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The Future of Online Video

We have not figured out what the future holds for online video, but by god we are trying. In a bar Tuesday night with a pal from the ad industry I laid out my thinking, which is basically that video has stagnated because no one has figured out its proper place in the hierarchy of online media.

3This isn’t to say there aren’t interesting and even great things happening. New York Times journalists like Nick Kristof and Mark Bittman, in a foodie context, employ simple and powerful video clips to underscore their reports. Kevin Rose combines has background as a tech journalist, an entrepreneur and an investor to create informative, insightful, and enjoyable video interviews for his Foundation series. Google’s most recent foray into social media is distinguished by the introduction of a “Hangouts” video chat feature, and Facebook was quick to follow with their announcement that Skype will soon be integrated to its platform. And yesterday’s Twitter Town Hall with Barack Obama was awesome.

So my pal and I spent the latter part of Tuesday night trying to see if we could come up with the next big thing. We spent some time talking about personalization and immediacy. Basically, if you could have a video where the speaker, say Barack Obama, suddenly addressed the viewer specifically, it might be impressive. We also spent some time thinking about how to break out of the rectangle, which is one of the areas that I feel will have to be different in order for online video to succeed. The idea of a hologram in which Obi Wan Kenobi sizzles into solidity on top of your device could also be very compelling, and is also emblazoned in our minds as something the future might hold. Both of these solutions involve some doing technologically. We left the bar concluding that we would need to find a geek, or an army of them, to execute our vision. But I’m not so certain our solution is really about that.

The best solutions, the ones that are truly disruptive, are often about simplicity. Twitter’s decision to limit the number of characters to 140. Aldus Manutius figuring out that books needed to be small, and ushering in a more universal acceptance of Gutenberg’s technology. And so with video, the solution may lie in a simple way to integrate with how people consume content online. Will it be one simple breakthrough, or a series of small iterations?

Seesmic, a company that now specializes in tools for social media, began as a platform (now closed) to enable users to share short video clips in the way we share Twitter tweets. Involver, my old company, which specializes in Facebook apps, also got its start as an endeavor to integrate video in the social media stream. Why did they give up? Right now, all of us (entrepreneurs, consumers, even programmers) are too busy trying to keep up with the massive influx of new apps, new media, and new ways of doing things to think about whether an old form such as video even needs to play a big role in what’s going on. For the moment, we’re caught up in things like whether Twitter will be able to monetize and if we’ll be able to deliver on the massive expectations that all these new platforms have created. But video is not going away. Soon enough we’ll be at the point when people will expect more from it than cute cuddly cats and babies biting fingers.