When making a choice about this there are a number of considerations that you need to keep in mind. The first is playback quality. Playback quality has a number of functions, and one of them, of course, is the playback format. You are familiar with this concept of playback format from YouTube, for example.
Video Playback Quality
If you go to YouTube and just say that you go to this video right here, you have this choice of formats. You can have the 360p, the 240, the 480, or the 720 HD. You have these various formats and the purpose for these various formats is the tradeoff between the quality and size of the video and the speed of the download.
If you have an internet connection like I have with high speed and fiber optic cable directly to my router then watching it in the 720p version is great. However, if you are on a slower internet connection then you may find that you need to select a 240p, which has a significant effect on the quality of the video as you can see here. The face on the video has become significantly degraded with this lower quality. If we went to the full screen view of this then you can see how distorted the video is. However, if you go to a full screen version of 720 then you can see that it is not. Video format or playback format is one of the elements of quality.
Now other systems have different quality options as well. For example Vimeo, VideoPress, and EZwebPlayer have a standard video viewing and then they have an HD viewing. So different formats can vary. Actually VideoPress has a range of formats that it can deliver as well. But, nevertheless, one of the things that affects the quality is the playback format that is available.
Another thing that affects the quality is degradation from encoding. That is actually what you see going on in the YouTube format. Here on the smaller video format what has happened is the quality of the video has been degraded by the encoding in order to minimize the size of the video and maximize the ability for the video to be delivered quickly. That can be a significant issue when you are considering your hosting options; how much degradation comes from encoding.
The next thing that affects playback quality is starting and stopping of a video because of the user’s bandwidth limitations. This is something that some of my users experience here with some of my screencast.com videos even though the videos are hosted because the video sizes are so large. Some members find that the video ends up stopping while there system tries to load enough video to continue to play. So even though the quality of the picture is good, this can have a significant impact on the quality of the experience of somebody when they are watching a video.
Finally you have the quality of full screen viewing. If you have watched any of my videos then you know that I actually optimize most of my videos for full screen viewing and the reason is that most of my videos actually aren’t like this. In the majority of my videos you are trying to look at something up close so I presume most of the people watching my videos will do so in a full screen playback. So you want to consider the quality of that playback when you are considering the quality of the video itself. The fact that it is a very high quality in a very small format is not necessarily of what you want. You might actually want very high quality in a full screen format. So playback quality is one of the considerations.
Functionality is another consideration, and the first part of functionality is the speed of the video start. Videos where you have to wait for ten or fifteen seconds for the video to start playing from the time at which you press play can actually drive your users away. So, generally speaking, an important function is having a fairly rapid start when someone actually presses Play on a video.
The next part of that functionality is something we have already touched on and that is the speed of that video delivery. Now with most of these systems the speed of the video delivery is actually dependent upon the connection of the person receiving the video. Nevertheless, there are video sharing services which have better reputations than others for being able to rapidly deliver videos, even during peak periods. So speed of video delivery is also a concern.
Then you have the bandwidth that is required to deliver the optimal video. It could be that the optimal video is an encoded video that a video sharing site delivers. But it could be that the optimal video actually demands a great deal more bandwidth such as a self-hosted video. There is a tradeoff there in that functionality as to whether you are going to have a higher-speed/lower-bandwidth solution or a lower-speed/higher-bandwidth solution.
The next part of that functionality is the impact on your own site speed and on your server’s capacity. If you are on a shared hosting system, for example, then you are not going to want to use much in the way of self-hosted videos that are on your own server. Viewing the videos is very likely to be impacted by the number of people that are sharing the server which you are on, and also is likely to impact the resources that are allocated to your site. So if you are delivering three or four videos simultaneously, then it could be that the next person who comes to your site gets a much slower delivery. So you must consider the impact on your own server when considering this issue.
Finally you have the ease of uploading and embedding. If it is complicated to upload and complicated to embed it still may be an acceptable solution, but nevertheless that is a function that you should entertain in the conversation. So that is functionality.
