Myths debunked: YouTube, please use Ogg Theora for HTML 5

It's incredible how many people are sympathetic towards Google and Apple's opposition of Ogg Theora within the HTML 5 codec debate. Of course, nobody expected anything else from Apple, but Google, really? Outside of YouTube, Google seems to be very supportive. YouTube may still be somewhat separated from the rest of Google. The site still looks more like it did pre-aquisition than it looks like a Google project. The Google Chrome web browser, a "pure" Google project, supports Theora, and a blog post Google made on the Ogg Theora book sprint which specifically makes mention of HTML 5 leads me to wonder if they might actually be planning on supporting it. Then again, this claim by a Googler on the WhatWG mailing list makes me worry:

"If [youtube] were to switch to theora and maintain even a semblance of the current youtube quality it would take up most available bandwidth across the Internet." --Chris DiBona
All right, it's time to fight back against this FUD and address every argument made against Ogg Theora for HTML 5 and YouTube. The whole point of the HTML 5 video tag is to eliminate the need for proprietary Flash plugins so are we really going to replace one proprietary piece of technology with yet another piece of proprietary technology? What would be the point of that? Have we not already seen enough of the problems posed by relying on proprietary standards? Then again, HTML 4 didn't mandate support for JPEG and PNG, so gaining support doesn't necessarily depend on becoming the official standard.
  1. Video quality (and high definition)
    • Firstly, even if Ogg Theora's video quality was less than ideal, this is a web standard we're discussing here. It isn't about the highest quality format of the moment. The purpose of a standard is to allow everyone to take part and rely on it. A patent encumbered format does no good for this. Freedom and transparency are essential for a standard. We wouldn't have the world wide web or TCP/IP networks if competing companies were in a constant battle trying to outdo each other's protocols and hardware. Nobody is forced to use the HTML 5 standard; if Apple is so afraid of Theora's success, they can go ahead and use their format of choice or continue to rely on Flash.
    • Secondly, Theroa will continue improving, and will improve faster if it gains more support. Open formats like this can evolve for a reason. Video quality will improve, just like the HTML standard itself has grown and changed. Agreeing on an open format for a standard is done to promote mass adoption which allows for widespread use unencumbered by patents and without similar restrictions. If a proprietary format is used, who will improve upon it? Only the intellectual imaginary property "owners" will be able to, and that doesn't mean they ever will. Theora might not be the very best right now, but it will be.
    • Finally, although Theora is not yet at the same level as H.264, claiming that its quality is so inferior is a lie. Not only is it not far behind, but it is already better than what YouTube currently uses. What about high definition, you ask? Although it is still not ideal for HD content, being slightly behind H.264, Theora roughly equals YouTube HD video quality already. Most of the problems it had were inherited from the codec it is based off of, and those problems are disappearing thanks to support from from the Mozilla and Wikimedia Foundations with the upcoming version 1.1 of Theora. This is the overhaul containing a major rewrite bringing big improvements and lots of new features like two-pass encoding and adaptive quantization. Theora has a balance between quality, performance, size, and simplicity which makes it ideal for web video.
  2. Patents
    • To refuse to implement a royalty free codec under the guise of "patent safety" is ridiculous. Apple wouldn't bundle Samba with OSX if they were that afraid of patents. Yes, submarine patents could possibly exist, but then again they are always a possibility, and not just for Theora, but for many formats. The algorithms Theora uses are not new. If, down the road, some patent-troll does in fact appear, whatever patent they hold would likely expire when brought to light.
  3. Hardware Acceleration
    • Yeah, yeah, Apple is understandably against using Theora becuse of this, but this isn't much of a reason against it becoming a standard. Again, keep in mind the most important thing is not the absolute best quality and performance, although Theora is already pretty good as it is, but rather freedom and independence from proprietary technologies.
    • Most of the affordable portable media players, "MP4 Players", support Vorbis without advertising it. The sole manufacturer of all the chips simply included it. It might take a while, but hardware support for Theora will come, and we could see it sooner if it became more popular. There is already an open source VHDL code base for a hardware Theora decoder in development and it's worth mentioning that decoding Theora is less CPU intensive than decoding H.264.
  4. Dirac, On2 and other Open Formats
    • Dirac is for high definition video archiving, not streaming. Nothing is wrong with other open formats, but Theora is already the best candidate with the most support.
    • Google did recently acquire On2, a company which owns more advanced codecs, and actually created the codec which Theora is based off of. There is speculation that Google will offer them as free formats, and as awesome as that would be, we can't really act on what they might do.
  5. Everyone already has Flash
    • This is probably the dumbest argument i've heard. Of course, Flash isn't going anywhere overnight, but online video will shift to use the HTML 5 video tag. A quarter of the world's web browsers already support Ogg Theora with no plugins required. YouTube and other sites won't just drop Flash support one day; like Dailymotion, they will begin by offering HTML 5 video in addition to Flash. From there, HTML 5 gives us so many possibilities: no additional software needed, easily created player skins, dynamic content injection, and the ability to manipulate videos, just to name a few.
YouTube already has an HTML 5 demo using MP4 and appears to be preparing to expand it to the entire site. Google could single-handedly make Theora the dominant format for online video distribution and pressure all browsers-- that includes Microsoft's Internet Explorer-- to support it. Hopefully, we can convince them to do so. It's now clear that there is no real reason for them to choose H.264 over Theora, but what reasons are there for them to actively support and push for Theora? Huge positive publicity in the short term and compatability in the long-term. Admittedly, not too much, but Google has always shown great commitment towards open source, and it is strange that the extent of their commitment would be cut short here. YouTube using Ogg Theora with HTML 5 on their site will truly have a huge impact. Come on Google, "Don't be evil".

