Get on YouTube, for business or pleasure

YouTube can be a great tool for businesses

You know all about YouTube: More than 100 million videos viewed each day, tens of millions of unique visitors, one of the top sites on the Internet and so on.

So, you've probably watched YouTube videos. But have you ever uploaded your own creation? Probably not.

According to the Web-audience measuring service Hitwise, only 0.16 percent of U.S. visitors to YouTube uploaded videos in a recent week. The rest are just watching.

What's holding you back? It's easier than you think to post video, and there are even some good business reasons for doing it. I'll explain the steps for producing corporate video and throw in some home video tips for off-hours fun.

Watch this YouTube video to see how easy it is to make a YouTube video!

If you're in a small company, or a larger one that doesn't want to mess with video hosting and access issues, YouTube provides a free, easy way to host corporate video. What kind of video?

1. Executive presentations. Executives at many companies provide regular presentations to department groups or even the entire workforce, to discuss financial performance, share information, recognize outstanding workers and so on. While the bulk of the audience may be at headquarters, many others may be in remote offices. Or a lot of workers may be absent the day of the presentation or unable to attend for other reasons. Videotape the highlights of the presentation and put them on YouTube, and they can be viewed by everyone who is authorized to do so. More on that later.

2. Training. Videos can be a great way to train workers on anything from using software and setting up equipment to making a great sales pitch. It's easy to use screen-capture utilities, for example, to show users how to master a new software package, complete with mouse clicks and different screen displays.

3. Help. Does your help desk get repeat calls from users requesting assistance on the same problem? "Now, how do I turn off my 'out of office' message, again?" Videotape the correct steps to solve the most common problems, and build up a bank of self-help videos for users to check first. Of course, knowing users, the help desk would probably begin fielding a lot of calls like: "Now, how do I access those help videos, again?"

4. Marketing. A picture is worth a thousand words, and thousands of pictures streamed together at 29.97 frames per second is worth a lot more. Show off that new shiny hardware to prospective customers or demonstrate that new software and provide product data, statistics or any other information you choose.

5. Events. Computerworld recently held a 40th anniversary party at which the founder regaled the audience with hilarious tales of the old days when he started the company. It was held in a spectacular venue high above Boston Harbor on a perfect spring day. It's a shame everyone in the company couldn't be there to see it, but being able to watch it afterward would be the next best thing. And it would be great if those who were there could watch the highlights again.

Those are just a few ideas out of endless possibilities.

Once you've got an idea, plan your shoot, grab a camcorder, and you're off.

Of course, getting good raw footage is the most important concern. Tips on taking good video are all over the Web, and YouTube itself has gathered a lot of good information, much of it from Videomaker magazine.

The basic tips are simple and fairly obvious: Don't move the camera too much, don't zoom in and out a lot, and make sure you have appropriate lighting. One aspect often overlooked is audio. I've had good video ruined by poor audio, such as wind noise and crowd noise distracting from your subject's speaking. It's well worthwhile to invest in boom microphones that can be attached to your camcorder and remote microphones that can be attached to your subjects.

Break the rules

Also, it's OK to break the rules if you have a specific purpose in mind. For example, if you're looking for a more fun, active, "hip" video, it's OK to go handheld and try all kinds of crazy angles and zooms.

Another good idea for some live projects is to use two camcorders, taping the same thing from different angles, or taping different things that are happening at the same time. That allows you more creativity in putting the final video together in the editing stage and ensures that if something goes wrong with one taping, you will at least have the other one to fall back on.

After you're done taping, you simply need to get the video into your computer, and you can start having fun in the editing stage. Most digital camcorders come with FireWire cables and software to upload the video from the camcorder to your computer. Of course, if it records on DVD media, you simply pop the DVD into your computer.

If you have an older, analog camcorder, you can use specialized hardware, typically a box or card, to get the video digitized and stored on your computer. If you have a bunch of old analog tapes, like I do, you can buy or borrow a digital camcorder with "pass-through" capability that lets you pop in the analog tape and seamlessly digitize the footage and store it on your computer in one step. You can even do this with an old VCR player as the source.

