Here’s a story that’s familiar to anyone traveling to and from Europe in the last week: Erupting volcano. Canceled flight. Nothing to do but hit the Internet for some help.
Thanks to my friends over at Google for suggesting this. I had a blast creating my search story.
And now an update on an interview I published last week with United Airlines regarding the viral video controversy, United Breaks Guitars.
The sequel to the first music video has been released this morning, and it’s a … polka.
Good thing YouTube isn’t losing as much money as everyone thought, because when it comes to posting your vacation videos online, you probably don’t want to waste your time anywhere else. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Of course there are other sites where you could upload your travel clips. There’s Flickr, run by Yahoo. And Vimeo, which specializes in smooth, high-definition video. And scores of smaller sites that I won’t even bother mentioning, not so much because I don’t want to confuse you, but because I don’t want to confuse myself.
I love YouTube. I also hate it. I’ll get to the reasons in second. First, though, let’s have a look at the other two contenders.
Flickr is primarily a photo-sharing site. I post all of my pictures to my Flickr account, which allows me to share snapshots with friends, groups and even do some limited editing. About a year ago, Flickr allowed you to upload videos — much to the horror of some resident professional photographers, who were dead-set against the idea of video soiling their corner of social media AstroTurf. Since these probably were the same people who swore they would never shoot anything but film back in the mid-90s, you can’t take their protest too seriously.
Flickr is extremely forgiving, when it comes to the type of video it accepts. It allowed me to upload virtually any format and displayed it correctly without any letterboxing or otherwise screwing with anamorphic ratios. For someone who has spent many hours resubmitting my clips to Final Cut’s Compressor application, in a futile effort to make it look right online, I can safely say this is Flickr’s best quality.
Its worst? You’re limited to just 90 seconds. So you have to be brief.
On the other hand, no site handles video in a more sophisticated way than Vimeo. Loading your clips is a cinch. Vimeo plays high-definition videos with astounding clarity, and without the dropped frames you see on other services. (Dropped frames are basically when your video stutters and jumps around, and it makes all your hard work look like something shot on a disposable camera.) There are a number of really innovative networking features, but unless you have $59 to spend on Vimeo Plus, you probably don’t want to bother. You’re bound to run up against space limits on the free version, may upload only one HD video a week, and aren’t allowed to embed your own videos on your site — unless you’re willing to pay.
And why pay for something that you can get for free?
All of which brings me to YouTube.
I wish this Google-owned site were as easy and fun to use as Vimeo, but it gets my recommendation only because its free, and it works. Not always, but most of the time. In a previous column, I described my frustration with how YouTube handled aspect ratios on the Canon Vixia HFS10. Well, I finally figured out how to get rid of that annoying black border I was griping about. Load everything into YouTube as a 1920-by-1080 video, and suddenly, it’s gone.
While researching this problem, I discovered this hurdle had been encountered, and overcome, by a couple of people who weren’t content to live with the letterboxing, but that they kept the answer to themselves because they apparently didn’t want to share. Something about YouTube’s secret sauce. Not good.
Despite all of its faults, YouTube has become the de-facto standard for video online — a kind of MS-DOS of the moving image. This is both comforting and distressing. It’s comforting, because you know everyone else is trying to work with this imperfect technology. And it’s distressing because, well — it’s imperfect.
One of the most popular cameras on the number one photo-sharing site isn’t a camera at all. It’s the Apple iPhone.
I mention this for two reasons. First, because a new iPhone is being released June 19. And second, because it now includes a feature that promises to change the way we travel: a video camera.
The specs are nothing to rave about — 640 by 480 pixels, which is not exactly HD — but the implications are far-reaching for each and every one of us. At the touch of a button, travelers can now publish an edited video to YouTube. Not coincidentally, YouTube just last week added a feature that allows you to directly share clips to Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader.
Why does any of this matter to travelers?
Because it marks a fundamental shift that could alter the way we get our information about travel and the way we share our travel experiences.
It’s a move from “tell me” to “show me.”
You can already see the beginning of this migration on social networking sites that specialize in travel, where users are gravitating toward photos, as opposed to written reviews. Just last week, in a post about TripAdvisor, several users claimed they disregarded the written reviews and just looked at the pictures. When everyone is carrying a video camera, and when posting to the Internet is as easy as pushing a button, imagine how people will make travel purchasing decisions?
Let’s just take a moment to consider this.
Say you’re buying a plane ticket, but it’s a toss-up between United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. At the moment, you can look up reviews of both airlines and find lots of information on blogs. You can also go to a seat review site like SeatGuru or to an old-school forum like FlyerTalk, and get a reasonably good idea of what to expect. But what if you have actual user-generated video content of the seats and can compare seat pitch, in-flight entertainment, and overall comfort by seeing it instead of reading about it.
How would that change things?
What if you’re trying to decide where to make restaurant reservations? You could check out Zagat or Yelp and read all about it, but what if you could see the entrees as they’re served?
Now imagine everyone has access to it in real time. That’s what Google Wave is all about, and when it’s released later this year, it could potentially revolutionize the way in which we consume information. Here are a few highlights of Google Wave’s features, courtesy of our friends over at Lifehacker.
We’re on the verge of nothing less than a revolution in media. The travel industry will be at the frontline, but it won’t take long to turn everything upside-down.
Are you ready?