Update: Information about the frame rate has been updated, see more below.
Today Flickr is introducing the single biggest change to its service since launching in 2004--video. The photo service is rolling out the capability to upload video clips of up to 150MB to its paying Pro members. Free members will still be able to view these clips, but will be unable to add their own, at least for the time being.
The company has taken a very different direction than I originally imagined by limiting user video clips to just 90 seconds. It's a far cry from the arms race of higher quality and unlimited length offered by services like Vimeo, Viddler, and even YouTube to a certain degree.
That's not to say videos will look poor and grainy, though. The system has been designed to scale any clip you can throw at it, including high-definition from high-end point-and-shoot cameras or your HD-capable camcorder. The frame rate also maintains 30 FPS, which is half the speed of video captured on most modern point and shoot digital cameras, but a step up from the 12 FPS that was available while I was testing the service over the weekend.
What Flickr is trying to do with these small clips is provide a place for people to post and share the little videos they're capturing on their digital cameras. The throwaway items that are still very watchable, but hardly worth spending the time to upload to a separate service. The company knows this move will turn many off to the new service, but as part of the Yahoo ecosystem there are important boundaries that dare not be crossed. In light of Yahoo Photos shutting down last year to make way for Flickr, the company seems to have recognized the importance of brand separation and seems intent on creating these artificial boundaries if only to keep people from being confused.
The folks at Flickr say the time limits were not a move forced from having to share company resources with Yahoo Video. Kakul Srivastava, director of product management at Flickr says Yahoo Video is all about giving people a place to create their own content channels and drop those large videos. Her vision for Flickr video is simply to popularize the longer version of photos--something they hope becomes an artistic medium, and that people simply get used to taking alongside their still photography.
So how do videos fit in with the photos? Quite well, actually. Glancing at someone's photo stream (now classified as a media stream), photos and videos sit side by side with no differentiation besides a small play button in the bottom corner of video thumbnails. Like photos, you can simply click on them to go to the page that contains all the usual things like user comments, tags, and metadata, or you can simply view the video in its thumbnail size right in the stream--complete with player controls. It's absolutely wonderful, albeit tiny.
The player is a modified version of the one found on Yahoo video with controls that fade away after a few seconds to reveal the full shot. Users can embed clips on third-party sites as they would anywhere else, and developers can pull in them in through the same data API that's helped integrate Flickr into all manner of third-party tools and services. Expect to see Flickr videos making their way to photo mashup and editing services in a few weeks--JumpCut excluded (for now at least).
Getting your videos on there in the first place is almost as easy as viewing them. Videos can be uploaded at the same time and the same way you're used to uploading your still photos. The Web uploader takes them just fine, and so does an updated version of the desktop software for PCs and Macs. Once your videos are on the service, you can't get them back to your hard drive, something I'm told will be coming later on.
Video on Flickr is off to a good start, but with the artificial time limitations, I find it to be unsuitable for most of the clips I take. For those I'd be better off uploading to a standalone video service with more generous time and file size limits. I can only imagine some of my less tech-savvy friends trying to upload a video that's slightly over the size or time limit and simply giving up. That said, power users and people who are intentionally shooting short-form video will find the service a joy.
In the future I expect Flickr to lift the size and length restrictions entirely. In my chat with Srivastava, she had alluded to as much. The company also plans to let free users upload videos later on when the platform matures.
Various specs can be found after the break. See also News.com photo guru Stephen Shankland's post on it.
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