Using Web-based Services for Hosting Videos
This advice document deals with the potential of using web based services for hosting videos suitable to support and promote academic work and an institution's research and business and community engagement (BCE) activities.
It is strongly recommended that this paper be read in conjunction with the overview to this research: Using Web-based Services for Finding and Hosting Videos for Academic Purposes.
Hosting will be used as a term to describe not only the physical storage of videos by the services, but also the intention that they are accessible by other users, whether the general public or, for example, a restricted set of students. This assumes that the user has video material which they have filmed, or to which they own copyright, or which is unavailable elsewhere on the internet.
The research was conducted between 21st September 2009 and 30th September 2009, and included testing the ease and speed of uploading videos to the specified sites and the manner in which they could then be made available for other users.
Establishing a web presence is not only useful for educational establishments in terms of communicating with students and families, both current and prospective, but in increasing and improving business and community engagement. The use of video material in such a web presence is also becoming accepted as desirable, and, for the purposes of this paper, such benefits will not be questioned.
Clearly, as the number of video resources used by an academic institution increase, there are major cost implications for institutional networks, storage and support. The sites considered in detail in this paper all give the opportunity for free hosting of videos, and the subsequent ability for free access to such material by anyone who can access the internet, including non-members of the sites considered.
Some universities have already begun to use these sites to distribute material as diverse as promotional videos for prospective students and course lectures filmed live in lecture rooms, and have made them available to the general public, both promoting themselves to prospective students and meeting strategic objectives for business and community engagement. However, no research was conducted on whether this was the only instance of this video material, or whether the institution also had internal storage of their video material.
Whilst it is possible to find educationally useful videos on these sites, and this is addressed in more detail in the parallel paper, the benefits of generating self-produced video material in terms of controlling specific and relevant content and style and the potential for either making this material available beyond the institution or controlling access to this material makes the use of existing web-based services to host video material extremely attractive. The uploading process is very simple and all of the sites researched had some form of Help page, which included tips for uploading and for controlling access to videos.
Whilst the appeal of free web-based hosting is clear, it should be made clear from the outset that to use these services effectively, resources, especially in terms of time, will need to be deployed. These services should definitely NOT be viewed as a quick and/or easy way of hosting material for teaching and learning purposes, or for meeting institutions' strategic objectives for business and community engagement.
Whilst it is, of course, possible for an individual teacher, or student, to become a member of a service, upload a video and use it in teaching and learning activities, this should not be done without careful thought and planning. Whilst this paper does cover the individual uploading, organisation and control of individual videos, it is recommended that more planning, possibly at an institutional level, is needed to make best use of the services, and indeed the aim of increasing business and community engagement would assume such planning.
This planning should consider the following:
- The time taken to prepare, edit, upload and describe the video on the service.
- The time taken to consider and control access to the video (i.e. is the video to be made available to the general public, which is the default setting on most services, or is it to be restricted it to students?)
- How the video will be used in the teaching and learning environment or for business and community engagement. For instance, can it be assumed that all students now have suitable internet access or does the video need to be made available offline if an essential resource as part of a course?
- The resilience of the service; these are relatively new and dynamic services and terms and conditions of use change.
- Access to the original video; if this is being used as an alternative to personal or institutional storage, is it possible to download the original, uncompressed video
Research Findings by Site
Odeo and Google Video
Neither Odeo nor Google Video currently accepts new videos for uploading to the site, although Odeo does accept RSS Feeds from other sites. However, as this presumes that the video therefore exists on another web based service or site, this facility has not been researched further or addressed in this paper.
There is the theoretical potential to embed existing videos on other sites, and potentially Virtual Learning Environments, although no practical testing of this was conducted as part of this research. See the parallel paper - Finding Videos for Academic Purposes Using Web-based Video Hosting Sites - for more details of their use in terms of finding videos.
It is impossible to estimate the number of videos on YouTube or the astounding number uploaded every day. Most figures given may be exaggerated for commercial benefit, but YouTube is clearly the largest site for video hosting and is the de facto leader for this type of service.
