With YouTube’s video annotations feature starting to get some momentum (see below for update), I thought it might be good to address the concept of interactive video. “Hypervideo” – the inclusion of dynamic hyperlinks into video on a time-dependant basis – isn’t particularly new. In early 2004, web ad technology company United Virtualities released their Shoshmosis engine, which placed a clickable Flash layer over streaming video. Before that, eline Technologies (now VideoClix) had a QuickTime-based solution complete with clickable objects that triggered contextual content alongside the playing video. But hypervideo has yet to penetrate into the online mainstream, and most web video experiences are still remarkably linear.
Much of the development of hypervideo so far has been driven by advertising, but YouTube’s annotation feature seems to deliberately thwart it. Only internal YouTube links are allowed at this point – links to other videos, channels, or search results.
Veeple, another up-and-coming service, expands beyond YouTube’s internal links to offer more flexibility in terms of link style and destination. More like VideoClix, Veeple lets you use objects in your scene as links to any URL. Veeple CEO Scott Broomfield puts it this way in an ABC interview:
If you’re on your computer with your mouse and with your keyboard, you’re interactive. But the video experience today is passive, and so what we do is we blend the two together.
The active/passive distinction is one that comes up a lot in discussions of online video. Video is one of the toughest mediums to adapt to the interactive, dynamic model of the web; particularly if you’re shooting live subjects, there’s a certain amount of spatial and temporal predetermination that you just can’t play with on the fly. YouTube’s annotations are certainly interesting as a way to make video a lean-forward rather than a lean-back experience. But they still have the flavour of a choose-your-own-adventure novel: an interesting gimmick, to be sure; but also stretching the limits of a medium to the point of clumsiness (when reading one, you realise how completely books lack the hyperlinking features of the web).
Is the technology about to evolve? Are we on that crest where the paperback choose-your-own-adventure novel is injected with the magic of hypertext? I think it’s going to take a completely new UI experience than what we’re used to, which is still primarily organized around the concept of the ‘page’. Maybe we’ll find it somewhere in the intersection between YouTube’s page-based print ancestry and Joost‘s cable/satellite/PVR-like interface? Maybe a dash of PicLens or even (shudder) Second Life?
UPDATE: YouTube now supports annotations in embedded players (initially, annotations only worked on the YouTube site itself).