Category Archives: vquence

Google Developer Day in Sydney

Today’s Google Developer day in Sydney was quite impressive. There were about 500 developers (and other random folks) there, curious to learn more about the services Google offers. With three parallel breakout rooms for the talks / code labs, there was plenty to choose from.

The introduction was well done, providing a quick overview of all the services and APIs that were the topic of the day – enough to understand what they are and tempt you to attend the in-depth talks.

I attended the Google App Engine talk first – not because I am a fan of python, but because I have an AppEngine account and my son Ben codes in python. I’d really like to play with AppEngine and get Ben to develop something useful (and me to learn some more python on the side). The talk gave a great introduction, which really enthused me. They build this little shout-out app on the fly and published it within the first 10 min. Now, I am collecting ideas for Ben to code up – if you have a neat little one, leave me a note.

I then went on to attend the YouTube talk. It was touted as a 201 presentation, but in the end just provided a cursory overview of the YouTube API. It was a good overview, but since we’ve been working with the API for a long time at Vquence, there was nothing new for me.

At the end of the talk, a developer requested YouTube to provide an API to access the new annotation feature. Since that is still in beta, they will be waiting to harden the technology for a bit before introducing the API. I suggested to them to look at CMML as the XML API. I explained that it would hold any annotation at any time point in any language. The on-screen placement is not currently covered by a tag in CMML, but could be added to the meta tags of the clips. I also suggested that if they found anything to improve on CMML, it would be possible since it’s not a finalized standard. I really hope they will check it out.

After lunch, I attended the two sessions about OpenSocial. I was considering using it for the new Vquence metrics site to do the widget layout. I quickly understood that this is not about layouts, but really about social applications. It would be cool if Ben would think up a social application that he could implement in python and OpenSocial and host in AppEngine. Something that him and his friends could share, maybe? Any ideas for an 11-year-old who learnt python on the OLPC?

At the end of the day, I was curious to learn a bit about Android before having to head home. But I only had a few minutes and the speaker had a slow start (repeating his slides from the introduction session) such that I quickly decided to leave and rather make sure I was at after school care on time!

Overall a worthwhile day – I met some friends, made some contacts, got to ask some questions, and had an awesome lunch with fresh sushi, hmmm. Google really knows how to spoil their developers!

Talk at SLUG on Vquence’s use of open source software

Yesterday, I gave a talk at SLUG (the Sydney Linux Users Group) about the open source software that we’re using in Vquence. The talk was basically structured into three areas: open source software in business operations, in software development, and in system operations. John joined in for the harder questions on the systems operations. We also explained how we’ve set our systems up so we are scalable on data (in particular on video slices, images and video use statistics) at a minimum cost – which includes the use of Amazon’s EC2 and S3 services. We also use reverse proxies to be scalable with bandwidth cost. Here are the talk slides.

What is a proper “viral video”?

Many companies are intending to undertake viral video marketing campaigns.

This should come as no surprise, since video is undoubtedly the most effective content on the Web: “People are about twice as likely to play a video, or replay one that started automatically, than they are to click through standard JPG or GIF image ads.”

Even Techcrunch has a thing for dodgy viral video advertising approaches.

The definition of a “viral video” is however not quite clear.

Wikipedia defines “viral video” as “video clip content which gains widespread popularity through the process of Internet sharing, typically through email or IM messages, blogs and other media sharing websites.” This describes more the process through which viral videos are created rather then what a viral video actually is.

I tried to analyze the types of viral videos around to understand what a viral video really is. I found that there are three different types and would like to provide a list of descriptive features of each (leave a comment if you disagree with the types or want to suggest more).

The reason for this separation of types is that if you are a company and want to create a viral video advertising campaign, you need to decide what type of viral video you want to create and choose the appropriate approach and infrastructure to allow for that type of viral video to be successful.

Here are the three types of viral videos that I could distinguish:

popular video

A video that has a high view count (in the millions) – possibly emerged over a longer time frame – is viral because in order to get such a high view count, many people must have been told about it and been directed to go to it and watch it.

A prime example of such a video is the “Hahaha” video of a baby laughing, which is currently at position 10 of YouTube’s Most Viewed of All Time page. I would also put the “Evolution of Dance” video into this category, which alone on YouTube has seen over 81M page view and has therefore the top rank on the Most Viewed of All Time videos on YouTube. This video has some aspects that make it a cult, but I don’t think they are strong enough.

