Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Etsy, Instagram -- we refer to sites like these as social. Yet YouTube, despite its massive popularity, doesn’t make it into that category very often -- presumably because it’s video-based. Similarly, despite being the world’s second largest search engine, it’s infrequently discussed as part of the SEO ecosystem.
But the utility and social profile of YouTube specifically, and digital video in general, are about to get a big boost -- largely due to a variety of second-generation tools that have been a long time coming. In the coming year, these tools will serve to reinvigorate digital video as a primary social platform.
Why Video’s Not Social – Yet
In a recent piece for NPR, Neda Ulaby explained the “quartering of the half-life” of video memes and viral videos –- basically a shrinking in the duration of popularity. Ulaby’s explanation was rooted in the proliferation of devices and access and, in part, volume. But a more critical part of the explanation is the lack of fresh social products for digital video, especially when compared to the available tools for other social content.
Videos are relatively easy to share, but they don’t get nearly the same rates of social interaction that still images do. It’s partly due to length, partly due to audio (most people don’t listen to a full video in public), and partly because it’s often unclear why a video was shared with you.
Still, videos are viewed frequently. And in my last piece, I stressed how useful they can be as a brand response on social channels. So what keeps us from thinking of them as inherently social? Because, despite all of their potential, they kind of aren’t. Specific comments on a video are hard to make or explain without being able to indicate precisely what you’re referencing. And generic comments like “this is a good video” don’t really add value to the experience -- nor do they really encourage anyone to watch them. Services like Yelp have more experiential comments than YouTube.
The New Social Tools for Video
The good news is that we’re starting to see new tools and networks emerge that add meaningful, intuitive, and simple social functionality to what is otherwise a static social experience. These tools will make watching, sharing, and talking about digital video a more interesting and useful experience.
For instance, some companies are changing the way videos are aggregated or collected, grouped, modified, and shared. A company called Burst.It has an app with a closed-circuit system that is built with bubbles –- something like Google Plus’ circles. It can automatically, or manually, aggregate content for a unique group – -say, wedding attendees at a certain table. Or, with scale, everyone at the Jay Z show at SXSW. Or, more broadly, everyone at or watching the Super Bowl.
Another company called Hapyak is beginning to layer on some highly intuitive engagement tools to existing videos. The original video upload remains intact and is played from its original source. But the toolkit is a layer that allows you to personalize and customize the video with your own insights, and then share it with whoever you’d like, whether it’s privately one-to-one or publicly one-to-many. You can draw on the video, slow it down, pause it, insert a text box – and you don’t need any lessons on how to do it, because it’s very user-friendly.
These tools, and others either available now or coming soon, will move video from a more passive experience to one that is more interactive, shared, and truly social. To which I say: It’s about time.