Greasemonkeying Google Video

There was great rejoicing at Macromedia when Google Video switched its player technology from VLC to Flash a couple of months ago. The move validated what the Macromedians had long been touting: the combination of the Flash 7 player and the FLV (Flash video) format makes a no-hassle playback solution for Windows, Mac, and Linux. And from my perspective, it's an opportunity to prototype some of my ideas about what the video web could -- and I argue should -- become.

In my earlier experiments with MP3 sound bites I showed how seemingly-opaque and statically-served audio files can be made link-addressable, and can therefore be quoted from in situ. Composing on-the-fly remixes is one of the nice benefits that fall out of this approach, but the larger goal is to bring the social effects we see at work in the textual blogosophere into the realm of audio. Linking and quotation drive discovery and shared discourse, but media formats, players, and hosting environments are notoriously hostile to linking and quotation, and I'd really like to see that change.

a greasemonkey script for clipping google videos

As with audio, so with video: linking and quotation should be easy and natural operations. When I noticed that Google Video provides multiple snapshots of each of its videos -- a 3-minute video might provide six at thirty-second intervals -- I wondered if I could tweak it to allow arbitary clipping. So I wrote a Greasemonkey script to do that, as shown in the embedded screencast1 (just click it to stop/start playback). If you take this in an interesting direction, please let me know.

It's my view that every media player should also be, at least potentially, an authoring tool as well. And every piece of published media content should afford, at least potentially, a canonical address -- indeed, a whole family of them. In the case of Google Video, the classic Doug Engelbart video shown in the embedded screencast has the unique ID -8734787622017763097. My Greasemonkey script uses that information to play back or download some or all of the video. Of course the same video might appear at or Brightcove, where it would have different identifiers. If we want to concentrate the discourse about media content, we'll need services that can unify these various identifiers, as the OCLC's xISBN service aims to unify the cloud of ISBNs that represent different expressions of the same work.

Going further, we'll want the media we publish on our own sites to be able to use global naming conventions. As mighty as Google is, it's no match for our collective hosting capability. That's why I'm interested in the open content delivery network called Coral. At Magnatune, John Buckman is investigating whether he can push his downloads through it. Because you just append to any URL, Coral blends nicely with existing web namespaces. There's no reason why all data has to live in the Googleplex, is there?

Naming aside, another problem that Google is solving for people is transcoding. If you want to opt out of the gnarly details of hosting video in multiple formats for multiple players, the Flash/FLV combo is a good solution. But encoding to FLV isn't yet a widely-available capability, so Google Video is now providing that service. And while it prefers submissions of MPEG4 or MPEG2 video with MP3 audio, it will accept videos uploaded in QuickTime, Windows Media, and Real formats. Again, this is no reason to corral all videos into the Googleplex, but if freely-licensed and easy-to-use transcoders don't arrive on the scene, that could well happen.

Things are about to get wild and woolly on the rich media frontier. But for me, at least, the same touchstones that govern the web apply here as well. Lucas Gonze has recently been evangelizing the notion of a lightnet -- that is, the antithesis of the walled-garden darknet -- and that's exactly right. Rich media will continue to be an entertainment staple, but we'll also use it increasingly for routine business and personal communication. If we want to be able to do that easily and ubiquitously, we'll have to be clear about our requirements. And we'll have to state them repeatedly and forcefully.

1 Sorenson Squeeze produced this FLV file. Jeroen Wijering's flvplayer.swf is displaying it. I omitted the audio, by the way; there's nothing wrong with your sound setup. I did want the video to autoplay, but I hate web pages that speak without being asked to.

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