The next part is visibility. Why should a video be visible? In this case we are talking about a membership site and much of your site is not visible to the general public so why does visibility matter in this case? Well the chances are good that if your site is going to deliver video for a fee, it is also going to deliver a fair bit of video for free and a fair bit of video publically.
The reason you would do this is one, it drives visitors to your site. And two, if the videos are good then it will also create organic links back to your site not only because the videos may be on sharing sites, but if you have a good video and somebody likes it then chances are they will link back to that site. So videos make good link bait. Lots of our external links are provided by people who have liked our videos and linked off to them.
So that is why a video should be visible, but what makes a video visible? It may seem to be kind of self-evident to you, but I am going to suggest two things that may not be self-evident. First is with videos hosted on video sharing sites, when somebody goes to a site and searches for a concept or topic then you have a better chance of having your video or site found. So that is one way. The mere presence of your video on a video sharing site increases its visibility.
The second part has to do with video sitemaps. Hopefully next week we will get a chance to discuss video sitemaps, I don’t think we are going to get to it this week. Just like we create sitemaps for each of our pages and posts for Google to know that they exist, what their content is and all the rest of that, you can also create sitemaps for videos.
You’ll have certainly seen examples of where video sitemaps are used because if you have done any sort of search at all for a subject on a site, or on Google, then you will see that videos are returned in search results. The reason those videos are returned is either because they have been indexed by Google on a sharing site, or because the site has provided a video sitemap.
Video sitemaps are crucial to getting your site found, or getting your videos found, by people searching for those videos. So let’s try an experiment here, I am not sure this is going to work but let’s say we want to know something about WordPress custom post types. Let’s see if I show up when I do that. I don’t, here, but this person does. This killersites.com. Oh no, this is a YouTube video. Let’s see, “thesis cms video”. Here it is; this is a video of mine, byobwebsite.com, “Thesis CMS Community Website – Organizing Community News”.
This little thumbnail, this title, all of this comes from my video sitemap and if I didn’t have a video sitemap then the topic might in fact show up, because the page also has content, but it wouldn’t show up as a video result. So it requires a sitemap in order to produce this video result. I think if you click on more videos for that, interesting, I actually don’t get any more playtime on that. We have lots of videos that show up in this kind of a search because obviously we have many videos on the site. And the reason for that working is because we have video sitemap listings for each of our videos. So that is another element of visibility for a site, or visibility for our videos, is to have the ability to create a video sitemap.
However, all solutions are not equally visible. For example, most hosted video solutions are not compatible with video sitemaps. So in spite of the fact that YouTube does, in fact, index video sharing sites, having those video sharing sites show up on the video sitemap doesn’t actually work and doesn’t help you any because Google ignores that type of a sitemap. It does its own indexing of video sites.
The purpose of video sitemaps is to tell Google what videos are on your site. So many hosted video systems do not provide you with an opportunity for video sitemaps, even if they aren’t publically available. So that is one thing. Then, obviously, self-hosted videos can be visible because of a video sitemap but they won’t be visible because of video sharing sites. So a combination of both of those things, that is to give a video sitemap and also to get the benefit of video sharing, you end up using a sort of hybrid where you have videos on video sharing sites and you have self-hosted videos with sitemaps in order to make that work. That is not actually a universal answer, you will see how there are some variations in that conversation as we make our way further into this.
The next thing is security. Security is kind of the inverse of visibility. Any video that is visible is a video that is downloadable, someone can download and capture and place on their computer. This may come as a surprise to you, but anything that you can see on the web can be downloaded to your computer unless it has some special sort of encryption or protection associated with it.
The reason you want your video to be secure is, first, simply to prevent theft. Somebody can capture your video and then edit it and use it for their own, they can grab your own raw video and change it how they like and they can claim it as their own property. So first there is theft, and then there is also to prevent unpaid access.
Chances are you are charging for access to your video content and so when you have content that you are charging for you want to make sure that a link to that video can’t be shared by one friend to another, and therefore granting free access to the video. We have a whole system for protecting the page, but if the video itself is not secure then while you can protect the page you can’t protect the link to that video and so the link could be copied and shared. Therefore the video can be accessible. If you want to make sure that you prevent unpaid access to your videos and to prevent them from being stolen, then you need to have a secure system. As soon as it is secure, then it is not visible. So then the question is, how does video become secure?