So far, only one large video host, Dailymotion, supports HTML 5 with Theora, as well as The Video Bay. In addition, there is also Wikimedia Commons, The Internet Archive, and Tinyvid, but it doesn't end there. Ogg Thoera and Vorbis are also supported by big projects like OLPC, Jabber, the Mozilla Foundation, and the Wikimedia Foundation. Their support is vital in showing that these formats are a viable and good choice for multimedia, but we still need the big dogs with the big bucks.

Now, what can we do to push Youtube along with other large video hosts and advertising services to move towards full HTML5 and Theora support? If you use YouTube or another major video host that doesn't offer HTML 5 with Theora, post a video explaining your support. We need organized effective ways for people to convince these sites to publish in free formats. Please post additional ideas and feedback in the comments.

I really hope this is a reference to The Pirate Bay

The other day i was riding the T into Boston with a couple of friends to get dim sum in Chinatown for the August Moon Festival, and i noticed some small writing on one of the poster ads. "JOEL" was written in pen on his upper arm and, less visibly in the image, a ring was drawn on his finger with the same name inscribed.

Immediately, i  was reminded of The Pirate Bay's special logo promoting a torrent containing the 30 songs which Joel Tenenbaum was sued $67,5000, or $22,500 per song, for downloading. The Pirate Bay guys sure had some balls. "This is a Public Announcement from the RIAA" it says. A nice "Approved by the RIAA" logo sits with "DJ Joel" and "The $675.000 Mixtape".

They look sort of similar right? Their faces, well maybe not, but at least their pose and grad student status' are parallel, no? Well, if that was it, it just about makes my day. I wish more people brought issues from internet discussion to the public view IRL, and i'm a big fan of subvertising.

Of course, they also did a special logo promoting illegal copies of Windows for Bill Gates on Microsoft's Global Anti-Piracy Day. I hope after their sale of The Pirate Bay, they'll get to work on some other P2P project and resume challenging copyright, and other intellectual-- ahem, excuse me-- imaginary property.

There is still no Copyleft symbol in Unicode

Not too long ago, i was using the Character Map application in Ubuntu to search for a Copyleft symbol in Unicode. I was quite surprised to find that there was none. The next obvious step was to Google it. The only relevant information i could find was discussion nearly a decade old on the Unicode mailing list. Two threads from May, 2000 discussed the idea, but as it would appear, never went anywhere. There was some confusing debate which, once everything else was filtered out, boiled down to two main points. Firstly, that the Copyleft symbol might be encumbered, and it would need to be proven that the mark is not a trademark, registered trademark, sales mark, or a copyrighted design. I don't even need to respond to that, just admire the copy i've got here from Wikipedia in the public domain. Secondly, there wasn't enough to show how widespread its use was. It may have been debatable back then, but now Copyleft has spread to popular software, music, video, books, and content of all sorts. Really, how has this not come up again in the last ten years? Can somebody please help write up and submit a proposal for this? 

