Over the last few years, we have seen the rise of video content on the web,
but much of that content has been locked up in non-free formats. Patented
video codecs are a big part of the problem, though there are free
alternatives (Theora and Dirac for example), they are not
widely used. Free software projects often use videos as part of their
marketing and documentation, using screencasts to highlight interesting or exciting features
of the program for example. But the choices for collecting and distributing
video content leave much to be desired for free software advocates.
The Fedora project has been looking into this problem lately, in support of
its FedoraTV project. A recent thread on the fedora-advisory-board
mailing list looks at various alternatives now that the original host
of FedoraTV content, luluTV, has gone out
of business. Greg DeKoenigsberg outlines the problem:
The original goal of Fedora TV was to provide a "Fedora-friendly" home for
videos that we had some control over. I think this is still a worthwhile
strategic goal, but since we no longer have the help of dedicated
no longer think it's a sensible tactical goal.
The question that follows: "we've got lots of people who are excited about
making Fedora videos. What's the best way, in the short term, to gather
videos together to make them accessible?"
He goes on to outline the criteria for finding a near-term solution,
starting with the absolute requirements: Ogg Theora format, one-click
download, and a robust, stable hosting site. Also important, but not as
critical are things like the ability to extract static screenshots for
posting in various places, an easy way for community members to know when
new videos are available (an RSS feed for example), and a way for uploaders
to easily associate a license with their video. These should resonate with
most projects that have an interest in providing a video forum for their
community as they are likely to have many of the same needs.
Transcoding the videos to Flash to reach the largest possible audience is
DeKoenigsberg's "controversial" criteria. It is an
unfortunate truth that, even for fairly strong free software proponents, the
Flash browser plugin provides the simplest route to viewing online videos.
Other solutions exist and work, but require a great deal more effort to
enable additional software repositories so that the proprietary or patented
codecs can be installed. Interestingly, there were no arguments presented
against the transcoding suggestion.
For Fedora, where Theora—or other free codec—viewers are easily available, Flash transcoding
might be less of a requirement. Other projects, especially those that are
cross-platform, may find that a large part of their community is either
unable or unwilling to install additional software to view videos. Users
of non-free operating systems are largely unaware of the video codec
problems; their OS comes with a no-extra-cost video viewer that just
works. Because of that, transcoding to Flash does at least provide a way to
present videos that can be relatively easily viewed by free and non-free
Various solutions to the hosting problem were discussed, from partnering
with archive.org to rolling their own
using MediaWiki, Plumi, or some of the technology released
by luluTV. One of the suggestions that got the most attention was to
create a Miro channel hosted, at
least temporarily, on Fedora project servers. Miro has a lot of promise as
a viewer and organizer of videos, with a BitTorrent client built-in, but it
doesn't solve the other half of the problem: how to allow the community
There is, it seems, a growing need for a free community video forum, both
from a code and a hosting perspective. The bandwidth and storage requirements of video
are enormous, so covering the actual cost will be a big challenge. Places like YouTube allow short videos to be uploaded, but
they can only be played back via Flash. In addition, their software is not
free, so they only solve parts of the problem.
There are no obvious free
solutions, yet, but it is a problem that we will be facing more frequently.
Somehow leveraging Miro as a free, cross-platform video delivery system may
make the most sense. Providing a way for the community to upload video
content into the channels would make for a mostly working FedoraTV and
other projects like that. Miro supports
free codecs as well, which might help to start weaning people away from their
current non-free codec addiction. Then we can start figuring out how to
pay for the network and hard disk capacity required.
to post comments)