Category Archives: Cloud

Has consumer cloud-based editing arrived?

Recently I was sent a link to an article about JayCut.com. Because I work for a publicly traded company that develops non-linear editors of both the executable and cloud-based kind, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to get into the specifics of any vendor’s software design or business model. Anyone who saw Avid’s web-based editing demo at NAB or last May’s Editors Lounge has seen Avid’s vision of what editing in the cloud can be.

Long before taking up NLE design as a vocation I was enamored with the idea true “online” editing. Years ago I was a fan of JumpCut — the online editor eventually bought, then shuttered by Yahoo!

JayCut UI

JayCut's UI is similar to those of consumer-facing online editors before it. Is its fate going to be similar too?

If Yahoo! couldn’t jump start JumpCut, what would make a someone attempt a consumer-facing web-based NLE again? The world has changed a lot since 2006 when I first encountered JumpCut. Here are just a few of the shifts that might make a consumer-facing NLE viable.

  • Smart phones are the new camcorder. Nearly everyone under 35 has a phone capable of recording video. Assuming an unlimited data plan, sending even large files to the cloud is a lot easier than waiting to get home and tethering the phone to a PC to download videos. (JayCut can only do this from Android phones currently.)
  • Facebook and YouTube are the de facto publishing platforms of the Millennials. They don’t make DVDs. They don’t even do email. If they want to edit their video, they will want to do it where their video lives.
  • Cisco with its Flip cameras and other online players are interested in consumer video to drive traffic and revenue. Linksys + Flip = Lots of Cisco hardware being sold to ISPs.

Unlike JumpCut, JayCut is not a pure consumer play. It offering includes video distribution software and services for business, differentiating itself from Brightcove somewhat as a tool for online collaboration. (Mashups with a more adult-sounding name.)

Also entering this space is Kaltura.com/.org — an open source online video editing and distribution platform with a nifty WordPress plug-in to boot. Kaltura will host your applications and content, and also allows for DIY on your own server. The Kaltura player also allows for collaboration. Blog admins can set permissions for user to add, comment, and edit videos embedded in a blog post.

Perhaps these tools are still ahead of their time. But if not 2010, when?

Apple, iTunes, and the cloud

A small, but interesting tidbit. Word has leaked that Apple has agreed to acquire the hybrid streaming-download music service Lala. Unlike other streaming services, Lala is not subscription-based so it fits nicely into Steve Job’s view of the online music world. Lala is more of a cloud-based iTunes. If you keep your music on the cloud and stream it, you pay 10 cents to add it to your collection. Downloading a song costs 89 cents. Lala also has a nifty technology that allows the user to upload his MP3 library to Lala. Any song in Lala’s catalog is linked to the Lala version, others the user can upload for free.

Assuming a proliferation of music playing devices with inexpensive Internet connectivity, the deal’s a no-brainer. It accelerates iTunes’ much needed migration to the cloud. You gotta love this business model from the consumer’s point of view. “Let me get this straight, you’ll store, backup, and manage my music collection on your storage with your infrastructure for 10 cents per song, or I can take on the hassle for 89 cents per song.” Apparently the model works according to a Wired article.

This Lala acquisition could also help iTunes increase its revenue-per-user. Steve Jobs admitted  in 2007 that the average iTunes user had only bought an average of 22 songs. By contrast, Lala CEO Bill Nguyen told us in October that its paying customers spend an average of $67 on Lala music…

And don’t forget all of those wi-fi capable iPods to be sold.

Catching the wave

Google Wave logo

A few weeks ago I received a Google Wave invite. Unlike Gmail, which I considered a must-have, I didn’t go beating down the doors of colleagues and peers in search of an invite. How much do I need another collaboration tool? Currently I use SharePoint (more on that later), Confluence (enterprise wiki), Twitter, Yammer, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Skype. And let’s not forget the old standbys — email, list servers, web forums, SMS, and RSS. TechCrunch has a pretty evenhanded review of Google Wave.

The challenge of adopting a new communication platform is the chicken and the egg conundrum of Metcalf’s Law — the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. Every time I asked someone about Wave, I pretty much received the same answer, “It looks really cool, but I don’t have an account and I’m not sure what I’d do with it.” One never knows with Google if the justification for the paucity of beta invites is due to infrastructure limitations or the desire to simply create hype through scarcity. A lot of people sitting on a technology not knowing what do do with it is far less desirable than having thousands of folks wanting to get their hands on it — not fully aware that they have no idea what to do with it. Get those early adopters who really want to figure it out using and talking about your technology and it will eventually come together. It’s worked for Google to great effect in the past.

