Saturday, April 16, 2011

Google Had a Video?

4.24.11: Google has
announced they will hold off on deleting their videos - for now.

- - - - - -

Google Video will be no more, as of May 13th. Post their announcement, the somewhat snarky commentary online suggests that if an online service that no one used anyway disappears, did it ever make a noise?

The digital echo we'll hear after the collapse of Google Video is unclear. Google Video simply didn't get the traction that YouTube, a very similar service, was able to (and Google went ahead and acquired them in 2006 for $1.2 billion).

One factor may be that Google Video started, in terms of toucan years, a decade or so too soon (a generation in computer years, early 2005 compared to YouTube's April of 2005. Yes, you read that right. A mere 3 months earlier. YouTube, if only due to lack of resources, developed more slowly and therefore organically). The selection hosted on Google was quickly and overpoweringly a motley amalgam of old and obsolete news and advertising clips, educational fillups and full-length documentaries with no other distribution or market value. That's why they were on Google Video. There was nothing compelling I ever found, and admittedly the low rate of return and high signal-to-noise ratio prevented me from ever searching very long or very deep.

In other words, the perception was that it was a bunch of junk. Obviously a last-stop channel. While the content was for the most part unique and unavailable elsewhere, it wasn't useful. Clips that users uploaded themselves were lost in the shuffle.

That made it at best quaint.

YouTube, by contrast, though also quickly filled with content that was not available anywhere else, but was also driven by that aesthetic, also offering simple discovery and tag tools - and the ability to participate without logging in or registering. That made it social. It was a destination. While Google Video was a one-way conversation, a replacement for the top-of-the-dial UHF public-access channels, YouTube was a two-way conversation, a new way to filter the content online, and indeed to contextualize as well as respond in kind.

That also made it political.

Google hasn't been accepting uploads since May of 2009, and seemed to have quickly decided they were more interested in indexing video at other sites and pointing users there. As seems to be their value strategy, it's more useful to discover (and exploit) information about what people are searching for, rather than to actually host it. They admit they're finally ready to put us (and their tech staff) out of our misery.

They warn those who have content up to download it (and perhaps re-up it onto YouTube (they assume you already have).). In spite of amateur archivists rallying ad hoc to try and download the scarcer and "most interesting" of the over 2.8 million videos rumored to live there it's likely most of it will be gone in the digital shadow of the Internet.

How would one go about saving and archiving such a unique collection as that on Google Video? A dynamic collection formed by chance, demographics, and the tyranny of changing technology and audience interaction. Most poorly or mis-cataloged (sometimes on purpose to prevent finding it). And what does this say for the permanence of a corporation's goals, while professing to interconnect all the world's data, when some data is too needy to keep at the party.

Ultimately the longevity of all that data in the cloud is not in our hands. Imagine when YouTube becomes obsolete, or supplanted by some other service or upload/download service? Where will all that stuff go? Most of it may be transferred, and it may be automatic. But a lot will not be, and whether or not it's unique, important, curated or active will not have a lot to do with it.

Curators and archivists are not making the decisions, and the cultural fallout of an unknown, unique and now lost collection becoming extinct bears out two truths:

--Google Video was not the first chapter in what was supposed to be the new story of video on-line, rather it was the last of the older tale. On to new models.

--The take-down of Google Video may be the introduction to another kind of tale (it'll probably be an e-book, actually), one that explores what happens to culture when our audio-visual objects are so ephemeral, fleeting, and out of our control that they can't be depended upon to be around (especially when they're rare and forgotten, especially when they stop existing anywhere else except a furtive digital upload years ago ) when - just in case - they are more important than suspected. To someone somewhere eventually.

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