Top 5 things we'd all love to see from System76

We already love System76 for being truly dedicated to open source and offering Ubuntu exclusively on their entire lineup, so naturally we simply must ask for more! I have five simple, but big requests:

  1. Coreboot
    This is probably the hardest to offer, and so i'm willing to wait the longest for this, but nobody has yet been able to offer machines with Coreboot pre-installed. An open source BIOS is the largest obstacle to overcome in offering a computer with entirely open source software, and if System76 can pull that off, i'd never be able to let myself recommend buying from anyone else. LinuxBIOS was one of the top ideas ever on Dell's IdeaStorm, but if they won't offer it, System76 can! Besides, who of us would actually like Dell at all if not for their Ubuntu offering? 
  2. A Tablet
    The new netbook looks great, but still a tablet would be an incredible addition to the lineup. Currently, the only tablets available with Ubuntu pre-installed are un/re-branded machines which knocks the price up, and although the CrunchPad looks sweet, something from System76 with Ubuntu would be even sweeter! Tablets are a great thing to show off which not only promotes Ubuntu but also kills the myth that Linux does not love tablets. It does.
  3. A Media Center
    This idea has the a ton of profit potential for System76 if done properly. I'm talking about the concept of a TVPC like the Neuros Link which sold out so quickly they had to disable new purchases (still can't place new orders at the time of this post) and put the pending ones on backorder. Since most everyone is already paying for internet, there is no reason why you shouldn't kill your purely evil cable subscription. The internet after all, is the largest video library in existence, and if the focus is on streaming media, a hard drive isn't even necessary (the Neuros boots the OS from a flash drive). All that's needed is a slick looking set-top box with all the necessary inputs and outputs for a home media center PC, the minimum hardware needed for HD video, which all-in-all is pretty damn cheap, a wireless keyboard/mouse and remote control, higher hardware options for gamers, an HDD option, and some special software (Moovida media center, Miro video player, and maybe enable special compiz effects for kicks), and that's it! It's all marketing from there, and i think a lot of people would be interested.
  4. AMD/ATI Options
    Many of you may oppose this, and many of you will support it, but the simple fact is this: just like anyone else, there are Linux users who prefer Intel, and those who, like myself, prefer AMD. Some of us only care about what works best, while others value which is more open source friendly. You can argue about those things endlessly, but regardless, we do want to have a choice. 
  5. More Community Marketing
    Com'on, it's free advertising for you guys! We should all be eager to help out System76 as it's one of the best ways to spread Ubuntu, but they could really make it a lot easier for us. The 76er program should be expanded from just LoCos to individuals and no longer require an account. More materials should be posted on the wiki or the Spread Ubuntu site for anyone to print out and distribute. Remember, we love you, so help us to help you!
To add to the incentive for System76 to give us these options, i hereby promise that when they make these available, i will buy them. If you're in agreement, make the same promise in the comments! If someone from System76 stumbles across this, feel free to send me a laptop to use in the meantime since i just graduated high school and could really use one.

Meeting With Mark, Campaigning for a Better Facebook

Since my blog post and accompanying video demanding that Facebook change the way they treat their users and personal data, i received a video response from someone by the name of Rudy Arnauts who has turned this into a grassroots campaign, Meeting With Mark, to set up a face-to-face meeting with Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. We're taking him up on his claims that Facebook is becoming more open, transparent, and democratic in how the site is governed. Of course, Facebook isn't the only offender, but it is probably the most prominent given it's popularity and reputation for this kind of abuse, so this may be a campaign for Facebook, but it could really have a ripple effect across the internet. Although Facebook is among the worst sites which actually exploit users for agreeing to their terms of service, most websites have very similar policies. In other words, just because they haven't done too much harm yet, doesn't mean they haven't reserved their right to. If you ask me, this meeting should be big, it should be streamed live, and there should be a live feed of viewers' comments.

From the channel:

The issue of disabled accounts is widespread as you can see for yourself by searching for terms like "facebook disabled" on not only Google, but also microblogging sites like Twitter, Facebook's help site forums, and even Facebook itself where you'll find dozens of groups with thousands of members all calling out for this to end. People all have important contacts, business relations, and other communication that is lost with their accounts. On top of that, the common practice for big websites is to only offer users a big FAQ style site along with forums for users to help each other, but no real contact with the company: Facebook users are Facebook's customer support.

