Thursday, September 18, 2014

Starting a Media Empire

This entry is not so much a gripe session as it is a telling of the story I've gone through in making digital entertainment and putting it on the Internet. We'll call it part one of perhaps many:

VIDEOS

YouTube: I have been making videos and putting them on YouTube since around the beginning of 2013. It started out very simply, and I've been getting better and better as the technology and know-how in my life has very deliberately grown. I am now producing 2-3 videos a week for YouTube (usually 4-5 minutes each) on various channels. I have made music videos, done interviews, talked into a camera about myself or the things I'm interested in, it's been really fun. The thing that I love most about YouTube is that it takes something REALLY hard (getting video onto the internet and then into the hands of literally billions of people) and removes absolutely all of the hard work from it. If you have a camera phone and the internet, you can create a video that has the potential to be seen by a billion people. YouTube does absolutely all of the heavy lifting for you. Yes, obviously you can put more work into the video itself, but that is the easy part of making a movie.

Distribution has been the hardest part of interpersonal communication since the dawn of time, and with the internet, and YouTube, we've absolutely cracked it. I can now chat in real-time with somebody across the world instantly, and when I post a video on YouTube, Australians can see it just as fast as Canadians can. It's a beautiful service, and Google has taken huge steps towards making it even better since they bought the company in 2006. Getting your videos seen is absolutely another hard part of the process, but Google also takes lots of steps to help people like me get their videos seen, as I'll get to later.

AUDIO

I made this video the day the podcast died (story below).
Podcasts: I'll call this entry podcasts, but really, as you'll see, it is a LOT more complicated than YouTube is for videos. I first did what you'd really call a live video podcast (what I call a webcast) in February of 2014. Now, with the help of YouTube, Google+ and Hangouts on Air, doing that was very easy, simple, and trouble-free. Later, when I decided to take that video series and turn it into an audio-only podcast for people on the go, is when things started to go downhill fast. I now run 3 different podcasts (a feed of audio conversations with accompanying text descriptions that you can subscribe to, and find on a website on the internet) and they have mostly been a nightmare, logistically.

You see, there is no YouTube for podcasts. The great thing about YouTube is that it is absolutely free to use. Anybody on earth* can put up a video or series of videos, and everything just works. For podcasts, which are basically just videos but without the picture, things are almost infinitely more complicated unless you want to pay quite a bit. Logically, this doesn't even make sense. Audio is about 1000x smaller** than video of a similar quality, and technically speaking, it doesn't make much sense how expensive podcast storage is when YouTube is free.

How YouTube Works

It will probably help you to have a little backstory at this point. Every type of media has to be stored somewhere. Back before the Internet, they kept TV and movies on tapes and stored them for broadcast, distribution, and archiving. Like with tapes, you can't just have a digital file living ON the internet, it has to be stored somewhere. Luckily for us, whereas you would have to go and get a tape from a storage locker, or Blockbuster, or your cabinet, when you have a digital file, you can store it digitally on a server (this serves files to you the same way a server at a restaurant would serve you your meal).

So what YouTube does (and keep in mind that in 2014 they get about two hours of video uploaded every minute) is take your video, put it in storage, and keep it for you forever, for free. I don't even really understand how this is possible, but that's what they do. All the time, for the last 10 or so years. For free. They actually also take many steps to do things like stabilize shaky footage, fix things about your video, and store separate versions of your videos in HD and non-HD formats to play them on any phone, tablet, computer or TV as fast as possible. Not to mention that they also store copies of all of these files in multiple places around the world so everyone can access them quickly, and they cut all of your videos into short clips so that if your connection suddenly slows way down, the video won't pause, it will just become a lower quality stream, and you don't have to start the download over again. And it does all of that completely seamlessly. And again, it's all FREE.

How Podcasts Work

So, back to podcasts. The majority of podcasts are between 20-100 MB (around 1 CD of music, for comparison), but no company has a really good free solution for hosting these files (hosting is the verb used for a server keeping your files for you; computer scientists are REALLY good at physical metaphors, seriously). I should point out that most podcasters do not make a lot of money, and so having a free solution to this problem (or at least a cheap one that actually works) would be super helpful.