According to the Terms and Conditions of YouTube it is not permissible to upload video to which the user does not hold full copyright, including clips of film and television; threatened sanction for doing so includes deletion of the user's account. Care should therefore be taken in uploading video material for which ownership of copyright is unclear. However, the number of copyrighted videos clearly loaded by a non-copyright holder is evidence that, in practice, this is not policed. Until recently, many copyrighted videos were removed from the site. However, disputes between YouTube and major media producers seem to have been resolved recently by the introduction of a capacity for copyright holders to 'claim' their videos, for which YouTube then sells advertising, splitting the revenue with the copyright holder.
Membership of the site can be through an existing Google account or through a separate YouTube account, and must be acquired before videos may be uploaded to the site. Membership effectively creates a 'channel' through which a member broadcasts their videos.
Membership also offers the following benefits not directly related to uploading:
- The ability to comment on, rate and make video responses to other videos.
- The ability to build playlists of others users' videos to watch later.
- The ability to build playlists of owned videos and those of other users.
Multiple free memberships, to create multiple channels, would require multiple e-mail addresses, as the e-mail addresses are associated with unique usernames.
There are clear reminders concerning copyright on the Upload page, with specific reference to content including film, TV or music video extracts. There are also links to Community Guidelines to check Copyright guidance in greater detail and a link to Help pages for guidance on best video formats. There are clear instructions on how to upload videos and clear restrictions and advice on what and how to best upload. The user must hold copyright of the video being uploaded and it should be noted that, once uploaded, YouTube claims copyright on all videos, including the right to amend and redistribute the content.
The time for uploading a 12 MB file was approximately five minutes. By default:
- The name adopts the filename, which is usually in the form DSCxxx
- The video is made publically available (this can be restricted to up to 25 other users)
Descriptions and tags can be added at this time, as the video loads; it is these descriptions and tags which provide the criteria for searching by other users. They can be also be amended later. Such descriptions and tags are particularly important if the video is being used as part of a business and community engagement strategy and therefore easy to find by general users. If access is to be restricted to known users only, then this is not such a critical point, as users would presumable be directed the relevant material in other ways.
After the first upload an e-mail is received with links to tutorials on using good metadata to help other people find your video.
Although no problems were encountered during this research, there is a link at the bottom of the Upload page suggesting that if problems are encountered to try without a progress bar. This would suggest that frequent upload problems are encountered although also suggests that YouTube are aware of, and are addressing, such problems.
The video is available almost immediately, although for approximately the first ten minutes of its availability is displayed as 'still being processed' until which time quality may be reduced.
Access to original
Once uploaded, there is NO access to the original file although a compressed; MP4 version of each video is available to the uploader only.
Third party applications are widely and easily available free of charge to allow downloading of other users' YouTube videos, although the use of such applications would break the Terms and Conditions of the use of YouTube and none of these were tested as part of this research.
Organisation of material
In terms of effective grouping of videos by theme or to control access to different material, it is possible to organise videos into Favourites or Playlists. These can both be used to combine both self-produced videos and other videos available on YouTube.
These facilities are clearly potentially useful, for 'cuing' in a preferred order for use in a classroom teaching activity, for instance, or for grouping series of lectures. If different channels were required to organise material, this would necessitate multiple free memberships. However, this would also require multiple e-mail addresses, as the e-mail addresses are associated with unique usernames and is therefore not considered an efficient alternative.
Playlists and Favourites can also be shared with other users which has clear potential for both teaching and learning outside the classroom and for distance learning and for community and business engagement.
When a playlist is created it offers other suggestions for adding videos to this playlist; the social networking facilities of YouTube could then be used to make contact with users with videos of interest to increase business and community engagement.
It is only possible to control access to individual videos, Playlists or Favourites by:
- Making them private
- Making them available to everyone
- Restricting access to 25 users
Whilst this makes hosting of videos for general public access useful and easy, it is of limited use if the intended target cohort exceeds 25 but access for the general public is not desired.
Customisation of viewer
It is possible to view videos as full-screen or to open in a new window, either full-screen or otherwise. It is also possible to 'dim' all the adverts and other web content on the page so that the viewer is the only really visible object on the screen. These options could all be particularly useful in a classroom environment, to maximise attention on the video itself, rather than the adverts and other peripheral material that is usually visible.
Other potential benefits
The flexibility of YouTube for restricting access, to cohorts of students, for instance, is clearly limited. However, if public access to specific video material is not an issue and/or the cohort of students is 25 or less, the familiarity of the site and certain other features could make YouTube an effective tool teaching and learning activity. These features include:
- The ability to annotate your own videos within the site. This easy to use annotation feature could be particularly useful in terms of making comments and observations and focusing attention on particular aspects of a video.
