As mentioned, I’ve been absorbed during most of 2017 in building several new software systems that I’m now trying to release by the end of the year.
Last week, I presented for initial testing my new Print Archives, containing the published works of over 400,000 authors and the complete archives of some 200 prominent periodicals stretching back to the early 1800s, representing a vast quantity of otherwise unavailable material. This system should be of greatest use to academic scholars, but there exist many fascinating historical truths buried in these millions of pages that I’m hoping to use as the basis for future articles of my own once my current software development cycle is complete.
Meanwhile, this week I’m releasing for initial testing a very different sort of system, which provides convenient access to some 150,000 videos, constituting the complete contents of a selection of mostly “alternative” YouTube channels. The enormous growth in the popularity of YouTube and other forms of online video has reshaped our media landscape, and incorporating that vector of information is a natural extension of this website.
Whereas digitizing those huge print archives and designing a software system to effectively present them was an enormous project requiring many years of time and effort, building this video module took only a couple of weeks. The reason for this efficiency was that the underlying video files and streaming software are actually hosted on YouTube own cloud servers, and are accessible to anyone providing a link. So I had only to build an elegant presentational front-end utilizing the standard toolkit of function calls and features, together with the flexible software technology I’d developed for the other parts of the website. Here’s the main video channel page, currently ordered by most recent videos:
Although the video capabilities I’m now providing are hardly revolutionary, I do believe they provide several important advantages.
First, the individual video channel pages allow easy access to thousands or even tens of thousands of individual videos, organized by date, popularity, or length, thus allowing visitors to more easily locate those of interest to them. For example, here’s the archive page displaying the RT Channel videos from October 2016, just prior to the last presidential election:
Since embedded videos are quite “heavy” and too many of them would considerably reduce the loading time of a web page, only the first eight are displayed in that form on a given archive page, with the remainder being in the form of clickable image-links, which immediately transfer you to the particular video play page. By default, the archive pages also have “infinite vertical scrolling” enabled, so that as you scroll downward new videos are added to the bottom without limit (this feature can be disabled on the User Settings menu).
On a given video page, the most popular from that channel are embedded just below the featured video, while the right sidebar displays links to the most recent 100 videos.
The system also provides full Search capabilities. For example, here’s a search for 2015 New China TV videos containing “Ukraine” in the title or subtitle:
Once activated, the commenting system will provide the same range of powerful features used in the other parts of the website.
All these features are nice and I believe that my Video presentation system is superior in many respects to what YouTube provides on its own Channel pages. However, the primary motive spurring the creation of this Video section was the rapidly growing concerns about widespread censorship.
Whereas in the past, YouTube only removed videos that explicitly advocated criminality or otherwise violated the legal standards, over the last year there has been a growing tide of ideological censorship, with videos fully conforming to First Amendment practices being removed or otherwise censored because they attracted the hostility of the government or various influential activist groups. In some cases, YouTube has blacklisted such videos or even entire channels from recommendations or links on social media, while also blocking them from advertising and viewer comments.
Even worse, there are plausible concerns that these types of restrictions or harassment may soon lead to the wholesale removal of large numbers of videos or channels that provide perspectives sharply divergent from that of establishment media outlets or governmental bodies. The ideological “Prague Spring” of the last decade made possible by giving millions of independent individuals access to a worldwide video distribution channel may end in a harsh crackdown.
The Video presentation system provided by this website might partially mitigate the impact of such a censorship regime.
First, if YouTube blocks certain videos from receiving comments or being directly linked on social media, their corresponding Video pages here would still retain those capabilities, indeed possessing a commenting system probably superior at promoting extended substantive discussion than that provided in the original. Depending upon circumstances, those Video pages might turn up in web searches from which the YouTube pages are banned.
Even more importantly, consider that YouTube is merely one of a number of functionally-similar video hosting sites, though by far the largest. The only connection a video on this website would have to YouTube is the short identifier used to play or embed the item in question. Therefore, in the unfortunate event that YouTube chooses to remove certain videos, those files may quickly and easily be uploaded to one of those alternate hosting systems, and the identifiers immediately replaced to reflect the new location.
Under such a situation, the impact of such YouTube censorship would be greatly reduced. Regular visitors to the channel on this website would still see exactly the same video located in exactly the same place as before, and all links on other websites or via social networking would be maintained. The only difference would be that the playable video itself would now be hosted elsewhere. Indeed, so long as the producer uploads the videos elsewhere, an entire channel might be banned by YouTube without almost anyone noticing that anything untoward had occurred.
Internet pioneers once used to proclaim that the distributed data-transmission system they had developed would treat censorship as damage, and automatically reroute around it. With regard to videos, the this website’s video presentation system might begin to provide similar utility.