Get creative

Now it's time for editing, where you can get as creative and sophisticated as you want. If you're just looking for the simple, easy and quick route to get your video posted, you can use the free MovieMaker software that comes on Windows PCs or the iMovie software that comes on Macs.

They both allow simple editing tasks such as cutting and ordering clips, and adding transitions, titles, music and some special effects.

If you're more ambitious, you can invest in a video editing package. There are basically three tiers of these, with the low end being around US$100, the middle ground products costing about $300 to $500, and the high end going for more than $1,200.

These provide much more sophisticated features, such as multitrack editing, more title styles, transitions and special effects, and more advanced audio editing capabilities. You probably won't get too fancy for business projects, but for home use, you can go crazy.

Most video editing tip sites advise always using simple "jump cuts" and going easy on the fancy transitions, which can be distracting. But I do the opposite, using them to enhance the footage.

Instead of a simple jump cut from a birthday scene featuring kids hitting a piA±ata with a baseball bat to another activity, for example, I used a "shatter" transition that breaks the outgoing footage into hundreds of pieces at the exact moment the baseball bat hits the piA± ata, along with a "breaking glass" sound effect. You can usually find some transition that fits the footage: a disappearing bouncing ball for soccer, or a page turning in an album for wedding scenes, for example. Such effects are always good for a lot of "ooohhhs" and "aaahhhs" from the audience.

Using appropriate music for the footage also enhances the experience for home movies. For a baby's "first bath" scene, for example, you could play Bobby Darin's "Splish Splash," or for a skiing scene, you could play Rancid's "Fall Back Down" over a montage of multiple wipeouts -- as long as you complied with copyright restrictions and paid the appropriate fees, of course.

For business videos, though, you'll want to keep it simple and straightforward, and get it done quickly.

So after editing, the next step is to save your video in the appropriate format for YouTube, which recommends the following settings for the best presentation:

- MPEG4 (Divx, Xvid) format

- 320x240 resolution

- MP3 audio

- 30 frames per second (technically 29.97)

You can find these settings in your editing software's "save as," "render as" or "export" options.

YouTube usually does a good job of converting video of different specs into its final form, though. It handily converted my .AVI files into its standard .FLV (Flash) format, for example. Its help section says: "YouTube accepts video files from most digital cameras, camcorders, and cell phones in the .WMV, .AVI, .MOV and .MPG file formats."

Some restrictions

It does impose some restrictions. For regular accounts, videos must be less than 100MB in size and 10 minutes in length, so for longer corporate presentations and events, you must include only the highlights or break them into separate videos. Or you can apply for a "Director" account that allows you to post videos longer than 10 minutes with an accompanying logo and Web site URL.

Once your file is in the right format, you must create a YouTube account, if you don't already have one, in order to upload videos. After you have an account, you simply click on the "Upload Videos" link on the top right of any YouTube page and follow the instructions. You supply descriptive information about the video, choose who can see it, and then use the upload tool to find the video on your local machine and send it to YouTube.

For corporate projects, you will probably want to mark the video as "Private." That way, only the people you specify in a contact list can see it. YouTube accounts automatically provide "Friends" and "Family" contact lists, but you can also make your own.

It's a bit clunky to make the lists, though. If the person you want to see your videos is a YouTube member, you can to go to his page and invite him to be a "Friend," after which you can add him to a list. You can also invite people to join your contact list with a broadcast e-mail. Right after the broadcast, you can add them to your list as pending members, and from your video's page, you can send them an e-mail invitation to watch the video. But they have to accept your invitation to officially join your list and have access to the video.

After your video is marked as "Private" and uploaded, you can watch it in the YouTube player and simply click on the "Share Video" link, choose the list you want to share it with and click the "Send" button.

YouTube also lets you categorize multiple videos into "playlists" that can be shared with your lists or embedded into your Web site or blog. Embedding is simple: You bring up the video on YouTube and grab the HTML code from the text field titled "Embed" to the right of the video. Paste that code into your Web page's source code, and you're done.

I have done exactly that with this video, which is a simple tutorial that shows just how quickly you can assemble a video and upload it onto YouTube.

Ramel is editor of Computerworld.com's Networking & Internet channel.

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