- The possibility of syndication to mobile phones and/or television; possible through the security settings
The size, familiarity and popularity of the site also make it an attractive proposition for general promotion of an institution and for business and community engagement. The social networking aspects of the site could lead to establishing contacts and relationships with relevant business and community interests. These could include:
- Use of the comments trail as a useful discussion forum,
- Identification of common, shared interests through the Related Videos feature.
- The ability to leave 'video comments', i.e. comment on a video by uploading or linking to another video
There is extensive help available, including 'Getting Started: How to Upload.'
Vimeo describes itself as "a respectful community of creative people who are passionate about sharing the videos they make" and this is clearly reflected throughout the website. The Home Page has three clear themed links which are Quality, Respect and Plus, the last of these being the premium, paid version of Vimeo, which is referred to below.
Vimeo's Terms and Conditions not only forbid videos for which the user does not hold the copyright, as does YouTube, but there is little evidence of widespread flouting of this rule. Moreover, whilst small and unobtrusive advertising exists on the site, Vimeo forbids commercial videos, any form of advertising (including multi-level marketing) within videos and these Terms and Conditions seem to be adhered to and well policed, although there are clear examples of community, political and non-profit organisations loading videos for promotional purposes.
Respect is accentuated throughout the site and this is generally adhered to in terms of the comments which are posted against videos; criticism tends to be constructive and friendly rather than the aggressive tone found frequently on YouTube.
This is clearly a potentially very useful site for media, film and creative arts and industries teachers and students as it has High Definition, high quality art videos which can be used as a learning resource and potentially as a space to display their own work and receive helpful feedback. This would be consistent with the original mission of the site.
The community outlook would also prove useful in terms of business and community engagement, especially is such engagement is sought within the creative community. An institution establishing a presence on Vimeo would join an admittedly limited but potentially very useful and certainly very stimulating and active creative community.
In addition to this possibly limited use, educational institutions are already making use of this site as a hosting service and it does offer some very useful facilities. (See also the case study referred to in Conclusions.)
Once membership is acquired, videos can be downloaded by the owner in their original format for one week after they are loaded, after which time they can only be downloaded in their compressed format, unless purchasing VimeoPLUS (see below) This would allow for confidence that the video will be available for viewing at a given time and place in the absence of internet access. However, whilst there is a clear aim from Vimeo that this will be a resilient and long-lasting service, as with any of these services, the resilience of the service should not be merely assumed. Web sites and services do fail and terms and conditions change with little warning.
Indeed, recent developments at Vimeo, such as the removal of the ability to download a users' original video by standard members, has prompted much debate in the Vimeo user forums concerning the commercialisation of the site and it changing to being merely a "cool-looking YouTube."
Membership is free and easy to obtain, although you must have an e-mail, which is used as your username. Whilst the main benefit of membership is the ability to upload videos, it also gives the following benefits:
- The ability to download compressed versions of other users' videos
- The ability to communicate with other users, in order to check permission for use of their video, or to establish communities of related interest.
- The ability to comment, tag or share videos on other sites
- Ability to group other users' videos into 'albums' which could prove a useful tool for organising videos for future use
As with YouTube, multiple free memberships would be needed to create multiple channels, requiring multiple e-mail addresses, as the unique username for the service is the e-mail address of the user.
VimeoPlus is available at a cost of $60 per annum, and gives the following benefits:
- The ability to download the original version of your videos for ever
- Larger upload capacity
- High Definition capabilities - embedding and unlimited uploading
- No advertising
- Advanced security capability
- Capacity for more than one channel per user account
It should be noted that no comparison was made with the cost and features of either hard disc storage of videos within an institution or other web based services that may offer either storage only facilities and/or storage and distribution/dissemination facilities.
Customisation of viewer
The ability to watch the video full-screen is the only customisation possible, although VimeoPLUS refers to a "super-customisable video player"; this was not tested.
There are clear reminders of Vimeo's policy in terms of allowed content, copyright ownership, and no commercial use on the upload page, as well as acceptable video formats. The uploading process is very clear and straightforward and help pages are available (see below). Approximate upload times were five minutes for a 12 Mb file. A progress bar clearly shows time elapsed and time remaining. Once uploaded, the file must be converted before it is available for viewing via the website; this process works on a queue basis and starts approximately 30 minutes after the file is uploaded (although VimeoPLUS members' videos are placed at the front of the queue and are therefore available sooner.)
