[Editor's Note: Michael Dean and Alan Lastufka wrote this article for their upcoming O'Reilly book YouTube: An Insider's Guide to Climbing the Charts. During the final edit, it had to be cut for space reasons, but we thought it was too interesting and valuable not to share. —David Battino]
One of the great things about YouTube is that it allows anyone to share video with anyone else in the world, immediately. One of the not-so-great things about YouTube is that same immediacy. Videos on YouTube do not have a lot of longevity. A two-week-old video on YouTube is very old news. Yesterday's papers. Last week's fish. That's fine if all your videos are about very topical subjects, like world headlines, fast-changing technologies, or which supermodel is having which Hollywood celebrity's baby.
But if you make videos that have more permanence, you may want them to have more staying power than chalk on the sidewalk waiting for the first rain. That's especially true if you make videos that don't just reach the world, but could actually change the world.
With tens of millions of video iPods out there (and the number growing daily), you might want to aim for that viewership. You can use the power of blogging software and an RSS feed to make your videos downloadable, savable, and playable on an iPod (or on any computer with iTunes installed, which, these days, is many of them). And people will have your videos to view at their leisure, so they'll save them longer.
If viewers like your videos a lot, they may even back them up on their hard drive or a disc to enjoy again or share with others. People won't need to be sitting in front of a computer to enjoy your work. They can watch while waiting for a bus, while sitting in the doctor's office, or even after World War III, when YouTube is a distant memory and we few lucky survivors are sitting in caves watching videos on solar-powered iPods. He who dies with his art on the most hard drives, wins.
“He who dies with his art on the most hard drives, wins.”
Setting up a blog site and including RSS-syndicated video is not as easy as simply having a YouTube page, but it's worth it if you want your videos to live on for the ages (or at least last longer than the milk currently in your fridge). Explaining all the ins and outs of configuring blogging software and using RSS feeds for distributing media could fill a book, but I'll point you in the right directions to get started.
"RSS" stands for (depending on who you're talking to, and which version you're using) Really Simple Syndication, RDF Site Summary, or Rich Site Summary. What's important, though, is what it does. An RSS feed is a tiny text file (in a format called XML) that points to other media. RSS enables people to subscribe to a site and automatically download new audio, video, or text posts when they become available. That way, if there's a video director (or blogger) you like, you can automatically get updates without having to keep going back to their page every day. Once you're subscribed, new posts or videos are automatically downloaded by your RSS reader (aka "podcatcher" or "aggregator") each time something new goes up.
RSS is the basic principle driving podcasting. Wikipedia has a good definition:
A podcast is a series of digital-media files, which are distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds for playback on portable media players and computers. The term podcast, like broadcast, can refer either to the series of content itself or to the method by which it is syndicated; the latter is also called podcasting.
The "pod" in "podcasting" derives from "iPod," but nowadays many devices and programs support media-rich RSS feeds. You've probably seen the RSS chicklet on various websites. (See Figure 1.) A chicklet is a small icon next to a blog post or online article that shows that the site has an RSS feed or other external service available by clicking. O'Reilly has dozens of RSS feeds.
Most browsers now include RSS support for text posts, and iTunes includes support for subscribing to audio or video podcasts via RSS. I have an RSS feed on my audio podcast Radio Free Nestlandia: The Voice of a Two-Person Nation in Suburbia.
On my friend Shawn Thorpe's YouTube pages, in the "More Info" part of each video page, he has a line that says, "Video also available for download from my website: www.shawnogram.com." (See Figure 2.)
Notice the "Subscribe / Contact" section at the bottom right of Figure 2. There are several chicklets — one each for subscribing to his audio-only podcast, his video-only podcast, and an iTunes feed that contains both the audio and the video feed. If you click on the iTunes icon, and you have iTunes installed, iTunes will automatically subscribe you to his feed, and will download new media as it becomes available. (People can also subscribe manually to the audio-only or video-only feed by copying the link and pasting it into iTunes via iTunes' Advanced menu. Other quick subscription options include Bloglines, Google Reader, the Live Bookmarks feature of Firefox, and the "Subscribe to This Feed" feature of Internet Explorer.)
If the subscriber has an iPod, iTunes will automatically transfer the new audio podcasts and/or videos onto her iPod each time she connects her iPod to her computer.
Shawn's "Subscribe/Contact" section also contains chicklets that link to Shawn's pages on various social networking sites, YouTube as well as MySpace, Flickr, and the social bookmarking site Delicious. There's also a clearly labeled email contact link. Shawn's site also has an easy-to-navigate header bar at the top right with links to the various pages on the site.
This website is an excellent example of an elegantly simple interface — everything the viewer needs to find is clearly labeled, with absolutely no flashy crap to distract. I really wish more of the Internet were laid out like this. Too many sites stress flashy design over usability, which is the opposite of the way you should do it if you really want to stand out and reach the world.