The features of videos in this category are as follows:

  • high page view count
  • not subject to fashion or short-term fads
  • interest for many audiences
  • hasn’t spawned an active community

The reason for the last feature is that a popular video is simply a video that is a “must see” for everybody, but it doesn’t instill in people an urge to “become involved”. This is a bit of black-and-white painting of course – see also how many people created copies of the “Evolution of Dance” – but it is a general feature that applies to most of the audience.

cult video

Videos that become “cult” are not necessarily videos that achieve the highest view counts. They will however achieve a high visibility and almost 100% coverage in a certain sub-community. Such videos are regarded as viral since they virally spread within their target community. Sometimes they even create a community – their fan club.

The main aim of these videos is not a high view count on a single video, but an active community that is highly motivated to have the video be part of their culture.

A typical example is the “Diet Coke and Mentos” phenomenon. I would not be able to point to a single video on this phenomenon but there is a whole cult that has emerged around it with people doing their own experiments, posting videos, discussing it on forums, helping each other on IM etc. There are even fan clubs on Facebook.

The features of videos in this category are as follows:

  • many videos have been created on the same topic, in particular UCG
  • often, it is not clear which was the originating video that started the phenomenon
  • there is a substantial view count on the individual videos
  • not subject to fashion or short-term fads
  • interest for a sub-community mostly
  • has spawned an active community, possibly with their own website

I would use the “Ask a Ninja” series of vodcasts as another example of a cult video. It has a central website and a very active community of fans around it.

trendy video

The term “Internet meme” has been coined for the videos in this category. They are essentially videos that create a high amount of activity around the Internet for a short time, but then people lose interest and move on. They are trendy for a limited amount of time.

A typical example in this category is the “Dramatic Chipmunk” with more than 7M views on YouTube on this one video, and further millions of views on the diverse mash-ups that were created. At one point, it was a “must see” and you had to have mashed it up to be “in”. Now it has been replaced by Rick Rolling – the activity of pointing people to a URL of something but then falsely directing them to Rick Astley’s video of “Never Gonna Give You Up” on YouTube with more than 9M page views.

The features of videos in this category are as follows:

  • videos achieve high page view in a short amount of time
  • audience interest vanishes after a limited time
  • often consists of funny, shocking, embarrassing, bizarre, or slanderous content
  • there is a substantial view count on the video(s) related to the phenomenon
  • creates high user activity for a short time e.g. through mash-ups, remixes, or parodies

Now that we have defined the different types of viral videos there are the lessons for viral video marketing campaigns.

If you want to create a popular video, create a beautiful, time-less video like the Sony Bravia Bunnies ad that everybody just has to have seen. Then make sure to release it on the Internet before you release it on TV by uploading to YouTube and a set of other social video hosting sites. Feel free to complement that with your own Website for the video. Start the viral spread through emailing your employees, friends, social networks, etc and rely on the cool-ness of the video to spread.

Typical Australian ads that have achieved popular video status are Carlton Draught’sBig Ad” and the more recent VBStubby Symphony” ad.

If you want to create a cult video, you should create something that will excite a sub-community and provide the opportunities for the community to emerge. Blendtec did this very well with their “Will it Blend?” videos and website. I actually believe, they should open that Website even further an allow discussion forums to emerge. They could pull all those blender communities at Facebook into their site. OTOH they could just be involved in the social networks that build elsewhere around their brand to make the most from their fan base.

If your video ad is however just meant to create a high audience activity for a short time, you might consider doing a shocking video like the one Unicef created with the Smurfs. Or something a little less extreme like the funny German Coastguard video created by the Berlitz Language Institute.

Adding RSS icons to a joomla template

We’re using Joomla on Vquence’s corporate site and wanted to display RSS icons and provide proper feeds for the blogs and news posted there.

The new Joomla 1.5 provides the ability to add to every Menu item that is a Blog List an RSS feed by introducing an rss and atom link tag in the html head tag. However, we wanted to have the RSS icon for subscriptions displayed on the page, too, and that turned out to be not so simple.

Here is the piece of code that we eventually added to our body tag:

<div id="rss" style="float: right;" >
<?php $headData = $this->getHeadData() ?>
<?php if(count($headData['links']) != 0) : ?>
<a href="<?php echo JRoute::_('index.php?format=feed&type=atom', false) ?>"><img src="/images/rss.gif" alt="rss icon"/></a>
<?php endif; ?>
</div>

Fortunately, this also worked for the aggregated planet blog feed we are displaying in Joomla as an article under Team Blog and for which we had to install the CustomHeadTag plugin to add the link tags to the html page head.

Counting the number of links in the Joomla HeadData seemed to be the best way to find out whether or not to add the RSS feed icon. This is in no way or shape optimal or the best solution, but we were unable to find a way to get directly to the parameters of the menu items and query that show_feed_link parameter of the menu item. Online documentation for this type of template work is non-existent as yet.

