While sites everywhere seem to have developed an advertiser-inspired aversion to user-generated video, Facebook is welcoming personal video clips with open arms. Software engineer Chris Putnam, the lead video developer for the site, told me last week that nearly a whopping 40 percent of Facebook video uploads come from webcams.
While at first I found that stat startling, the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that I’ve seen a lot of webcam uploads on Facebook recently, particularly amongst the few people I’m friends with who are still in college. Many of the clips are of the “look at me dancing in my dorm room” or “look at me playing a song on my guitar” variety, and though I personally wouldn’t want my life to be quite so public, one big advantage Facebook offers is you can specify exactly who can and can’t see each of your videos, so there are certainly many more webcam uploads I can’t see.
Facebook receives some 415,000 260,000 video uploads per day, with 155,000 of them directly from webcams. Since a video tab was added to the site’s home page as of the March redesign, video uploads have seen a “significant increase,” said Putnam, though Facebook declined to give specific stats this soon after the release.
Contrary to sites like Hulu and even YouTube, high-quality videos are less important for personal sharing. Only 3-4 percent of all Facebook video uploads are true high definition, according to Putnam, and just 25 percent are considered “high quality.” Indeed, webcam captures are casual, easy and accessible — low standards are basically the point. That cuts down on processing, storage and delivery fees. Not that Facebook is trying to monetize video beyond its normal sidebar ads.
In part, these personal video usage habits have developed from constraints. Facebook has never really emphasized video. While photos have long been one of the site’s most-used features, the video product was developed as a side project at an overnight “hackathon” in January 2007 and released as a demonstration application for the Facebook Platform that May. Since the beginning, users have only been presented with videos their friends are featured in or videos their friends post themselves. There’s no public directory of all videos. Uploading directly from a webcam, however, has always been an option. MySpace, which added that feature last September, told us they get 70,000 video uploads from users per day but declined to break out the percentage that comes from webcams. As did YouTube, which has offered the direct upload option since December 2006.
Though Facebook videos were made embeddable in December — which you’d think would greatly increase public sharing — few people use the feature, in part because only the owner of a video has access to the embed code. (Or it could be that entangling something from Facebook’s privacy settings is just too difficult. The Facebook player for a video I embedded in a NewTeeVee post back in December now states “This video has either been removed from Facebook or is not visible due to privacy settings.” Neither of which are true, according to my account.)
Not to say Facebook wouldn’t be a good platform for public video distribution, given its user base’s strong interest in all sorts of sharing. But when, for example, Katalyst Media set out to launch a web show on Facebook back in February with promotion, advertising and analytics, it had to use the third-party developer Slide’s FunSpace app. Such basic publishing tools currently don’t exist for Facebook videos, though Putnam said they are likely to be added at some point.
In the meantime, Facebook users are pushing forward notions of personal sharing by using video to capture live-action (if a little blurry) moments of their lives. This does seem to be Facebook-specific (or perhaps social network-specific) behavior. Leading personal video service Motionbox, which calls itself a Shutterfly for video, doesn’t even offer webcam uploads, and tells us that users haven’t asked for them. More apt competitors are probably Tokbox and Seesmic, but Facebook blows away their reach.
This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.