3 Video-based Social Networks Reviewed

Over the last few days i’ve had the opportunity to try out 3 excellent social networking services. All of them have built their communities around the concept that people want to upload and share video files with their friends and family – they just needed a central place to do it in. Well, today it seems like there are more and more websites devoted primarily to video content and so i eventually had to stop reading about them and take a look at a few of these web services from the inside out.

Some of you may already be thinking to yourselves: “YouTube, YouTube, when is he going to say YouTube already?”. This is because they are so damn popular now that you couldn’t even help but make that association. So, yes, one of the three services i tried out was in fact the one and only YouTube. Although, if you’ve read my previous post, you probably know that i already wrote an article on Jumpcut and it was actually the first of these services that i tried out. i was impressed by their web-based video editing software and so it is the second service i will be looking at. The third service is called Guba, and when i read about their unique marketing strategy on Techcrunch i became intrigued and signed up almost immediately.

The low down..

All of the submissions we received from our 24hr Music Video Making Contest (MVMC) on Indyish were in DVD quality (.vob format). My task was to compress these .vob files into .avi files for easy uploading and sharing via any of these services.

i chose to compare and contrast my experiences with these 3 services in the following ways:

1. Ease of Use (always one of my favorites – obstacles, barriers, like how hard was it to upload, or what is my upload limit)
2. Content Management (what can i do with my uploaded content, what tools do i get, etc.)
3. Social Component (can i edit my profile, are there groups, contacts, tags, etc.)

YouTube -

YouTube.com

The signup process was pretty simply aside from them asking for your zip/postal code which seems a little strange to me. Once i got inside the system, i must say that it did feel intimidating at first. There are a ton of choices you can make as well as new lingo to absorb. For example, on YouTube, your “profile” page is actually called your “channel”. The upload limit is 100Mb and seemed slower to upload than i would have expected from the top video sharing site. Also, you can’t upload until you go through a second email confirmation process to prove you are not a spambot. The uploader crashed on me the first time i used it, granted i tried to upload to 2 of these sites at the same time (it seemed to be working fine until i did this). Lastly, any changes you make to the title or description of your recently uploaded video files are not immediately visible (in real-time) which can be frustrating and confusing to the user (it was for me) because they would be unaware of the delay and wondering why they can’t see their changes take effect.

Once i did get used to the interface and found my way around the site i realized that there was a lot of info and features available to me. i could easily organize my video files, save them to my favorites, create playlists, organize by category, add a description, tags and all kinds of other details. There is also a tool that will let you configure your account for sending videos directly to your blog (if you own one) although i haven’t tested it. They currently support Blogger, BlogSpot, and LiveJournal “with more blog platforms on the way”.

But i think it’s definitely the social networking aspect of the site that sets it apart from the others. Once you get used to the idea of a channel instead of a profile (like a TV channel only of You) – you can start making it you own through a variety of customization options. You can edit your channel info, channel theme, even customize your own channel URL (although there are additional requirements to get this feature working). You can also setup or join Groups where content and conversations are centered on common topics and interests. Lastly, you can add friends, family members, send and receive messages from within the system, subscribe to your favorite channels, vote, add comments and more. i think i get why it’s so popular now.

Jumpcut -

Jumpcut.com

This service is great. Jumpcut lets you try their web-based video editing software even before you’ve actually signed up. i think this is the best way for a new web service to help potential users “get” what it is they are doing that makes them special. The signup process was very simple and straightforward. i like the fact that you get asked both an email address and a username write from the start because i waste time wondering whether i’ll be logging in with my username or email (but maybe that’s just me). Once inside, again, i was a little bit confused by all the new terminology surrounding the distinctions between clips, movies, group sets, grabbing, sharing, etc. I particularly liked the multi-file uploader feature, something neither of the other two services offered as far as i could tell. Uploading one file at a time can get pretty tiresome – this helps to make up for the fact that Jumpcut has a maximum file upload size of only 50Mb (way too low in my opinion). Also, the uploader hangs at 53% on the progress bar every time i used it (although uploads seem to have been completed successfully) so definitely some confusion and time wasted there. On the upside, you can update the title and descriptions of your videos in real-time (a la AJAX) – no delays, not even a page load – so that’s good.

