published Friday, August 27th, 2010

Jenkins: History of online video a story of evolution


by Donnie Jenkins

I will never forget the first time I saw video on a computer. The video was from a CD-ROM and was the size of a large postage stamp. It was low-quality and stuttered, but it was amazing to see.

Over the next few years the term multimedia became popular in describing computers that could run video and audio. Everyone assumed that CD-ROM discs would be the way we would access video, and several encyclopedias and similar applications became available in that format.

As we all know, the advent of the Web moved our expectations online for almost all content, and CD-ROMs became all but extinct as a delivery option.

When Flash became widely used to deliver video, it made it possible to produce high quality content available to practically anyone online.

This was accomplished by installing a plug-in on a Web browser, and is still required for Flash. YouTube and other video sites became possible because Flash made video delivery possible.

One of the most important video innovations came when YouTube made it possible to embed video into any blog or Web page. This is done by copying the embed code and pasting it into any page that allows you to view the native HTML code and add to it. It is a simple and elegant process.

Then along came Facebook and it became simpler still, as you need only paste a link from any page with video. Again, Flash made all this possible.

One major issue with Flash was that it could be insecure, and this is still an issue. Flash made it possible to see and interact with online content, but the interaction itself could be dangerous if a hacker or malcontent gained control of the process.

When Apple introduced the iPad, it bypassed Flash altogether for video. This was considered an innovation or a problem, depending upon your viewpoint. By doing this Apple prevented a user from viewing probably 80 percent or more of online video content.

Their reasoning is that the new web page specification called HTML 5 is more than adequate in video delivery and allegedly doesn’t have the security problems associated with Flash. Also, many writers believe that Apple made this decision because of unhappiness with Adobe’s perceived lack of support in the past for particular Apple products or efforts.

Because of this melee, the Web is now split between these two ways of thinking. Flash is still dominant in video, but more and more sites are moving toward HTML 5 delivery or a combination of the two. This will get sorted out over time, but be aware of this when considering a purchase of an Apple tablet or other new device the company will offer.

The eventual standard for Web video will probably be HTML 5, but it will take a long time to get the kinks worked out and satisfy everyone. Flash should be around for a long time because it is still is the best way to combine video, interaction with content, and so on. The future for video is so bright, ya gotta wear shades — as the song says.

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