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Google Video

Competing against the already-established YouTube didn’t go so well for Google Video.

©iStockphoto.com/Günay Mutlu

Google Video attempted to crush YouTube using merely its beautifully lean interface, its whipsmart programming ... and the complete lack of any need for something that already exists. Again, we see the crowdsourced chaos of a Wikipedia in YouTube, with user-administrated levels of appreciation and reputation bringing the cream to the surface. While Google Videos (plural, totally different name), Google Video's successor, is still a storehouse for certain video streams, it's taken the more tightly curated route of sites like its early partner Vimeo. And of course, Google eventually bought YouTube anyway, to the tune of $1.65 billion in stock. So it all worked out.

The story of Google Video isn't merely that of an unprovoked attack on an Internet behemoth, though. The truth is much stranger. In January 2005, the roots of what would become Google Video first debuted, turning television broadcasts into searchable transcripts. By summer of that year, they started supporting video uploads and sharing, and by the end of its first year of life it has lost the original transcript idea altogether (although as of 2012, it's available for some video on YouTube, which implies Google's not done entirely with this concept).

Whatever slim chance the site might have had, whatever improvements or fun user-experience innovations that might have put it over the top (like Facebook's clean interface did, for example, once upon a time), Google Video decided to go another way: by introducing a proprietary file type and player, drastically increasing the amount of "stuff" you had to do in order to create or enjoy content on the site. Sometimes this works -- all file extensions and media players came from somewhere, right? -- but it's not a great strategy when you've started a fight with a perfectly useable site like YouTube, whose popularity has already made it the standard. And certainly not when portability between devices and screens had already become the new measure of a killer app.

After the YouTube acquisition, and having failed at becoming the rebranded name of the service, Google Video changed shape once again, this time into a video rental service (once again, heading into competition with the guy that already won, in this case Netflix). Now it's back to its form as a YouTube analogue -- which is good news to anybody who already has content hosted there. A static collection of videos, now that they've disabled uploading, will stand as testament to the brief time Google Video filled a need -- over a billion dollars later -- for its community. At least until they've folded back into YouTube, presumably.

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