The tools are really what this service is all about. i already mentioned the multi-file uploader, but the Jumpcut Editor is really the crown jewel of the site. You can edit, add transitions and effects, as well as mix in sound and clips shared by other users on the site. No software needs to be installed although the newest version of Flash is definitely required (all these services require Flash 9 for viewing video files but you can still do stuff like browse the community, upload clips and a few other things). Creating a movie from multiple clips is both really easy and convenient in that it lets you overcome the file-size limitations that plagues everyone one of these video based services by editing together a series of smaller clips to form a much larger movie. You can also do some more advanced things like organize your clips into group sets, tag them, and then quickly share or make a movie out of all of them. Another great bonus is the ability to add photos (you can even import your entire Flickr photostream). Pictures, a feature that is almost entirely overlooked by these types of services, is not something to be taken for granted. For instance, i couldn’t figure out how to upload an image to my profile (i mean channel) on YouTube. The only thing you seem to be able to do is use the first frame of one of your uploaded videos. Well, half of the clips i uploaded started out with a few frames of blackness severely limiting what i could use as my profile pic. why?

Jumpcut is probably the second most social site of the three i’ve tested. They have clear, easy to use features like friends and fans, i already mentioned groups but there are events too. We posted the 24hr. MVMC as an event on Jumpcut, even created an Indyish group for future projects. They also have a feature that lets you or your friends email video clips directly to your account or group. Users can add comments and vote for their favorite movies. Finally, they have a great set of export features that not only make it easy for you to email, link to, or embed your video into a website, but there’s also specific code for popular blogging systems like WordPress, TypePad and Blogger, as well as social networking services likes MySpace, and even bookmarking services like Digg and Del.icio.us.

Guba -

Guba.com

This service is an interesting one. The signup process is similar to that of Jumpcut with the extra choice to become a Guba Affiliate. There is definitely a more commercial feel to this service but i was impressed by their system and found the user interface intuitive with content clearly divided between Premuim and Free videos. The user exists somewhere in between these two worlds which at first i found both disappointing and comforting. i wanted there to be more back-end stuff to explore but it’s more straightforward than that. After about 15 minutes i was done looking around and (feeling caught up on everything) all that was left to do was either upload my content, or watch either a free or premium video. i could check my Guba affiliate stats, but they were probably still at zero. i was definitely not overwhelmed like with the other 2 services and i guess that’s what the folks at Guba were aiming for. The upload process was the fastest and smoothest of the 3 services from my experience. They have an upload limit of 100Mb but i found the video quality (after whatever magic compressions they all apply) to be the best of the bunch. So i’d say that, overall, i had a good user experience with this one.

Still, every service seems to have its quirks. For Guba, they do this thing where they ask you to fill in a title and description for your video clip (before you upload it) but the description doesn’t seem to show up anywhere – and believe me, i looked everywhere for it. So why ask for it in the first place? Really frustrating when they do that. Still, i like the way your video files are organized and there are a lot of little things like how it keeps track of your favorite searches and categories. A subtle feature that really stood out for me was the frame-by-frame preview you get when you hover your mouse over any given video clip. You don’t have to actually watch the video to get a quick idea if you’ve seen it before, if it’s shot well or seems low quality, etc. There are a lot of account settings (not as many as YouTube) – like your credit card details and purchase history – which might (at first) seem out of place, but then i remembered that you can buy and rent movies from Guba too. They have movie rentals from as low as $0.99 and you can buy movies starting at $4.99 – not too shabby – and so obviously they’re going to need your credit card info if you wanted to take advantage of that.

Incidentally, you can check out my favorite of the 12 MVMC submissions (the winner for the Telefauna song) right here as i’ve embeded the video directly into this page.

If you want to watch some more of the music videos that contestants submitted (including 1 of the other 2 winning videos) you can go here, and here. Also, if you like the service Guba offers, go ahead and signup for a free account and help me get those affiliate stats rolling.

That brings me to my last point. Guba is like a cool online video store with some added social networking components and i like it. A lot of big players are going to be headed into this market really soon (it has already begun), and i think Guba’s got a head start on them all. I have no idea if they’ll be able to keep this lead, but if they continue with their aggressive affiliate marketing and more and more people signup and add content.. well, only time will tell and i guess the people will decide. But if you were looking for a sort of “MySpace with Video” type thing you might be a little disappointed here. First off, you can’t really configure you profile page on Guba, or maybe i should say you don’t actually have a public profile, not even a small area of text to describe a little bit about yourself. You can upload a photo but that’s about it. There are no groups. You can however add favorites, post comments and vote on other people’s videos. you can also do some other cool stuff like email a video to a friend or download special versions for viewing on your iPod or PSP.

These are just some of the details i decided to focus on. There is so much more i want to say about these 3 services i could have probably written a separate article for each one. i really need to post more often. this post is probably too long. hope it helps you get an idea of what you can expect when you signup for one of them. if anyone has tried any of these services, i’d like to know what your experiences were. And if anyone does decide to try them out after reading this post, by all means, come back and share your thought in the comments section too.

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