I will now chronicle for you the time I am having trying to host music files online, in the order I've been trying them. If you haven't heard of any of these storage solutions, they are all very good in their own right, I will include links where I think it's appropriate, although each different service seems to have its own reason why it just won't work to host podcasts.

First up, Dropbox.

I have been using Dropbox for a good 4-5 years at this point, and they've been really great to me in a lot of ways. I don't really have to worry about losing any files to a computer crash anymore, because I just keep all of my files on Dropbox. They provide lots of storage for free, and give bonuses for being a student and for referring people to the service, they do a lot of good work. However, free accounts are limited to sharing only 20 GB of (hosted) files per day. This means that your typical podcast (~50 MB) would only need to be downloaded 400 times in a day before going over Dropbox's limit (at which point you get a warning and your account is temporarily locked).

Now, I should point out that even a moderately successful podcast can get those kinds of numbers (as I did back in August), and so now I can't use Dropbox to host podcasts. I should point out that you can pay to upgrade Dropbox storage (from 2+ GB free to 100+ GB) and bandwidth limits (to 200 GB), but that still only gives you 4000 downloads per day. Now, I may never get to that point, but having a file host that will disconnect your account automatically after only 1 warning if you become too successful is just a terrible way to do business, and there is no way to up your limit after that, for any price. Next...

Up next I tried Google Drive

While getting a link to download files in Google Drive is a little bit harder than it needs to be, this seemed to be a pretty good system for hosting files. You get 15 GB of free storage, and you can pay only $1.99 more per month to get 100 GB of storage. The problem here comes again when you try to share these files. In the case of Google Drive, you don't get cut off at a certain size of file, but rather when you hit 30 downloads of a file. This limit isn't posted anywhere, and so when I switched from Dropbox in August, for the first morning all seemed well, but by that afternoon the downloads had stopped, and I had to scramble to try to find a solution. Google Drive is great in a LOT of ways, but it doesn't work for podcast hosting.

That day brought me to discovering Archive.org.

Today is September 18th, 2014, but it shall be known to me as the day that Archive.org just stopped working. For about a month, all of my audio files were totally fine at archive.org. They make it really easy to add files in bulk, so even switching ~50 URLs wasn't very hard. And then today, all of a sudden, it just stopped working. None of the links work at all, including the one for the podcast I uploaded on Tuesday night and posted this morning. It has been this way for about 8 hours, leaving me again scrambling to post a Dropbox link to the file while I find another file host that will store my file without all of the issues I talk about above.

Here is where the story pauses, because we are at today. I have been using OneDrive, the Microsoft powered file service, for about 3 hours. It seems to be holding well, and so perhaps I will be able to follow up with some good news soon. I will say, right off the bat, OneDrive doesn't make it easy to get a direct link to a file, like Archive.org or Dropbox do, but it working once you have the link is the most important thing to me at this point. And it's possible that Archive.org will start working again and all will be well, but it will be hard for me to take that chance after today.

On that note, I am definitely looking into hosting my files elsewhere for money (such as SoundCloud), but that costs $150 per year, so I will need to find sponsors and/or funding to make that happen. I should point out at this time that if you're still here and are feeling at all generous, I am accepting donations right now at Patreon (there is also a button on the left side of the screen), raising funds for hosting. I have several levels of sponsorship you can give me, with various rewards/perks, and I'm currently working towards getting a camcorder (after selling my DSLR), a digital mixer and microphones for podcasting, as well as the aforementioned hosting for podcast files (such as from Soundcloud). I would really appreciate any help you might be able to give me, I know it is a lot to ask. I really care about the work I'm doing here, and I'll do everything I can to keep improving it.


Thanks again for reading guys, and wish me luck with Archive.org!

*Does North Korea have YouTube, I imagine not...
**This is a guess, it REALLY depends on quality and bitrate.