How Video Sharing Works

By: Dave Roos
YouTube Image Gallery Video-sharing sites like YouTube allow users to post their own videos. See more YouTube pictures.
Robert Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images

Your best friend is about to jump over your mom's minivan on his skateboard. Blindfolded. Eating a foot-long hotdog. This is a YouTube moment.­

You grab your cell phone, record the glorious crash, upload it to YouTube, and within minutes, millions of people are watching your buddy smash face-first into a Dodge Caravan.


Video sharing has exploded in popularity. From 2006 to 2007, the number of people who visit sites like YouTube, Google Video and MySpace TV has doubled. Nearly half of all American Internet users have checked out a video sharing Web site. Among men ages 18 to 29, that number jumps to 70 percent [source: Pew Internet & American Life Project].

We're not just visiting these sites to gawk at other people's embarrassing moments. According to the Pew Internet & American Life project, 22 percent of Americans shoot their own videos and 14 percent of them post those videos online [source: Pew Internet & American Life Project].

What's incredible is how recently video sharing has become such a phenomenon. YouTube launched in December 2005. Its success has spawned dozens of similar community sites for amateur filmmakers, professionals and everybody in between. But because the world of video sharing is so new, it's hard to know where to get started.

How do you record digital video? How do you get it on your computer? How do you upload it to one of these Web sites? Keep reading to find out how it all works.


Getting Started with Video Sharing

video sharing
Using a video camera, or even a cell phone, users can create their own video and post it on video-sharing sites.
© Photographer: Lawrence Wee | Agency: Dreamstime

Getting started with video sharing is easy. You'll need three things to record and share videos online:

  • A device for recording digital video: digital camcorder, digital camera, camera phone or Web cam
  • A computer
  • An Internet connection, preferably broadband

There are two options for getting your video from your camera to a video-sharing Web site: with video-editing software or without video editing software.


Some video-sharing sites, like YouTube and, allow you to record video directly onto the Web site without any special software. Direct recording is particularly useful for video bloggers, or vloggers, who enjoy being able to post quick video messages directly from their Web cam. Here's how direct recording works:

  1. Connect your video recording device to your computer using the USB or Firewire cable that comes with the device. If you have a built-in Web cam, that'll be the default recording device.
  2. Go to the direct recording section of the video-sharing site. On YouTube it's called "Quick Capture."
  3. Turn on your recording device and press the record button on the Web site.
  4. When you stop recording, the video-sharing site will optimize and compress the video clip.
  5. The new clip will automatically appear on the Web site, no editing or uploading required.

Another way to record and upload video onto a video-sharing Web site is to use video-editing software like Movie Maker, iMovie or Final Cut Pro. Once you've recorded the video onto your camcorder or other digital recording device, you need to import it onto your computer using the video editing software. Exactly how you import the video depends on what type of recording device and which software program you're using.

The advantage of video editing software is that you can combine multiple video clips into the same movie, add titles and transitions (fade in, fade out, dissolve), special effects and music soundtracks.

­When you're done editing the movie, you need to compress the movie file so that it's small enough to play on a video-sharing Web site. Compression is handled by the Export command on most video-editing software programs. In the export menu, you can indicate the final movie file's size by choosing its resolution and frame rate. A higher resolution and frame rate makes the video clip play smoother and clearer, but leads to higher file sizes. You can also choose the file type: Windows .AVI, QuickTime .MOV or one of various .MPG files.

YouTube, for example, recommends an MPEG4 file format at 640x480 resolution and 30 frames per second. YouTube also has a file size limit of 1GB (gigabyte) and a maximum clip length of 10 minutes.

Now that you've edited and compressed your movie file, you're ready to upload it to one or several video-sharing Web sites. Most of these sites have a prominent Upload button or Upload link on the home page. Click on the link and follow the directions. Most sites will ask you to name the clip, give it a short description and assign it some keywords or tags.

You'll also be asked if you want the clip to be public or private. If it's public, it'll be searchable and accessible to anybody on the video sharing site. If it's private, only people with the direct link to your video can watch it. Finally, you'll indicate which movie file you want to upload.

So which is the best video-sharing site to use? Keep reading to find out.


Video Sharing through Video Hosting Services

queen elizabeth
­Video-sharing sites are so popular that even Britain's Queen Elizabeth II used the forum to post her Christmas message
© Alessandro Abbonizio/AFP/Getty Images

Video hosting services is a fancy name for video-sharing Web sites like YouTube, MetaCafe, and more than 60 others. The basic functions of video-sharing Web sites are nearly the same: They allow you to search for and watch existing videos and upload your own. Beyond that, each service offers special features that separate itself from the pack.