If anyone has a better solution, leave a comment!

Standardisation in video advertising

It’s great to read at ClickZ that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is preparing new format guidelines for video advertising. This includes pre-, mid- and post-roll, overlays, product placement, and companion ads (display ads placed alongside video).

The standard is currently in public comment phase, which closes on 2nd May 2008.

It is good to see that the standard also contains recommendations on the ratio of ad-to-content and on capping the frequency of ads to save the consumer from overly getting swamped with advertising.

The effect this standard will have on the video advertising industry will be enormous. Content publishers will build their websites with these standards in mind and provide generic advertising spaces into which they can then include advertising as required from the appropriate advertisers. Advertisers can create ads that will be re-usable across websites. And video advertising agencies can finally start to emerge that provide the market place for video ads to find their locations.

This is a sign that online video advertising is maturing and more generally that free online video distribution will become more viable for content owners.

For Vquence this is great news since all this new advertising will need to be measured for impact – I expect the need for video analytics will grow enormously. :-)

Video Metrics: an emerging industry category

Yesterday, YouTube gave video metrics to their users. If you have uploaded videos to YouTube, you can go to your video list and click “About this video” to see a history of view counts. Very simple, but a good move.

It is great to see YouTube provide this service, even if just for your own, personally uploaded videos. It validates the newly emerging industry category of “online video metrics“, that Vquence is also a part of.

Our colleagues from VisibleMeasures expressed a similar feeling in their blog entry saying: “we view anything that companies can do to help showcase the need and improve the landscape for video measurement as a plus for the entire ecosystem”. I couldn’t express it any better.

Following the blogging community, there is a large need for online video metrics, both for tracking your own published videos – as YouTube has started providing since yesterday – as well as tracking videos published by the market generally for market analysis and intelligence reasons.

The number of players in the field is still small and FAIK we are the only Australians to offer these services.

U.S. spending on internet video advertising alone is expected to grow to US$4.3 billion by 2011. The need for online video publications is predicted to grow even stronger in the near future when each and every Website will be expected to use video to communicate their message. The need for video metrics will increase enormously.

Check out our new Website if you want to learn more about how Vquence measures video.

Choosing a Web charting library

At Vquence, until now we have used the Thumbstacks chart library for our graphs. TSChartlib is a simple open source charting library that uses the HTML canvas and an IE hack to create its graphs.

Vquence is now getting real serious with charts and graphs and we were thus looking for a more visually compelling and more flexible alternative. If you do a google search for “online charting library“, you get a massive amount of links to proprietary systems (admittedly, some of them offer the source code if you pay a premium). I will not be listing them here – go find them for yourself. However, the world of decent open source charting libraries is relatively small, so I want to share the outcome of my search.

There is the Open Flash Chart libary, which provides charting functionality for flash or flex programmers. The charts look rather nice and have overlays on the data points, which is something I missed thoroughly from TSChartlib.

There is a open source flex component called FlexLib which only does line charts, IIUC.

There is PlotKit, a Chart and Graph Plotting Library for Javascript. It has support for HTML Canvas and also SVG via Adobe SVG Viewer and native browser support and looks quite sexy.

Then there is JFreeChart, a 100% Java chart library that makes it easy for developers to display professional quality charts in their applications. Another Java charting library is JOpenChart. Incidentally, there’s a whole swag of further Java libraries that do charts and graphing. However, we are not too keen on Java for Web technologies.

Outside our area of interest, there are also open source chart libraries in C#, but C#/.NET is not a platform we intend to support, so these were out of the question.

Our choice came down to the “Open Flash Chart” library vs “Plotkit”. Of the two, the Flash library and technology seems more mature, easier to use, and creates sexier charts. Also, we can sensibly expect all Vquence users to have Flash installed, while we cannot expect the same to be true for SVG. However, I was fascinated by the flexible use of SVG and HTML Canvas and will certainly get back to it later, when I expect it to have matured a bit more.

Our choice of the Open Flash Chart was further facilitated by a rails plugin for it. Score!

Of course: I might have totally missed some obvious or better alternatives. So, leave me a reply if you think I did!

Australian Startup Carnival – Winners Announced

As mentioned earlier, Vquence took part in the Australian Startup Carnival and winners are now announced.

The feedback we got from the judges is encouraging. It’s great to see that Vquence is indeed providing a useful tool. But we are also aware that the service offering is not complete and needs a lot more tech development.

