Through the evolution of IT applications there has been a move from traditional desktop standalone applications to online services with up-to-date collective data. Now the majority of success for applications comes from the data contained within them rather than the overall programmed functionality, this is due to desktop applications requiring all data and function to be programmed within them on assembly and internet applications allowing data to be continually added requiring the storage facilities to be much larger.
Popular web services such as Ebay, Amazon, Wikipedia and Facebook have gained their notoriety by facilitating the addition of data obtained from harnessing users collective intelligence (as discussed in the previous post) rather than providing a function explicitly themselves. This is where the term Data is the next “Intel Inside” is coined from, as Intel Inside is famous for being the driver of computer functionality, so is data now becoming recognized as the driver for application success.
The web service YouTube will be used as the case study in this post to discuss the best practices for using data as the driving force of your web services, as well as possible risks and issues that can arise from this aswell.
It is therefore of vital importance to have a data strategy and not just a product strategy when using data as the key aspect for your application or service. This can be developed by deciding the direction your online service will take by either allowing user to create data, control the format data is used on, classify large collections of data, provide access to hard to find data or provide infrastructure for data. YouTube has found its specialty service area by facilitating the ability for users to create their own data and providing a location for other users to access this data. The data strategy that YouTube undertook will be broken up into the 5 key best practices for data and will be explored in-depth below.
1. Seek to own a unique, hard to recreate source of data
With over 8 years of video content added each day, YouTube has amounted an almost incomprehensible source of video data from its users, one which would require an enormous amount of time to recreate and an impracticably large amount of storage to hold. Due to these restraints to recreate the source of data it is unfeasible that any other company would have the capital to rival YouTube and if it did would not have the initial video content to draw users to their online service. Therefore YouTube has firmly positioned itself in a place of power through its VERY hard to recreate source of data.
2. Enhance the core data
The raw video data, although useful on its own, is not the only facet that YouTube has encompassed into its online service. Users are also able to enrich this data through commenting, rating and sharing on social media. Therefore this raw data has been enhanced by the addition of users opinions, adding an extra element on the data provided by YouTube. This has provided an extra layer on top of this video data to allow users to more easily find the higher quality content.
3. Let users control their own data
Although on the surface this appears to be a risky feature for any online service to allow each user to control their own data, it is a vital component to both demonstrate the trust and confidence you have in your users as well as using the full advantage of the Internets strength by allowing the sharing of your content. YouTube allows users to upload or remove their own videos from the system, while also allowing users to share any video on YouTube to social media sites. By not walling off the data contained within the website, YouTube gains the advantage of using the Internet to facilitate their growth by users being drawn to YouTube videos through other services. If YouTube had tried a Walled Garden approach to its content it would stumble significantly as users upload videos so that they can be shared with others, not walled off from others.
4. Make some rights reserved, but not all
When a user uploads video content to YouTube they are agreeing to the Terms of Service (ToS) that YouTube has put in place to restrict and provide rights to its users. YouTube follows this example of best practice by allowing users to add their own content and gain revenue on it through advertisement, as well as being able to share any content on the website (only via the sharing facilities YouTube provides). However the collection of data as a whole is still reserved as YouTube’s intellectual property to which it has full rights to do with as it pleases.
5. Own the index, namespace, or format
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare
Although beautifully poetic it seems when it comes to IT services the exact opposite is true, users are drawn to the names they know and trust. By being the leader in providing video content YouTube has become a household name and is the first location users will visit for this type of data.
The benefits through using data as the controlling force of your web service is undeniable with many websites built entirely around the storage and indexing of data rather than only providing a function. There is however certain issues which can present themselves when using users data as your main product and these will be discussed below.
Who owns your data?
The ownership of the data becomes a questionable debate when your service relies entirely on your data and therefore it is important to establish a content ownership policy and publish this policy for users to read and accept before use. Without doing this serious PR issues can arise when users dispute ownership issues with the service providers. YouTube has a clear terms of service policy outline which users must accept before uploading any videos that clarifies that all users will still own their own data, however YouTube will be able to host and distribute it royalty-free. Therefore individually each video is owned by the users and is able to be taken down at will. however the content on a whole is owned by YouTube who is able to profit and distribute it freely.
Giving customers freedom to leave means they will
Since users are able to remove their own content at will, if all users did this then the YouTube service would be nothing but an empty page providing no service to the community. To make sure this doesn’t happen it is very important to provide a situation where the users data is more important in a shared context. This is done by YouTube as it provides search functionality for users to find videos and the ability for comments and ratings to be made of content. After all video content is made to be viewed, discussed and shared; which is why YouTube is an important provider for these interactions.
Copyright is a huge issue that occurs when you gain profit on things that other users upload and is one that YouTube has and continues to struggle with. Giving users the freedom to upload any material (against the ToS) allows them to upload illegal files, and for a video sharing service the main issues arise in copyrighted movies, television shows and music videos being uploaded. As a provider you legally need to show that you are doing sufficient work to stop copyrighted content from appearing on your service and YouTube does this via a security feature called Content ID which creates an ID file for copyrighted work and compares this to videos submitted online. This helps reduce but does not stop copyrighted content from being uploaded online, however it provides a greater legal footing when fighting copyright infringement lawsuits.
From this post we have explored the greater advantage a business can obtain through using data as the driving force of their system when compared to standalone desktop services. As long as the risks are understood and preventative measures are undertaken to reduce these risks, businesses can thrive just as YouTube has done.