Community is an important dimension on many video-sharing Web sites. On sites like YouTube and MySpace Videos, video clips are posted on the profile page of the individual who uploaded it. Profile pages are the basic building blocks for online social networks. On these profile pages, users link to all of their friends on the network. They post messages to each other and responses to individual video clips. Users form groups and develop strong online identities.

Advertisement focuses on forging an online identity. The site started primarily as a destination for video bloggers, so it's designed as a forum for individual expression. Users create their own "channels" and "shows" ranging from random blog posts to professionally edited sitcoms., like YouTube, has a feature where you can upload video clips directly from a cell phone or other mobile device. So if you're inspired to make a video blog post while standing on the subway, you can.

Another feature of many video-sharing sites is the ability to earn money from your videos. This is typically done through targeted advertising that either appears as text ads on your profile page or embedded within the video clip itself. Different sites offer different revenue-sharing deals. Revver, for example, shares ad revenues 50/50 with users who get the most page views. The video-sharing site MetaCafe offers extra money for the most popular clips. Those who earn "producer rewards" get cash for every thousand times a clip is viewed. One user has tallied nearly $40,000 [source: Blogging for Money].

The most important consideration when choosing a video-sharing site is the type of content in which the site specializes. A large, established site like YouTube has a little bit of everything. It also has by far the largest user base, so it's easier for your clip to get lost in the shuffle. specializes in "America's Funniest Video"-type clips of people doing stupid things and getting hurt. MySpace Videos, also known as MySpace TV, has professionally produced content including full episodes of TV shows and movies. And there are plenty of video-sharing sites that specialize in adult content, both homemade and professional.

All of the video-sharing sites we've discussed so far are totally free, meaning they don't charge anything to upload videos and create profile pages. But there's another option for people who want to use video-sharing sites more as personal portals for sharing longer movie clips with a select audience.

The electronics store Best Buy has launched a video-sharing site geared toward people who want to share home movies with friends and family. Starting around $7 a month, a user can upload clips as long as 30 minutes a piece and store as much as 100 minutes at a time on the site. You can pay more to store more minutes. Once you upload a clip, you invite people to watch it by sending them a link via e-mail. Best Buy markets the site as a private, secure alternative to large video-sharing Web sites.

What if you want to create your own video-sharing site? Or quickly optimize clips for uploading? Or post a video to more than one site at a time? Find out how on the next page.


Video Sharing Software

video sharing
­Various software programs allow users to edit and post multiple videos onto video-sharing sites.
© Photographer: Daniel Padavona | Agency: Dreamstime

If you find yourself uploading a lot of clips to several video-sharing sites -- particularly if it's part of your job -- you might start looking for ways to speed up the compressing and uploading process. There are several software programs you can download that'll automatically compress and format video clips as Flash 8 files that can either be uploaded to sites like YouTube or embedded directly into blogs, personal Web pages or social network profile pages.

There are also software programs -- for purchase and free -- that can submit the same video clip to multiple video-sharing sites simultaneously. Tubemogul is a free Web site that'll submit your clip to all of the major video-sharing sites, then track how many viewers watched the clip on each site. This tracking service is useful when a video clip is part of an advertising or marketing campaign.


But maybe you think you can compete with the YouTubes and the DailyMotions of the world. Or you simply want to set up a video-sharing site for your company, school or organization. There are several software programs you can buy that market themselves as "YouTube clones." For anywhere from $50 to $300, you can buy a pre-made script that allows you to quickly create a Web site with the same functions as all of the major video-sharing sites. These functions include:

  • Site-wide search capabilities
  • Ability to feature most popular videos, recently uploaded videos, editor's picks
  • Sort videos by different groups and categories
  • List similar videos alongside each clip, more clips from the same user
  • Create profile pages, form groups, send messages, post comments
  • Manage user account: password, e-mail, newsletter sign-up, billing
  • Administration panel for managing entire site

We hope this HowStuffWorks article has been a helpful introduction to the tremendously popular world of video sharing. For more information on video sharing and related topics, check out the links on the next page.


Frequently Answered Questions

What is an example of video sharing?
YouTube, Metacafe, and TikTok are examples of video sharing.
What is video sharing?
Video sharing is the act of posting a video online for others to view. This can be done through social media sites, video hosting sites, or personal blogs.

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