Online social media services are changing our lives in a great way. Technology is redefining the way humans used to socialize. The traditional urban third places such as pubs, parks and others, where people had encounters with co-located strangers is undergoing a paradigm shift from “discursive public spheres” to “private spaces in public” (Simo 2009). Today, new researches are focusing on making a online interaction similar to interaction in real world. Photos and videos form an integral part of this process.
Digital devices have changed the world of photography. Film cameras were outsold by digital cameras in 2004, while digital cameras were outsold by camera-enabled mobile phones just a few months later. The profusion of digital cameras and camera devices suggest that digital photography, like other new media practices, is an increasingly banalized activity that may play a subtle but important role in social relationships. In last few years, host of web services like Flickr and Snapfish have emerged to support organization, storage and sharing of digital photos. Moreover, websites likes Facebook and MySpace includes photo-sharing as key functionality. As individuals have become increasingly mobile today, photos have helped keep distant family member and friends in close proximity. Digitalization of images has simply made sharing process fast and more convenient.
Advances in digital imaging technologies have enabled videos to be highly distributable and accessible medium. Producing a video no longer requires expensive hardwares. New devices are portable and inexpensive. This makes videos a very practical and normalized communication medium. In a research, it was concluded that nine out of ten internet users, in age group 18-29, visit video sharing websites (Madden 2009). Youtube, very popular video sharing website, is third most visited website in the world (Alexa traffic rating).
4.2 ACTIVITIES INVOLVED IN MEDIA SHARING
There are many activities that user perform in photo and video sharing websites. Cesar (2008) categorized the functionalities by "content owners" and "content users".
Content owners are users who make the content available for sharing. They are initiator of sharing process. They can perform following activities.
- Upload: People can upload media and enable it to be shared with others. Content is usually uploaded to a server to enable other users to connect to the server and share media.
- Describe: While uploading media, users often supplement it with text to describe the content. The description is used for searching the media and for displaying it with the video to give more information to the viewers.
- Tag: Tagging is very useful feature that allows users to add keywords to the media content. More information about tagging can be found here.
Content viewers are users who consume the content uploaded by content owners. The users often recommend the content to other users and hence, facilitate media sharing. The kind of functionalities they may perform includes,
- Share: They users recommend the content to other users. This can be done in various ways like embedding media in social websites or sending links to media in feeds, emails etc.
- Comment: Viewers are usually allowed to add comments to the media and discuss content with other users. Most of the time, viewers read comments first to predict if they would like the content before actually viewing it (Lange 2007).
- Rate: The websites often have some features to indicate that a media is more popular compared to others. Some include a rating feature in which each viewer can rate the media either on scale of five or with +1 or -1. Additionally, Users may add the content to their favorites so that they can come back to view it again. Number of times a video is viewed can also indicate its popularity among the viewers.
Advanced user features are useful in adding more meaning to media. They are extensions to traditional user features which allow more focused social media sharing.
- Fragment: Most of the times, a video is in fragments. The content is scattered in number of clips but they are related in terms of incident or information. Related media is refered to viewers either automatically or by the other users.
- Annotate: User can add comments or notes in any form to categorize media. It is very useful feature which enable users to easily find the content they are interested in from large number of media available online.
- Enrich: Some websites allow users to make media more richer by adding captions, subtitles etc. It is usually possible for users to see the revision history of media to know how it evolved with time.
4.3 EXAMPLES OF POPULAR MEDIA SHARING WEBSITES
It would be useful to list the features that new generation photos and videos sharing websites provide in order to understand reasons behind high popularity of these websites.
Youtube is perfect example of widely popular video sharing website. “Founded in February 2005, YouTube is the world's most popular online video community, allowing millions of people to discover, watch and share originally-created videos.” (About YouTube). More than 100 millions videos are watched everyday (Cheng 2008). The videos are played using flash technology on web pages. Anyone can view videos but only registered users can upload them. However, the some content that may be inappropriate for younger audiences can only be viewed after signing in and confirming that viewer is 18 or older. Users can browse videos categories or search videos using keywords. Viewers can rate the content and post comments. YouTube allows interface for embedding videos on other websites like Orkut or MySpace. Additionally, users can add videos to their playlist and invite friends to watch the video (Figure 1).
Figure (1): Sharing content on YouTube
Flickr is one of the most popular photos sharing websites and a notable example of web 2.0. Flickr was originally developed to be multi-player game, but due to combined influence of growth of social networking, boom of the sales of digital cameras and success of blogs, Flickr inclined towards providing photo and videos sharing services (Prieur 2008). Users can upload pictures from desktops, emails or mobile devices. Flickr provides online tool for editing images. Pictures can be organized using collections, sets, and tags. Users can “geotag” images and search for pictures taken near that location. It is possible for users to set up groups and use privacy controls to share photos and videos. Moreover, The users can get updates from friends and family and view images posted by them. Flickr is popular in blogger's community for hosting pictures and linking them on blogs.
