It’s been a long time coming, but Wikipedia might finally be ready to embrace online video. The Wikimedia Foundation said Thursday morning that it is deploying a new video player that will make it easier to add videos to the millions of articles on Wikipedia. The player is based on technology from video platform provider Kaltura, which first partnered with Wikipedia in 2008. It allows users to add captions to their videos and utilizes the WebM video format that was open sourced by Google in 2010.
So why did it take Wikipedia so long to get videos on its site? It faced a number of unique challenges: First of all, Wikipedia doesn’t rely on outside hosting for any of its media, which means that it needs a robust video hosting infrastructure.
But the site’s commitment to open codecs and standards has also slowed down its adoption of video. Wikimedia originally only used Ogg Theora-encoded videos, which significantly limited its reach. The video codec was open source, but had limited support. The open sourcing of WebM through Google in 2010 offered a more widely supported alternative: Firefox, Chrome and Opera all are capable of natively playing WebM-encoded video content, and mobile devices are starting to embrace WebM as well.
The final challenge may be more of a cultural nature, and we will have to wait and see whether a new video player will really be able to address it. Wikipedia has been largely text-based, with a complex collaborative editing process and a large community that helps to maintain the site. Video on the other hand is much harder to edit in the way users can edit a text entry on Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation wants to use collaborative video editing tools developed by Kaltura to help bridge that gap. From the announcement blog post for the new video player:
“On the internet, video is a static medium: it rarely changes once uploaded. In contrast, the success of Wikipedia relies on numerous volunteers constantly editing and improving each other’s contributions. Appropriate tools will hopefully reduce this dissonance, like Kaltura’s sequencer, which empowers users to remix videos directly online. Successfully translating its radically collaborative nature to multimedia content will be critical to Wikipedia’s transition into the age of video.”