Cyberclinic: How can I get a starring role on YouTube?

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The Independent Online

I'd like to get involved as a producer of content on YouTube, rather than a passive consumer. What are the procedures and pitfalls?

Anything written about the boom in internet-based video entertainment inevitably concludes with a prediction that the future of broadcasting lies in consumer-created content. However, as the majority of home-produced material on the internet currently consists of woozy footage of Christmas presents being unwrapped, it's probably the duty of all netizens to get themselves a YouTube account and start improving the situation.

Your channel is automatically created when you sign up to the site, and subscribers to your channel are notified whenever you upload new video content. As Rob Copperthwaite points out in one of the e-mails received this week, it's had the side effect of creating a video-blogging community. "It gives people their own daily show - and one which people will have difficulty missing, as it's always up on the site ready to watch."

Your first step is to transfer movie footage from your camera, camcorder or mobile phone to a computer and edit it (if necessary) using software such as iMovie for the Mac, or MovieMaker for PC. The world of video encodings and file formats is awash with complex jargon such as H.264 and XviD, but it's a black art you don't really need to worry about. "YouTube seems to be able to deal with whatever you throw at it," notes David Gregory, "and if you keep the size of your finished video to 320x240 pixels, you should be fine." The question of appropriate content is a thorny one; the site essentially operates a community-driven policing policy which certainly works well for content that might be pornographic, defamatory or racially offensive, but is pretty ineffective for material that is already copyrighted.

Promoting your videos can be helped by accurate tagging so they appear prominently in search results; for example, the tags you assign to a film of your cat sliding off a wet conservatory roof might be "cat, roof, slide, hilarious, laughter". Your efforts can be rated by viewers, and if comments are enabled you can get instant feedback. If you're more secretive about your creative endeavours, you can restrict distribution to particular users on the site; however, there are third-party tools available which allow people to download YouTube videos to their hard disk, and your only consolation here is that the quality is sufficiently grainy to prohibit them from being exploited via other media. If your film-making ambitions start to flower, sites like GoFish and are encouraging users to produce longer, higher-quality videos which they hope will rival the material produced by bigger television companies.

Diagnosis required

Next week's question comes from Sajid Khan:

"Now that British mobile phone companies are offering unmetered internet access, what kind of power will our mobile phones start to have?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to