Once upon a time, i was a loyal Facebook user, but now i'm in this not just to wake up Facebook, but to change the way our information is handled by sites across the web. Facebook has had this coming for a long time. Users don't seem to get angry until it happens to them. We can't blame everyone on the internet for being ignorant about this sort of thing, so we should raise awareness about it, and try to change it. If you want to help, please spread the word, make a video response, whatever-- just get the word out!

P.S. Isn't it time for a competent open source competitor to enter the arena?... =]

Facebook is well aware of our concerns...and is denying them

The video featured in my last post on the subject seems to be spreading, and someone emailed Facebook about it. Facebook actually responded, and they did so within days, not weeks, not months. They also said that none of it was true. It seems that they are aware that it is an issue, and are ready to deny any claims of it happening, all the while ignoring all of the victims of their automated deletion system. Hopefully this means that we might actually be getting through to them a bit, so please keep up the emails and passing on the video! here is the email exchange:

From: The Facebook Team
Date: Fri, Jul 31, 2009 at 5:49 PM
Subject: Re: PRIVACY: Unfair Policy
Hi Michael,
The message you received is false and can be safely disregarded. I apologize for any confusion this has caused. If you have any further questions, please visit our Help Center at the following address:
Thanks for contacting Facebook,
User Operations
-----Original Message to Facebook-----
Subject: PRIVACY: Unfair Policy
Description of problem: I have recently been informed of facebook's policy of deleting accounts/groups without first investigating the nature of who it is being flagged. In this day and age, many of us have a great portion of our lives on our facebooks, and if someone is at risk of having their account deleted ,a warning should be given. In the event a group is to be deleted without investigation of the circumstances behind its flagging, I would please ask that facebook get in contact with whoever is in charge to first warn them of the potential deletion, and provide REASONS behind such deletion. A policy of deletion without investigation is the same as a justice system without trials; ineffective in the long run. I please ask Facebook to reconsider their stance on this issue.
-----End Original Message to Facebook-----

The three ways we should be spreading Ubuntu

From my experience with the Ubuntu community, our main push to get people to switch to Ubuntu has been convincing and helping them to install it and try it themselves. I don't deny that this is important since at this point almost anyone who can install Windows can just as, if not more easily install Ubuntu, and we want these kinds of people to have experience with Ubuntu, but it should not be our only effort, or even our main one, to spread the love and joy that is Ubuntu.

As a side note to those who prefer other Free operating systems: i promote Ubuntu because it is in the best position to reach out to the masses which will benefit all of us as a whole. That's about as far as my loyalty extends. I'm sure your Linux distro is awesome too!

What percent of Windows users actually install it for themselves? If we spend more time reaching out to the users who don't, those who can install it will do so anyways. That being said, we shouldn't stop converting friends, because those personal connections are what help grow the community, but there is enough noise being made across the web about Ubuntu that if we completely shifted how and who we promote Ubuntu to, we could advance to solving Bug #1 much more rapidly. Individuals and Local Community advocacy groups are already in a perfect position for this.

  1. Sell Ubuntu Pre-installed
    This should be the most obvious target for us. We should help provide free marketing to promote companies that supply hardware with Ubuntu Pre-installed, specifically companies that are dedicated to supplying only Linux like System76. Buy a machine for yourself and show it off as much as you can.
  2. Offer paid conversions and support services
    Some people say we need to distribute Ubuntu with a price tag to increase its perceived value to potential users, but this is an even better option. While maintaining that Ubuntu costs nothing, we can sell conversion and support services. Marketing Ubuntu as a business can be much more effective. You talk about the same things you do as an activist (freedom, quality, security, and price), while selling a service that makes the unfamiliar software much less alien and intimidating. All you need to do is start offering this service on your own as widely as possible, and join together with others to start a small business around it.
  3. Marketing, marketing, marketing!
    Focus on marketing using the same activism tactics you should already be familiar with to additionally promote the aforementioned targets: make videos for YouTube, hit the streets, distribute materials, appeal to businesses, organizations, and educational institutions, contact PC manufacturers and retail stores, get media coverage, lobby your government, get creative!
That's it-- very simple, nothing fancy. This would be a much more efficient distribution of our efforts and a much more effective approach to spreading Ubuntu. Many of us are already shifting towards this trend, but for the rest of us, it is time to realize that we need businesses to be successful and helping them help us is key.

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