Shawn's site is hosted on his own server, but uses free blogging software from WordPress to make everything work easily. WordPress is a very polished solution for setting up and maintaining a blog, and it includes automatic RSS feed production for an updating media podcast.
Installing WordPress can be quite easy, but tweaking it to do exactly what you want can be tricky. I'm pretty computer-savvy, but I pay Shawn to set up and tweak my WordPress blogs. (He's available for more of this work; contact him if you want.) There are several sites with forums on how to solve issues that invariably come up while setting up and configuring WordPress. One of the best ones is the official WordPress support forum, where users help each other solve problems.
Running a popular video blog serves up a lot of media files, and that results in a lot of bandwidth usage (throughput). A one-page article in text format has a file size of around 1/100 of a megabyte. An MP3 audio file of you reading that same page will be around 4 megabytes. An MP4 iPod video of you reading that will be around 40 megs. If you've got hundreds or even thousands of people subscribed to your video feed all downloading 40-meg videos weekly or daily, that can add up to terabytes of throughput. With some web hosting companies, that can end up costing hundreds or thousands of dollars.
“I pay $84 a year for several terabytes per month of server space and throughput.”
Shawn and I host our media with DreamHost, a service that offers shared hosting, which is very cost-effective. Shared hosting means you and many other people share space on a single server computer. Because of that, your site may be down an hour or so a month. That is not the case with much more expensive dedicated hosting, which financial corporations use for mission-critical data, but the price for DreamHost is certainly right. I pay $84 a year for several terabytes per month of server space and throughput.
I'm hosting 23 very active domains, three blogs, three audio podcasts, and four RSS feeds on DreamHost, and I'm using only 8% of my available storage space and only 10% of my available monthly throughput. And the amount they give you of both increases each week. They also offer low-cost domain registration, free statistical reports, and cool goodies like one-click WordPress installations.
When you sign up for DreamHost, if you enter my code, DEAN, you'll even get a $10 discount. (I get some free time for each signup that uses my code, but I would never endorse a service that I didn't use.) I really love DreamHost, and I've researched many, many hosting solutions. It's the only one I've found that fits my budget, is run well, is easy to use, and offers a lot of variety and extensibility.
So with the infrastructure laid down, let's step back and look at the video. In order to make your videos playable on an iPod, so you can put them on an RSS feed, you'll need to convert them to MP4 video format.
Sony Vegas has MP4 format as one of the drop-down export options, but for some reason, the MP4 format exported from the current version of Vegas (as of this writing) will not play on all video iPods; Sony tells me they're working on that.
To make a file that can be played on all video iPods, I use a program called Allok Video to MP4 Converter (Windows XP, $29.99). Figure 3 shows the settings I like to use. This excellent program can use almost any video format or size as input, and it automatically renders out perfect iPod-ready MP4 files.
Apple QuickTime Pro (available for Mac or PC) can also output for iPod, but doesn't offer as many controls over the parameters as Allok. Apple iMovie (Mac only) can also render video for iPod. [Ed. Note: I've used Handbrake (Mac/Win/Linux) and Videora (Win) successfully; both are free.]
Once you have your WordPress blog set up, and you've converted your video to iPod format, you simply write a blog post in the WordPress interface in your browser (see Figure 4), and then upload and tag your video. (See Figure 5.)
After you hit the "Publish" button, your blog post will be viewable to the world in any computer with a browser and an Internet connection, and WordPress will automatically update your RSS feed and send out a ping to iTunes and other podcast directories to let people's podcatching software know that a new video is available. Your subscribers' computers will then download the videos automatically. That will happen almost immediately if they are online and have iTunes open. When I release a new episode, my stats show about a hundred downloads within the first hour. Within a day, it's many thousands.
Getting your podcast listed on the iTunes Store can dramatically increase the number of people who subscribe. You won't make any money doing it, as it's free to subscribe to a podcast on the iTunes Store, but it's definitely worth doing. Here's the technical info on how to submit your podcast.
Keep in mind that some blogging software, particularly WordPress, will automatically do a lot of this for you. If you set up WordPress properly, you can skip to the technical stuff on the link above and go directly to iTunes to submit your podcast for review and inclusion. You can go directly to iTunes' "Submit Podcasts to the iTunes Directory" screen by entering this URL in a web browser:
From there, simply copy and paste your RSS feed URL from your blog into iTunes. iTunes will automatically grab your podcast name, title image, category listing, contact info, and podcast description from your WordPress interface. Within 24 to 72 hours, you'll get an e-mail confirming that you've been accepted. Apple pretty much accepts anything that doesn't violate its Terms of Service. The reasons it might reject a podcast (or later remove it) are enumerated at the bottom of this page.
Creating an RSS feed to make your videos downloadable and savable and playable on the world's iPods is a little extra work beyond just having them available on a YouTube page. But it's really worth it, especially if you want to be more than last week's news in the grand scheme of things.