4.4 MAINSTREAM VS. SOCIAL WEB
Websites providing photo sharing services can be categorized into mainstream photo sharing websites like Flickr or Picasa and specialized photo finishing services, for example Shutterfly or Kodak. Photo finishing websites does have a social component which helps users to easily send pictures to the websites but the main focus of these websites in on business (photo printing). On the other hand, websites like Flickr focus mainly on sharing pictures online with other users. These websites have many features that helps in organizing and sharing pictures (tagging, commenting, RSS etc.) Figure (2) summarizes features of both kind of websites.
Figure (2): Photo Sharing Websites (ReadWriteWeb 2009)
4.5 TRENDS IN ONLINE VIDEO SHARING
For many years, television has been a very popular medium of mass communication. Researches differ in their opinion of the impact of television on our society. Some people may argue that television has affected the ability of humans to interact with each other. Alternatively, it is also true that watching television helps in bonding people together by building a common and shared experience. It can provide a base for discussion between strangers and friends by providing a common point of reference (Oumard 2008).
Changes in lifestyle have made viewing traditional television very difficult. Viewers want more control over there video watching activity. Video sharing websites have replaced traditional television because of their better features which suits the requirements of the users. Viewers can now watch videos at their preferred time and have more control because of ability to choose from thousands of videos available online. It is easy to play, pause, rewind or skip parts of videos. Most of the content sharing websites like YouTube allows users to add comment to the videos. Thus, allowing the viewers to discuss the content and share their experiences.
Oumard (2008) tried to research the impact of online video sharing on domestic media consumption and online social life. The study concluded that usage of computer is no longer limited to just helping in doing work efficiently. Users have accepted computer as a part of their daily life and it can be referred to as a friend who accompanies users in their daily activities. Hence, watching videos on internet is more convenient than traditional television. Videos are viewed and shared on regular basis by Internet users. Time is spent in not only viewing videos but also searching for them. People watch videos in their spare time to relax as well as to distract them from studying or working. Social networking enables users to recommend videos to others and hence, aids in fast Internet video consumption. Sharing video fits perfectly in bigger picture of social networking.
4.6 LEGAL IMPLICATIONS
Social networking has enabled users to easily become publisher. Joining a social website is easy and effortless, and this give an opportunity to users for sharing any content at virtually no cost. Hence, it is essential for everyone to be aware of legal implication of their actions (Ossian 2009). Some of the legal issues are briefly described below.
4.6.1 Copyright Infringement
The new websites are very user friendly and supports posting of photos, video and other digital files. Users should be very careful about the content they post on Internet. Any new work created by any author (including user-generated content) is automatically copyrighted, with no additional steps required.
4.6.3 Infringement Notification
Being aware of the high possibility of copyright violation, most of the websites provides a mechanism to report content that may be violating copyright laws. In most of the cases websites take prompt action by deleting the content.
4.6.4 Privacy Right
Posting photos or video of any individual without their consent can result in liability based on privacy rights. Most of people are unaware of the fact that if they are posting picture of themselves and their friends on social networking sites, without their permission, they are violating the privacy right of other person.
4.6.5 Minimizing the Risks
There can be many steps that can be taken by companies and individuals to minimize risks. The content may be reviewed by moderators before being published and users should be allowed to report abuse. The users should read terms and usage policy carefully before posting any content. However, unauthorized copyright content usually make up small percentage of popular content for websites like YouTube (Holt 2007). Hence, it is very less probable that risks related to sharing data will affect popularity of media sharing websites in near future.
Photo and video sharing is emerging as a very popular culture. It is very essential feature in most of social networking websites like Facebook, Orkut or MySpace. Sharing media helps in making interaction more interesting and forms a base for discussion. Advancements in technology have enabled users to store, manage and share electronic media very easily. Photo sharing websites allow users to upload and share pictures privately or publicly. Video sharing websites allow users to post and share videos. Other users can watch, comment or recommend videos to others and also embed them on their own blogs. People are enthusiastic to share content they have, but unfortunately they fail to fully appreciate copyright laws. Steps need to be taken to spread awareness about legal implication of sharing content online.
4.8 THE FUTURE
Social media is new revolution and its future looks bright. Companies have identified the potential growth in the area and are investing in the field. Examples include youtube acquisition by google. Some companies have started using social networking for reaching the customers and getting innovative ideas. For example, Starbucks have started a vey successful program in which a person from any part of the world can login to a website to write comments and discuss issues.
Static blogs and websites are losing popularity. World is moving more towards "information streams". The information comes to users rather than users have to make effort to get the information. I feel, due to rising sales of hand held devices, the future of social media depends on how well it is implemented on mobile devices. Advancements are already being made in this direction with most of the phones supporting browsing social networking websites and their ability to upload to upload photos and videos directly to these websites.