The history of Ogg on the Web

In the year 2000, while working at CSIRO as a research scientist, I had the idea that video (and audio) should be hyperlinked content on the Web just like any Web page. Conrad Parker and I developed the vision of a “Continuous Media Web” and called the technology that was necessary to develop “Annodex” for “annotated and indexed media”.

Not many people now know that this was really the beginning of Ogg on the Web. Until then, Ogg Vorbis and the emerging Ogg Theora were only targeted at desktop applications in competition to MP3 and MPEG-2.

Within a few years, we developed the specifications for a markup language for video called CMML that would provide the annotations, anchor points, and hyperlinks for video to make it possible to search and index video, hyperlink into video section, and hyperlink out of video sections.

We further developed the specification of temporal URIs to actually address to temporal offsets or segments in video.

And finally, we developed extensions to the Xiph Ogg framework to allow it to carry CMML, and more generally multi-track codecs. The resulting files were originally called “Annodex files”, but through increasing collaboration with Xiph, the specifications were simplified and included natively into Ogg and are now known as “Ogg Skeleton”.

Apart from specifications, we also developed lots of software to make the vision actually come true. Conrad, in particular, developed many libraries that helped develop software on top of the raw Xiph codecs, which include liboggz and libfishsound. Libraries were developed to deal with CMML and with embedding CMML into Ogg. Apache modules were developed to deal with segmenting sections from Ogg files and deliver them as a reply to a temporal URI request. And finally we actually developed a Firefox extension that would allow us to display the Ogg Theora/Vorbis videos inside a Web Browser.

Over time, a lot more sofware was developed, amongst them: php, perl and python bindings for Annodex, DirectShow filters to have Ogg Theora/Vorbis support on Windows, an ActiveX control for Windows, an authoring tool for CMML on Windows, Ogg format validation software, mobile phone support for Ogg Theora/Vorbis, and a video wiki for CMML and Ogg Theora called cmmlwiki. Several students and Annodex team members at CSIRO helped develop these, including Andre Pang (who now works for Pixar), Zen Kavanagh (who now works for Microsoft), and Colin Ward (who now works for Symbian). Most of the software was released as open source software by CSIRO and is available now either in the Annodex repository or the Xiph repositories.

Annodex technology became increasingly part of Xiph technology as team members also became increasingly part of the Xiph community, such as by now it’s rather difficult to separate out the Annodex people from the Xiph people.

Over time, other projects picked up on the Annodex technology. The first were in fact ethnographic researchers, who wanted their audio-visual ethnographic recordings usable in deeply. Also, other multimedia scientists experimented with Annodex. The first actual content site to publish a large collection of Ogg Theora video with annotations was OpenRoadTrip by Scott Shawcroft and Brandon Hines in 2006. Soon after, Michael Dale and Aphid from Metavid started really using the Annodex set of technologies and contributing to harden the technology. Michael was also a big advocate for helping Wikimedia and move to using Ogg Theora.

By 2006, the team at CSIRO decided that it was necessary to develop a simple, cross-platform Ogg decoding and playback library that would allow easy development of applications that need deep control of Ogg audio and video content. Shane Stephens was the key developer of that. By the time that Chris Double from Firefox picked up liboggplay to include Ogg support into Firefox natively, CSIRO had stopped working on Annodex, Shane had left the project to work for Google on Wave, and we eventually found Viktor Gal as the new maintainer for liboggplay. We also found Cristian Adam as the new maintainer for the DirectShow filters (oggcodecs).

Now that the basic Ogg Theora/Vorbis support for the HTML5 <video> element is starting to be available in all major browsers (well, as soon as an ActiveX control is implemented for IE), we can finally move on to develop the bigger vision. This is why I am an invited expert on the W3C media fragments working group and why I am working with Mozilla on sorting out accessibility for <video>. Accessibility is an inherent part of making video searchable. So, if we can find a way to extend the annotations with hyperlinks, we will also be able to build Webs of videos and completely new experiences on the Web. Think about mashing up simply by creating a list of URLs. Think about tweeting video segments. Think about threaded video email discussions (Shane should totally include that into Google Wave!). And think about all the awesome applications that come to your mind that I haven’t even thought about yet!

I spent this week at the Open Video Conference in New York and was amazed about the 800 and more people that understand the value of open video and the need for open video technologies to allow free innovation and sharing. I can feel that the ball has got rolling – the vision developed almost 10 years ago is starting to take shape. Sometimes, in very very rare moments, you can feel that history has just been made. The Open Video Conference was exactly one such point in time. Things have changed. Forever. For the better. I am stunned.

5 thoughts on “The history of Ogg on the Web

  1. Excellent work, hopefully this can finally open up multi-media for everyone, and not be undermined by commercial interests. It is a pity for example that youtube refuses to use ogg, Adobe has their own stuff, and that of course MS will fight tooth and nail to avoid anyone using a platform they don’t get a rent from. Hopefully wiki + firefox will be a good step on the way to critical mass.

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