Paul Robertson's words, punctuated

Thoughts on development, user-centered design, code, etc. by Paul Robertson

"YouTube" as a video format?!?

Today I was emailed the following link:

It goes to a page with links to videos of BumpTop, an experimental desktop UI – which I found interesting. However, what I found even more interesting was the selection of video format/player options, shown in this screen grab:

Screen capture of the 'choose video format' interface from a web page, which has three options: Windows Media, QuickTime, and YouTube

Notice the three available options: Windows Media, QuickTime, and … YouTube?

Don’t get me wrong; this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve heard of the YouTube video sharing service. However, it is the first time I’ve seen YouTube used as a media format option. (In case you don’t know, like Google Video, ABC, AOL, and others, YouTube uses Flash Video (.flv) as the format for its video files – there is no such thing as “YouTube” video format).

So, at the risk of sounding a little like John Dowdell, I was a little disappointed that credit for the video format (and the actual player requirements, for that matter) were going to YouTube rather than Flash Player.

As I pondered this, I had a thought I hadn’t had before. Perhaps in the case of web video, Flash Player’s ubiquity and customizability has been the reason that it’s the great secret among video players. Think about the typical web video experience, say for a movie trailer web site 2-3 years ago. You go to the movie web site, you click on the link for the trailer, and what do you see: a big list of links titled “choose your video player format: Windows Media, QuickTime, Real …)” Or even worse, the dreaded “missing plugin” dialog or the puzzle piece icon.

Compare that to the experience that most people have with YouTube, or Google video. You arrive at the page. The video works. It plays in a branded skin that blends in nicely with the page (well, assuming the designer did his/her job right). Unless you right-click, you have no idea that it’s Flash…and really, how many people are going to do that?

In terms of ubiquity and customizability, I’d say Flash Player as a video player is much less likely to be recognized, simply because the end user doesn’t need to be able to recognize it in order to use it – they don’t need to worry about whether they can make the video work, because it just does. So I guess what I’m starting to wonder is, is Flash Player a victim of its own success?