Facebook Grows as Personal Video Platform

While sites everywhere seem to have developed an advertiser-inspired aversion to user-generated video, Facebook is welcoming personal video clips with open arms. Software engineer Chris Putnam, the lead video developer for the site, told me last week that nearly 40% of Facebook video uploads come from webcams.

While at first I found that stat startling, the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that I've seen a lot of webcam uploads on Facebook recently, particularly among the few people I'm friends with who are still in college. Many of the clips are of the "look at me dancing in my dorm room" or "look at me playing a song on my guitar" variety, and though I personally wouldn't want my life to be quite so public, one big advantage Facebook offers is you can specify exactly who can and can't see each of your videos. So there are certainly many more webcam uploads I can't see.

Facebook receives some 415,000 video uploads per day, with 155,000 of them from webcams. Since a video tab was added to the site's home page as of the March redesign, video uploads have seen a "significant increase," said Putnam, though Facebook declined to give specific stats this soon after the release.

Casual, Easy, and Accessible

As opposed to sites like Hulu and even YouTube, high-quality videos are less important when it comes to personal sharing. Only 3% to 4% of all Facebook video uploads are true truly high definition, according to Putnam, and just 25% are considered "high quality." Indeed, webcam captures are casual, easy, and accessible—low standards are basically the point. That cuts down on processing, storage, and delivery fees. Not that Facebook is trying to monetize video beyond its normal sidebar ads.

In part, these personal video usage habits have developed from constraints.

Facebook has never really emphasized video. While photos have long been one of the site's most-used features, the video feature was developed as a side project at an overnight "hackathon" in January 2007 and released as a demonstration application for the Facebook platform that May. Since the beginning, users have only been presented with videos their friends are featured in or that their friends post themselves. There's no public directory of all videos. Uploading directly from a webcam, however, has always been an option. MySpace, which added that feature last September, told us they get 70,000 uploads from users per day but declined to break out the percentage that comes from webcams. YouTube, offering the direct download option since December 2006, also did not disclose the breakdown.

Though Facebook videos were made embeddable in December—which you'd think would have greatly increased public sharing—few people use the feature, in part because only the owner of a video has access to the embed code. (Or it could be that entangling something from Facebook's privacy settings is just too difficult. The Facebook player for a video I embedded in a NewTeeVee post back in December now states: "This video has either been removed from Facebook or is not visible due to privacy settings." Neither of which is true, according to my account.)

Work in Progress

Not to say Facebook wouldn't be a good platform for public video distribution, given its user base's strong interest in all sorts of sharing. But when, for example, Katalyst Media set out to launch a Web show on Facebook back in February with promotion, advertising, and analytics, it had to use the third-party developer Slide's FunSpace app. Such basic publishing tools currently don't exist for Facebook videos, though Putnam said they are likely to be added at some point.

In the meantime, Facebook users are pushing forward notions of personal sharing by using video to capture live-action (if a little blurry) moments of their lives. This does seem to be Facebook-specific (or perhaps social network-specific) behavior. Leading personal video service Motionbox, which calls itself a Shutterfly for video, doesn't even offer webcam uploads, and tells us that users haven't asked for them. More apt competitors are probably Tokbox and Seesmic, but Facebook blows away their reach.

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