I’d like to address the concern of one judge that we are dependent on YouTube’s goodwill to keep their access open. This is not the case. Not only has YouTube just in the last days opened up their API even further, so I don’t think there’s a risk there. But in general: closing access to content is not what the Web is about – on the contrary – Yahoo is just opening up their search platform and Tim Berners-Lee’s Semantic Web will enable an even more open exchange of data between different sites. However, Vquence does not rely solely on the availability of such data interfaces. That would be dumb. Where we cannot use APIs or RSS feeds or other data interfaces, we can always parse plain video Web pages, just like Google’s search engine parses Web pages. In short: our life would be harder without open interfaces, but not impossible.

As for the position that Vquence achieved in the Australian Startup Carnival: Vquence came in 5th position out of 28 participants, which is great, in particular since we are currently in a transition phase towards video metrics.

Australian Startup Carnival

Vquence was today presented on the “Australian Startup Carnival” site – go, check it out.

There are 28 participants to the startup carnival and each one of them is being introduced through an interview that was taken electronically. Questions for this interview were rather varied and detailed. They included technical and system backgrounds as well as asking for your use of open source software.

All the questions you have always wanted to ask about Vquence, and a few more. ;-)

UPDATE: The Startup Carnival has announced the prizes and they are amazing – first prize being an exhibition package at CeBIT. Good luck to us all!!

Vquence: Measuring Internet Video

I have been so busy with my work as CEO of Vquence since the end of last year that I’ve neglected blogging about Vquence. It’s on my list of things to improve on this year.

I get asked frequently what it is that we actually do at Vquence. So here’s an update.

Let me start by providing a bit of history. At the beginning of 2007 Vquence was totally focused on building a social video aggregation site. The site now lives at http://www.vqslices.com/ and is useful, but lacks some of the key features that we had envisaged to have a breakthrough.

As the year grew older and we tried to create a corporate business and an income with our video aggregation, search and publication technology, we discovered that we had something that is of much higher value than the video handling technology: we had quantitative usage information about videos on social video sites in our aggregated metadata. In addition, our “crawling” algorithms, are able to supply up-to-date quantitative data instantly.

In fact, I should not simply call our data acquisition technology a “crawler” because in the strict sense of the word, it’s not. Bill Burnham describes in his blog post about SkyGrid the difference between crawlers of traditional search engines and the newer “flow-based” approach that is based on RSS/ping servers. At Vquence we are embracing the new “flow-based” approach and are extending it by using REST APIs where available. A limitation of the flow-based approach is that just a very small part of the Web is accessible through RSS and REST APIs. We therefore complement flow-based search with our own new types of data-discovery algorithms (or “crawlers”) as we see fit. In particular: locating the long tail of videos stored on YouTube is a challenge that we have mastered.

But I digress…

So we have all this quantitative data about social videos, which we update frequently. With it, we can create graphs of the development of view counts, comment counts, video replies and such. See for example the below image for a graph that compares the aggregate view count of the videos that were published by the main political parties in Australia during last year’s federal election. The graph shows the development of the view count over the last 2.5 months before the election in 2007.

Aggregate Viewcount Graph Federal Election Australia

At first you will notice that Labor started far above everyone else. Unfortunately we didn’t start recording view counts that early, but we assume it is due to the Kevin07 website that was launched on 7th August. In the graph, you will notice a first increase on the coalition’s view count on the 2nd September – that’s when Howard published the video for the APEC meeting 2-9 Sept 2007. Then there’s another bend on the 14th September, when Google launched it’s federal election site and we saw first videos of the Nationals going up on YouTube. The dip in the curve of the Nationals a little after that is due to a software bug. Then on the 14th October the Federal Election was actually announced and you can see the massive increase in view count from there on for all parties, ending with a huge advantage of Labor over everybody else. Interestingly enough, this also mirrors the actual outcome of the election.

So, this is the kind of information that we are now collecting at Vquence and focusing our business around.

On that background, check out a recent blog post by Judah Phillips on “Thinking about Measuring Internet Video?”. It is actually a wonderful description of the kind of things we are either offering or working on.

Using his vocabulary: we can currently provide a mix of Instream and Outstream KPI to the video advertising market. Our larger aim is to provide outstream audience metrics that are exceptional and we know how to get them regardless of where the video goes on the Internet. Our technology plan centers around a mix of a panel-based approach (through a browser plugin) and a census-based approach (through a social network plugin for facebook et al, also using OpenID), and video duplicate identification.

This information isn’t yet published at our corporate website, which still mostly focuses on our capabilities in video aggregation, search, and publication. But we have a replacement in the making. Watch this space… :-)