netmag

Popcorn the "future" of enhanced video

HapYak founder argues videos and basic comments "insufficient" for social engagement

Mozilla's Popcorn Maker was recently released, the aim being to "enhance, remix and share web video". Mozilla communication director Matt Thompson told .net that the aim was to free video from being locked in a little black box and open up new possibilities for storytelling, linking, commenting and interactivity. Longtime Popcorn supporter HapYak recently received funding to launch a social video commentary platform, leveraging Popcorn and making good on Mozilla's vision. Founder Kyle Morton spoke to .net about Popcorn, HapYak, and how video will change over the coming years through more social interaction and engagement.

.net: What has Popcorn enabled you to do with HapYak that you otherwise wouldn't have been able to?
Morton: Popcorn enabled us to collaborate with a motivated group of open source developers who, like us, want to define a standard for the inevitable future of web-integrated video. I've been experimenting in this space for a while and headed a project at my last company where we developed a similar library to Popcorn.js, allowing synchronised web content as part of the video experience.

As Popcorn matured, I convinced that company to adopt it. Now at HapYak, I've chosen to use it again. The things we're building now will become the standard for how things over the next five years should be done. Being part of the community building upon Popcorn and Popcorn Maker enables us to move faster and innovate more on the applications of the technology, knowing the core is solid.

.net: You've said the community/enhanced aspect of video is going to be big. In what ways do you see this happening?
Morton: Community enhanced video is already huge if you look at it from the perspective of sharing. When a blogger includes a video on their blog, they are using the video combined with their words to make a complete experience. When people share on Facebook, or use comments on YouTube to say "check out what happens at 3:02", they are enhancing that experience by explaining what resonates with them. Sharing video like this is natural and needed, but it's insufficient. HapYak aims to change that with the easiest possible tools and a destination for people to discover enhanced video on anything they care about.

.net: When we spoke with Mozilla about Popcorn, we discussed the risk of adding too much clutter, obscuring the video. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Morton: How we keep things from cluttering the experience is a great question. In fact, it's a question no one experimenting in this space has so far got right, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about it.

First, rather than having every user contribute to the same commentary, HapYak keeps each individual's commentary in a separate 'track', so only one is viewed at a time and no one is shouting over someone else. Secondly, we let the viewer opt in or out of the enhanced experience with a single click. This sounds simple, but it's important to let someone watch a video first, then watch it again with the enhanced experience. We also aggregate all commentaries for any video and allow users to rank them, and know when commentary is from an official source. All of this helps a user know what to expect and what to select.

Finally, video is social, and so we integrate a deep understanding of the user's social graph and needs for collaboration and for privacy. A user can say they only want friends and family to see their commentary, or choose to collaborate with a specific group of people. Not everything is meant to be public.

.net: Do you see a language of sorts developing for enhanced video?
Morton: Yes. Since launching our alpha, we've seen naturally emerging best practices among users. The best way to define a standard is based on real-world use. We are observing how people use drawings, comments, placement and timing, and are distilling from that the best practices to guide new users. By making video commentary so easy to create and share, I believe HapYak has already become the largest single source of enhanced video experiences on the web. People teach each other and entertain each other – we want HapYak to empower everyone to say more with video.

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