The conversion process of the 12 Mb file uploaded took approximately forty minutes and, by default, a notification is received by e-mail once the video is available for viewing. These, notifications can be switched off in user settings on the account, which may be useful if you wish to minimise e-mail receipts whilst uploading a large number of videos.
Vimeo's Terms & Conditions state, in a bold font, that all videos uploaded to the site "shall at all times remain your sole and exclusive property", although Vimeo does claim the right to use any video not designated as private in any way.
Access to original
As of 1st August 2009, the facilities available to Vimeo standard users changed. Up to this point it was always possible for a user to download their own original video. This facility was removed, according to Vimeo administrative staff, to control costs in order to ensure that the site itself had a long existence. From 1st August, original files will only be available to download for one week, although, as for all other users, the compressed file will remain downloadable. For VimeoPLUS users, the ability to download their original files will remain.
This action is evidence both of the cost of the storage of video, a reason why the use of web services might be considered for academic uses, and of the increasing use of this facility. $60 per annum may be a reasonable cost of storing original video files, especially when considered alongside the distribution capabilities of the site; however, no comparison of similar facilities was considered as part of this research.
Organisation of material
Videos can be organised into:
- Channels (although only one channel per user is allowed for standard, free users)
It is possible to combine your own videos and those of other users in any of these ways, thus creating a collection of related videos.
For example, a US college has a channel for each of its courses, creating, in essence, virtual faculties or departments.
Once a video is uploaded it can be added to different channels which can be created to group content by theme, this could be a useful way of organising videos into different courses, for example. It is possible to restrict access to a channel, or an individual video, to the public or to allocated users. If the latter is used, this obviously requires that the other students, teachers or other users have a Vimeo account and for you to know what these accounts are - there are clearly implications for time resources here if the site itself is used to distribute videos, as opposed to merely storing them; The following access options are available:
- Nobody else
- My contacts
- People you choose
- Password protected
Further control is given by the ability to restrict:
- Whether other people can download the source video
- Whether other people can add the video to groups, channels and albums
- Whether Anybody or only Contacts can post comments on the video
There are clear help pages available, including links to tutorials, which included a clear video tutorial about uploading via a mobile device. There is also an active members' forum, most of which refer to uploading issues.
Although iTunes is known overwhelmingly as a commercial distributor of music, there are a large and increasing number of educational institutions posting material via iTunes U (iTunes University). iTunes U is, according to Apple "a free service available to qualifying two- and four-year accredited, degree-granting public or private colleges and universities" in a limited number of countries, including the United Kingdom. "Universities and colleges must enter into an iTunes Service Agreement before being eligible to use the iTunes U service. Apple reserves the right to determine eligibility." There is a clear tab for iTunes U on the main page of the iTunes store.
The use of iTunes to host video material is clearly an institution level project. Although free, Apple requires a form to be completed giving institutional level assurance that certain procedures have been followed and giving institution contacts. The steps required within an institution before signing up for the service are clearly laid out in a paper including a case study. Whilst these procedures may seem time-consuming and onerous, the procedure laid down by Apple to be followed prior to applying for use of the service and the case study should be considered best practice for any project using any of the other web services referred to in this paper.
For the use of this service it must be assumed that the end users have access to iTunes on their computer, which can be downloaded free, or access to an iPhone or ipod Touch. As videos must be downloaded to a local iTunes library, they cannot be watched 'live', as is possible with YouTube and Vimeo, but, once downloaded, they would be available with no internet connection.
Videos available from educational institutions are available through a dedicated tab along the top of the window within the iTunes Store called iTunes U. Once downloaded from this source, videos are accessed from a specially created folder called iTunes U within the user's iTunes library, making them easy to locate.
There is clearly an attempt by Apple to use this service as a marketing tool, as it continually refers to the integration possible with its products, both hardware and software; however, the only piece of hardware or software essential to using this service is iTunes.
The only customisations of the viewer that are possible are to make it full screen and therefore omit the frame.
The help is full and commensurate with a large company providing software internationally, and there is a specific page which has a step-by-step guide to downloading from iTunes U.
No account is needed in the iTunes store to download a free video.
