VIDEO debate, cutting to the chase

Earlier this week Google’s Chrome team announced that they’d no longer be including an H.264 video decoder in their browser. I haven’t seen any updates from them responding to the massive third-party conversation following their use of the fluffy and prone-to-dispute “because it’s open” explanation.

But that massive conversation seems to hide more than it reveals — burying us all under word fatigue. Here are some simple basics:

  • The VIDEO tag was simply not well-considered at the outset. Its original rationale was: “You don’t require a plug-in to view images… video is the next natural evolution of that.” But from the very start the practical questions about use were swept under the rug… at least until the rug started piling up too high. It wasn’t sustainable.

  • The VIDEO tag serves two different constituencies: those with an “Open Web” banner who wanted to expand their own scope (lookin’ at ya, Mozilla), and those who have invested in Apple and their devices. These two groups have had different needs. The original proponents from Mozilla and Opera saw their desires for a royalty-free codec (for royalty-free tooling) hijacked by Apple fans’ needs for an H.264-baseline implementation. It wasn’t sustainable.
  • Video publishers need the VIDEO tag for one purpose only: to support Apple’s non-standard HTML browser and its denial of third-party extensibility via APPLET, OBJECT, and EMBED. [I'm copying that linked comment below, because TechCrunch's Disqus commenting system doesn't seem very web-friendly.] Flash’s popularization of H.264 meant that much video did not need to be re-worked for Apple’s standard-breaking devices, just the tagging and — significantly — the interactive and adjunctive features of anything beyond plain linear video playback. This may have been endurable, but the demand from the start was not sustainable.
  • Does Chrome’s H.264 move affect Chrome users? I don’t know of any (non-ideological, non-Apple-only) video which uses only VIDEO/H.264. The only real effect it seems to have is to blunt Apple’s campaigning by removing a nominal incentive. iPad users may be most affected, but impact on Chrome users seems minimal. Its removal does not seem unsustainable.
  • In this week when we’ve seen Arizona shootings and the easy (and incorrect) apportionment of blame, it’s quite unsettling to see how techblogs go on about the “war” and “blood feud” and other speech which is meant to incite, and earn more ad revenue. For goshsakes, consider how you’re speaking. Reflexive hatred is not sustainable.

Beyond the pettifoggery of This Week’s Blog Outrage, a simple truth remains: We humans are now witnessing a migration of video interactivity to pocket device. People all around the world, from varied economic strata, can now capture what they see and share it with others. It’s right up there with the invention of printing and the invention of the Internet. Instead of arguing about branding issues we should be thinking of how people will want to use video, how they will need to use video. This would be more sustainable. Would be more useful, and kinder, too.