In fact, I love YouTube so much I don't want it to die.
What? YouTube die? YouTube, a site that serves 100 million videos a day, needs saving? Yep. The problem is that YouTube, as it functions now, is clearly not a sustainable business. And I'm not just talking about its current lack of substantive revenue (something I think it can fix if it builds out the right ad model). Right now YouTube is effectively a massive restaurant that has a big sign outside that reads "FREE HORS D'OEUVRES, ALL YOU CAN EAT" -- but it doesn't even have its own kitchen; it just steals much of its food from other restaurants (or, rather, the food falls off of trucks, and its patrons bring it all in, while the waiters look the other way).
Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff recently made the case on his blog that YouTube is doomed, likening it to Napster 1.0: "YouTube will take down copyrighted content if you complain, just as Napster would. And YouTube's model is based on masses of material available without regard for copyright status, just as Napster's was ... And when nearly every clip that has copyrighted content -- music in the background, video of Bart Simpson, photos stolen from movie posters -- is gone, YouTube's going to be a lot less interesting." His clincher: "So, mark my words, YouTube will get sued. And it will lose."
Sadly, I think Bernoff's right.
But YouTube doesn't have to be doomed. Some thoughts on how it can get out of the mess it's gotten itself into:
Immediately decide to get smaller
The era of uncontrolled growth at YouTube needs to be over -- now. There are better uses of YouTube's resources than trying to "publish" every last damn thing its users send in. Now that it's got mass, YouTube needs to get more selective. How? Read on.
Follow the Wikipedia model
By which I mean not the mythical Wikipedia model but the actual Wikipedia model. The Wikipedia myth is that everyone and anyone can and does contribute to the world's most fantastically complete, inclusive, up-to-date encyclopedia. But as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales says, Wikipedia content standards and formats are, in fact, set mostly by a core group of 500 to 1,000 or so volunteers. To a certain extent, YouTube is already moving in this trusted-core-group direction with its special YouTube Director designation, which it hands out to original-content creators. But YouTube needs to go further. It needs to create a Wikipedia-ish corps of content gurus with a clear understanding of copyright law who can function as information curators. Granted, YouTube's library may get significantly smaller as it stops posting all manner of unauthorized material in the first place -- but that'll be OK, if it does the following.
Quietly do about 50 more Warner-like deals
Last month, YouTube made a lot of noise about its new revenue-sharing partnership with Warner Music Group, which will give YouTube rights to run Warner music videos. Great. Now stop issuing press releases and hire the battery of lawyers and negotiators needed to lock up content from dozens of other A-list content brands. Some, possibly many, will say no, preferring to host their own proprietary content. But that'll be OK, if YouTube does the following.
Leverage the YouTube brand into the video-search space
To survive its coming copyright wars, YouTube either needs to develop its own proprietary cross-web video-search technology, or buy (or license technology from) the right company. (Flurl? Blinkx? SearchVideo? SingingFish?) That way, if, say, Fox refuses to allow YouTube to host user-uploaded "Family Guy" snippets, you can still go to YouTube, type "Stewie Griffin" or whatnot and get pointed to FamilyGuy.com (or wherever). YouTube would still get to be the one-stop shop for finding videos, but now it'd look beyond its own borders.
Are you listening, YouTube? Would you please get serious about saving yourself? Pretty please? Because, honestly, I hate to think of life without you.