There are three ways in which you can understand security. Actually, I should have put these in the order of their level of security. The least secure is simply to make the video undiscoverable. That is, if someone knows how to find the video they can view it and download it, but you hide how the video is found.
The second is through domain locking. So the video is hidden, and you are using a service that allows the video to only be played through a given domain or set of domains. So the video can theoretically be downloaded, but it is the encoded version of the video that will not play unless it is being played from the domains that it has been set at.
Then the third and most powerful is encrypted access. Encrypted access makes a secure link between your Amazon S3 account and your website, so that the link itself is obscured and the only way in which the content which is on the secured site can be viewed is through a secure player. That is obviously the most powerful because there is no opportunity for downloading, there is no opportunity for file stealing, and there is no opportunity for sharing a link because there is no link to view. It is a secure connection between your player and your secure storage.
Next you have mobility. Why should a video be visible on a mobile device? Well, obviously, you know with the rise of the iPad and the rise of the iPhone and the iPod, mobile video has become much more important. A very large percentage of the video that is out there available, today, on sites is not visible on mobile devices. It is only visible in a web page, using a regular web browser, on a Windows or Macintosh like device.
But because people are spending lots of money on these mobile devices they are learning to expect to find video, and if you provide your video in a mobile format then it may give you a competitive advantage over somebody who is more established but their content isn’t available in a mobile format. Maybe someone wants to read or watch while sitting on the bus commuting to work, or they want to read it on the plane, or they want to read it in their easy chair, and all of those require them to use their mobile device to view it.
So what is it that prevents a video from being displayed on a mobile device? Well, the granddaddy of all of those things is Flash. The overwhelming majority of videos that are displayed from a WordPress site are displayed via Flash.
If you have an ASP.NET site, which WordPress is not so the chances are that you don’t have, but if it is a Window’s based hosting environment and you have an ASP.NET site then you probably are using Silverlight as the tool for displaying or delivering videos. That is the Microsoft propriety display system. Adobe has Flash, and Apple has Quicktime, and each of those competes with each but because we are discussing WordPress websites, generally all of the plugins that are available, even if they will display a .mov file, an Apple Quicktime file, the players still display them as Flash files using Flash software.
Apple, because of their rivalry with Adobe, will not allow the display of Flash on any of their mobile devices. Because Apple owns the market these days, especially for the iPads, having a Flash only system of video display means your videos aren’t going to be viewable on mobile devices.
There are a couple of other limitations as well and one of them is video size. Many people get their mobile access or mobile delivery through their telephone access and that telephone access usually has metered data which means that a very large video will cost that person a lot of data in order to view it. For example, the typical size of my videos is usually about 50 megabytes, they are very large videos. So even though they may be able to play on a mobile device, say on an Android device that has Flash enabled, nevertheless it is going to come to them in a screen resolution of 1280×720 which is way bigger than any of those devices can display, and it is going to come as a very large file. So that can prevent people from wanting to view your videos from their mobile devices.
Finally, you have this wide range of screen sizes and resolutions. I don’t actually even know how many there are, but there are so many different sizes of screen sizes and resolutions that it is theoretically possible for you to create a video version for each different screen size, and it is also theoretically possible for you to deliver the right size to the right device. But nevertheless there are so many choices that it can be too complex or too difficult to make your videos mobile.
Finally what you have is cost. I recognize that cost plays a factor in everybody’s decision about this. You have the cost of storage of the videos, the cost of bandwidth delivery, you may have the cost of special features that your hosting service provides, and you have the potential cost of plugins and players. All of these things are costs.
WordPress users are used to getting things for free and are loathe to pay for things like video hosting, but I would suggest to you that as you are making these decisions recognize that the real interest you have is in the delivery of a product that people want to purchase and accepting the probability that it will cost you something to deliver that. It is not free to deliver high quality video content to your users. There is a cost and there are cost-benefit tradeoffs that you will want to consider in this process, as well.