per year.
Do you need Google Video? If you’re already a Google Apps user, then you now have a new collaboration tool. For training and education within the organization, Google Video allows easy distribution at low cost. Many companies, especially those that are geographically dispersed, will find this to be a valuable tool. I’m not sure, though, that it is by itself a sufficient reason to adopt Google Apps if you’re not already a user. Think of it as a step in the rapid evolution of the Google Apps suite, and you’re on the right track. Now, though, it’s a track that comes with moving pictures.