It was not possible to test the uploading process as part of this research as the circumstances under which it was conducted and the time frame possible did not allow for setting up an agreement to use iTunes to host videos.
Access to original
It was not possible to test access to originals uploaded as part of this research as the circumstances under which it was conducted and the time frame possible did not allow for setting up an agreement to use iTunes to host videos.
Organisation of material
Material can be organised within an institution's site within iTunes U by Faculty, Department and course. This information is based on how material is organised by existing institutions using the sites and may not be exhaustive.
Full and integrated security is advertised by Apple, although obviously no test of this was made within the current research. However, clearly the ability to have complete control of security, linked to an existing Management System, would give confidence over the system. Access can be restricted by video or course and can be extended to groups of students or made available to the general public.
It is possible for an institution to host an internal iTunes site so that only members of the institution can access material.
It is worth re-iterating that the use of any of these sites for hosting video material should not be regarded as a quick and/or easy alternative to hosting by an institution. Although this is potentially a cheap option for individual students to host their own academically related video material, for a lecturer or teacher it is recommended that institutional support is sought before embarking on this. Given that caveat, each of these sites clearly offers the potential to extend the use of video in academic work and to extend business and community engagement of institutions. These include:
- Not subject limited
- Relationships with outside organisations
- Relationships with other educational establishments
- Possible collaborations - economies of scale?
- Use as a Virtual Research Environment?
However, a number of points should be considered before making use of these sites:
- The resilience of none of these sites should be relied upon
- The very nature of the internet means services start, change and disappear very quickly, so if a video is central to the delivery of a teaching activity, for example, the use of web hosting as the only instance of this video should be carefully considered
- The copyright of 'owned' material should be checked carefully
All sites require that a user uploading material owns the copyright. However, it is important to check what claims a site makes in terms of copyright and further distribution rights carefully; for instance, YouTube claims copyright on all videos uploaded, including the right to amend and redistribute the content.
Other possible issues to consider are also beginning to emerge as educational institutions make wider use of these services, including intellectual property rights and the advisability of making commercially valuable material freely available on the internet. These are beyond the remit of this research but clearly need consideration by individual teachers and lecturers and educational institutions.
Summary of Findings by Site
YouTube, as the de facto leader of web video hosting and viewing, offers a familiar environment for students and offers the ability to engage with different learning styles beyond the simple fact of using video, through video commenting.
Its size and pervasiveness also offer extensive opportunities for strategic business and community engagement.
YouTube claims copyright on all videos, including the right to amend and redistribute the content, which may not be desirable or advisable for educational content.
The disadvantages of using YouTube are the sheer weight of banal, injudicious and potentially offensive comments.
Vimeo is an excellent option for both students and teachers within creative and media subjects, offering good and flexible storage options and the possibility of business and community engagement, especially with the creative sector.
Its flexibility of storage and security options also offers a good opportunity for other disciplines, and institutions, to use the site for hosting video material, including the ability to download the video for offline use. Furthermore, at present it does not suffer from the inanity or offensiveness of much of YouTube's videos and discussion threads.
The disadvantage of Vimeo could be considered its size. Clearly, this restricts the business and community engagement opportunities, especially if compared with YouTube.
There is a very useful case study comparing the use of YouTube and Vimeo for hosting academic video material available.
iTunes is a fully featured service, and potentially offers the greatest control and audience, but clearly would require institutional level approval and planning. Whilst all aspects of the service are 'free', there are clearly resource implications for such an institutional level project. However, taking the case study available on iTunes U as best practice, these resource implications would also apply to best practice use of the alternatives. Its security, flexibility and the ubiquity of its players also offer a familiar environment for students.
It could be considered a disadvantage that time is needed to download a video rather than the 'live' aspect available within both YouTube and Vimeo. However, perhaps it is important to distinguish between the recreational use for which these two service were originally designed and the potential educational use for this type of service. The iTunes case study of Stanford University states that "there's a big difference between a million-and-a-half downloads and a million-and-a-half web hits. A click on a web page is a fleeting act that takes little commitment - people often move past the page in a matter of seconds. But a download is an assertive act. It's a different kind of connection than just visiting a web page. It implies a level of engagement that is important for an educational institution." This 'level of engagement' is perhaps important to consider in terms of both student engagement with educational materials using new technology and the use of this technology for wider business and community engagement.