January 3, 2007
Video Sharing Sites Filling In Niches Around YouTube Censorship

Yesterday's New York Times featured an interesting piece about the video sharing and streaming sites that are making a name for themselves by lowering the safeguards that YouTube has put up in various ways.

The piece, by Brad Stone, looks at sites like Stickam, LiveLeak, and Dailymotion and explains both the niche that these sites intend to fill as well as the industry and parental concerns about the services these sites provide. Each provide an interesting method of looking at both the legitimate problems of video sharing online but also the way that child safety discussions often obscure some of the valuable aspects of these sites as well. Trying to wade through and distinguish the hyperbole and reactionary thinking from the legitimate safety concerns for users is key in understanding which of these sites provide potential long-term business models for counteracting the popularity of YouTube and MySpace's video features. The three sites share a lack of policing by employees that set them apart from the now corporate YouTube and MySpace.

1.) LiveLeak. According to Stone, LiveLeak has gotten its reputation from posting the type of gruesome war videos and other political fare that has been banned from sites like YouTube. Footage from the Iraq war in particular, as well as other content considered too violent for YouTube, has been one of the driving forces of interest for the London-based site. Not being familiar with the site previous to reading the Times article, I'm not sure if the political liberalism (not meant in the capital "L" sense here) is what has driven the site's power or not, but Stone reports that the site's popular clips have "included one of an agitated man in Muslim dress on a fast-moving treadmill and video of an American A-20 aircraft bombing Taliban forces in Afghanitan." The co-owner of the site discussed how YouTube users who were not allowed to post Iraq videos had been driven to LiveLeak, but Stone points out that sexually explicit material and footage of "grisly accidents" are also popular on the site, indicating there is a shock video factor outside of the political ramifications being touted. The ad supported site wants to develop a reputation for "unvarnished reality."

2.) Dailymotion. 40 percent of the users of this site are French, and the main draw, as explained by Stone, is a lack of limit on the length of videos posted, meaning that the Paris-based company has a lot of material that is ripped from television networks in full. While the site is not closely policed by employees, the owner says the policy is to remove content if it has been flagged as a copyright violation. The site shows ads to French users and is working on making entry into the U.S. market. Here, the draw emphasized for this site is that it is more accessible for posting pirated material. However, there are certainly many other reasons to post video that is more than 10 minutes long, and I'm sure that there is a wide diversity of content that stretches beyond copyright violations.

3.) Stickam. This site seems to be the most troubling because the niche it fills is allowing users to send out live feeds and have online chats. This is putting webcams in the hands of the masses, allowing anyone 14 and older to stream live video from their home. Of course, the majority of the reaction are from child safety groups that warn that these type of sites are just magnets for child predators. This is a legitimate concern, no doubt, and there should be efforts made to be sure and establish safety for 14-to-17-year-olds using the site. On the other hand, legitimate expression by teenagers is often stifled by this concern for safety, and the idea of balance shouldn't be outright banning.

The third example seems to be what has generated most of the excitement and concern. A spokesperson for WiredSafety says, "The only thing you get from the combination of Web cams and young people are problems. Web cams are a magnet for sexual predators."

This statement is false. I want to be sure and emphasize that I am not saying that concern for child safety is false because it is not. But Ms. Aftab, the WiredSafety spokesperson, is off-target if she really believes that only problems can result from Web cams for teenagers. This is another venue for personal expression and it provides more than just safety concerns. There is a new ability for free conversations, and children don't just use these venues solely for inappropriate purposes. Look, for example, to my recent post about deaf users on YouTube. It's hard for me to believe that there are not legitimate ways, such as signing and other nonverbal communication, that does not involve nudity and sex.

The problem is that people go to these extremes when discussing the issue. It has to be all bad because of child safety fears, with no balancing discussion of the many ways high schoolers could use tools such as video chat and Webcams.

By the way, in a later post, Ms. Aftab explains WiredSafety in greater detail in the comments section, pointing out that this quote is not indicative of the work Wired Safety does as a whole. Here, I use this quote not to paint Wired Safety in a particular light but to examine how our language has gone to such extremes in the political realm, so that we say things like "no good" can become of webcams, when that is obviously an exaggeration.

Parry offers a much more nuanced take on it in those comments.

Previously, we had these discussions about MySpace.

Back in July, I wrote about C3 Director Henry Jenkins' work on MySpace. At the time, I wrote:

In an article I wrote last month for The Greenville Leader-News, Jenkins related the anecdote that, when he was a child, his parents warned him about talking to strangers on the telephone, but they didn't take the telephone away from him or forbid him to use it. Considering all of the societal angst surrounding teenage use of MySpace right now, it's the right set of questions to be asking at the right time.

Ironically, one of the subjects in Stone's story (Donna Rice Hughes of the Enough Is Enough Internet safety organization) said, "If we discourage the use of the more corporately responsible social networking sites, kids will go underground to more edgier ones. Then we'll have more of a problem."