Everyone wants better collaboration tools. In the media production space, Avid’s collaborative capabilities have been our differentiation for years from Media Composer to Unity to Interplay. So this is an area near and dear to my heart and paycheck. It behooves me to get to know Wave.

At the most cursory level, it’s possible to justify my initial skepticism about the value of Wave each time I log in. Of my 500+ Google contacts, only 12 (2.5%) have Wave accounts, and 25% of those I invited. But it’s become apparent that in the professional space Metcalf’s Law is only part of the formula for network valuations. Let’s use Twitter as an example. It’s such a massive network that the first thing a new user does is narrow the list of tweets he sees. It’s not just how many people are on the network, but how many people saying something worth hearing. It’s also about context. Sometimes I want to read tweets about video editing, sometimes I want to read about the Boston Red Sox. Rarely do I not have a preference. Twitter became much more valuable to me after it introduced lists. All the people who talk about media production in one list, sports fans in another, and family members in a third. Here is where Google excels — all its tools are great at filtering content. Wave is no exception, even in its embryonic state.

Getting back to that 2.5% of my contacts on Google Wave. While a dozen people do not a valid network make, I note that these people are all thought leaders in their space — my cousin the professor with the DBA, the director at Avid working on cloud computing and SaaS deployments, the executive director of AICE, faculty at USC. These are precisely the people who will create a network that I will value. Google’s onto something, again.

So here’s the challenge for would-be collaborators. Managing the Wave. Back in the 1990s Lotus was incredibly successful getting large enterprises to deploy Notes. Everyone could collaborate, and everyone did. Most installations were not well managed, and databases sprouted like mushrooms. In fact my first gig in IT consulting was working with a team at a Fortune 500 company to migrate thousands of databases into a single intranet. The project ran out of money before it ran out of Notes databases.

To quote Stan Lee: With great power comes great responsibility. Misuse of SharePoint has already begun infecting corporate knowledge management the way Notes did. Google Wave with its looser structure has exponentially more potential to wreak havoc. As the TechCrunch review notes, it’s imperative IT and knowledge management pros get ahead of this Wave, and third parties such as Avid build the right hooks into these platforms to make them useful instead of overwhelming.

Giving customers an exit strategy

So you’ve uploaded your data to the cloud — maybe Flickr, Google Docs or YouTube, and you decide to change services. Now what? After wrestling with downloads, re-formatting, and complex account closing procedures, most of us stay put. The added benefit of changing services almost never outweighs the cost of the move. Remember when you couldn’t take your mobile phone number with you when you changed carriers. Countless people stayed in bad plans with bad coverage because they wouldn’t risk changing phone numbers.

As we enter the adolescent phase of Web 2.0, the ability to switch services easily is detrimental to the growth of cloud and subscription-based services. “Oh crap,” the potential customer says, “I’m marrying this company without a pre-nup.” So he puts off giving the service a try, fearing he will be locked in when a better service comes along.

They teach us in business school that high switching costs are a good thing. It keeps customers locked up. It also frustrates the living hell out of them and they become determined to jump ship at the first reasonable opportunity. A short term advantage can easily be erased by long term ill will.

Google is addressing the issue with its Data Liberation Front. Simply stated, you can leave and take your data with you in a usable format anytime you like. Old schoolers, don’t be so sure this is so bad even in the near term. Experience taught me with Xprove that making it easy to opt in and out of the service at will gives users confidence. It also says, “We’re so damn good we don’t worry about you ever wanting to leave.” A simple website tweak that made that point clearer increased paid subscriptions overnight.

Webmonkey has an interview with Brian Fitzpatrick of Google on the Data Liberation initiative. It’s good reading for any business looking to move into cloud-based or subscription-model businesses. One excerpt:

To be very clear: It’s not that Google is just an altruistic, lovable, huggable company. I think we’re a good company, but we get a benefit from this. We benefit from the work we do with open web standards, open-source and data liberation. But if you’re using a Google product now and you decide to go somewhere else, the easier we make it to leave and take your data with you, the more likely you are to come back and use something we come out with in the future.

There’s also the “rising tide floats all boats” analogy — the more we contribute to the success of the internet, the more we contribute to our own success since we’re such a big player.

A nice Web 2.0 addendum to the Innovator’s Dilemma.