A positive user experience does pay off

The comparison of the Terms of Use of video hosting services garnered quite a bit of attention and I wanted to comment on a few of the reactions.

Overall it seems that quite a few Vimeo users were surprised to see their service had one of the worst terms:

I’m distressed to find where the two sites I use the most (YouTube and Vimeo) are listed.” — Tensegrities

Interestingly, current darling of the video hosting world Vimeo doesn’t come out too well [...]” — Machinima for Dummies

[...] the best sites are the most restrictive.” — CoPress

Boo Vimeo! I always got the feeling they were pretty filmmaker friendly [...]” — OTTfilms forum

Netribution’s (until now) prefered site Vimeo comes off the worst” — Netribution

Jim Mortleman commented this with advice to video hosting services that “[in order to be successful] you need to be clear that you’re not going to hijack [a user's] work” – a statement in line with Lawrence Lessig‘s remarks at approx. minute 40 of his OFC conference keynote. While undoubtedly true, I believe there is a broader concept that should be targeted first, without which the legal terms are mostly irrelevant: the User Experience.

Today, a video hosting service offering a clean website with a simple and easy to use video player is simply much more likely to get new users signed up and uploading content than a service where the website is cluttered and the video player is difficult to use. User experience is the necessary enabler that must be present in order to allow a service to become successful. The large mass of users is simply not going to even look at the Terms of Use if their experience is sufficiently satisfying, which I would say is just what happened here in the case for Vimeo.

Although the importance of the legal terms might rise in the future, e.g. through growing user awareness or some services trying to monetize on their users’ content as Jim suspects, this just underscores the importance of providing a good user experience in my view. Assuming that the legal terms do matter to users, the ability of a service to win new users – as well as to not negatively surprise existing users – will then not only depend on the user experience in regard to a service’s video features but also on whether a service is able to convey the meaning of its legal terms. Providing difficult to understand legal terms will leave users with no better impression than a video player that is difficult to use, even if the legal terms would actually be very favorable for users.

It is thus critical to first ensure a positive user experience in regard to the video features and the comprehensibility of legal terms before starting to look at the actual legal meaning of a service’s Terms of Use. Addressing the legal meaning first has not led services to major success until now and I do not believe it will in the future, whereas it appears clear that by focusing on the user experience first, at least Vimeo seems to have gained a large following, irrespective of its very unfavorable legal terms.

Remix culture

If you’ve followed recent discussions about the growing necessity of copyright reforms, you’ve most likely heard of Lawrence Lessig, the founding board member of Creative Commons. In a nutshell, Creative Commons – or just CC – is a set of permissive licences which any creator of creative content can assign to her own work to explicitly permit other people to build upon and reuse or remix the works according to the simple rules outlined in the license. While Creative Commons licenses have been in existence for more than six years, they are only now starting to be adopted by major content producers such as the Arabic TV network Al Jazeera or the band Nine Inch Nails, who released their on-line best-selling album Ghosts I-IV under a CC licence at the day of release for free downloading and non-commercial remixing.

When Lawrence Lessig was invited as a guest of the popular satire TV show The Colbert Report to present his newest book, this promised to provide some entertainment. See for yourself:

(Unfortunately, the TV show does not use a CC license yet, so the video might be removed at some point.)

The above interview is obviously a clear invitation for remix artists to get creative and I think that is exactly what Eclectic Method have been:

Make sure to visit their website and watch their video mix-tape Lock Up Your Videos for some great combinations of a wide style of music genres. I think that artists such as these really show what kind of creative new works are possible by remixing existing content with today’s digital tools. In other words, it is now primarily the legal system which holds back these artists and no longer the technical limitations of computer systems as was the case only a few years ago.