A New Chapter

Today was my last day at YouTube. After 3.5+ years I’ve decided to pursue my passion for Artificial/Machine Intelligence and I’ll be joining the Google Knowledge Developer Relations team. While my Computer Science concentration was AI, and a good part of my graduate work was in Neural Networks, my career took me through a couple of industries (mostly telecom systems and middleware, followed by a fun stint at YouTube) before reaching this exciting point.

I am very proud of my humble contribution to YouTube’s incredible growth over the past 3.5 years. One of my most favorite moments was the realization that we’re now seeing an emergence of innovative new businesses being built on the YouTube (API) Platform I had an opportunity to shape. It was at Google I/O 2013 when it really dawned on me how many exciting companies are betting their businesses on YouTube and adding value to the ecosystem every day. Here are a few of them.

Jarek and Chad Hurley at Google I/O 2013

Comparing to when I started at YouTube in mid-2010, today there are several proven developer opportunities on the Platform. If you are thinking about leveraging YouTube for your venture, let this I/O presentation be your guide: “YouTube for Developers: The Future and the Opportunities”. While not all biz models are yet supported (did somebody say “curation“?), there are several thriving categories such as analytics, audience development, content management, social media management, gaming, and many others.

The wonderful YouTube team, the YouTube Developer and Partner community made my time at YouTube truly memorable and I know I will miss it.  At the same time, my Lem-inspired adventure is calling. I better answer.

From Sleeping in a ‘Van Down By the River’ to Presenting At Google I/O: Lessons from Original Skateboards

As a part of my job I frequently meet with amazing startups as well as established, and highly successful businesses. What continues to amaze me is that leveraging the 1B YouTube users as a part of their strategy often comes as an afterthought. In fact, sometimes even folks who target YouTube users with their product fail to establish presence on the very platform they’re trying to address.

While text and photos are cool, video is the most powerful medium out there. If you have been hiding under a rock, now would be a good time to shake off the 90s and take advantage of what 21st century has to offer. In fact, a great way to start is by watching this Google I/O 2013 presentation by AJ Crane and Lane Shackleton from YouTube, and Scott Imbrie from Original Skateboards.

There are a few key things you will learn:

  1. The difference between content and commercials
  2. How to brand your YouTube presence in the new multi-device world we’re living in
  3. How to use AdWords for Video to promote your content
  4. How InVideo programming helps with cross-promotion
  5. How to grow and nurture your YouTube community
You will also witness a makeover of a popular (500k subs, >100M views) YouTube channel performed in front of a live audience and more.
Last but not least, you will discover what the title of this post is all about 🙂

 

My Unofficial Video Enthusiasts’ Guide to Google I/O 2013

If you are coming to Google I/O 2013 you can spend the entire show learning about nothing else but video. YouTube has and entire track this year, and all three days of I/O are full of video goodness. Day 1 (Wed) and Day 2 (Th) are jam-packed with YouTube sessions. Day 3 (Fri) features two YouTube API codelabs.

This year we have two categories of sessions:

  • YouTube API-specific sessions
  • General knowledge-sharing sessions for anyone who loves video

While the former is something expected at I/O, I am particularly proud of the latter since it is great to give back. Here’s the list of sessions that belong to the “general knowledge sharing” category:

  1. Demystifying Video Encoding: WebM/VP8 for the Rest of Us
  2. Secrets of Video Stabilization on YouTube
  3. Designing Products for a Multi-screen World: The YouTube Perspective
  4. Adaptive Streaming for You and YouTube
  5. Semantic Video Annotations in the YouTube Topics API: Theory and Applications
  6. WebM and the New VP9 Open Video Codec
You can find the complete list of YouTube sessions here.

 

In the YouTube API Sandbox we will feature seven companies showing innovative apps for all three days of I/O. All of them will have fun demos but if you are short on time don’t miss the following three:
  1. Epson’s immersive video experience
  2. Media Studio’s tools + marketplace product for video creators
  3. Woowa Brothers (배달의 민족) which is an amazing S. Korean company which makes take-out ordering fun
Woowa Brothers (배달의 민족)

Hope Woowa Brothers (배달의 민족) will come to the US one day!

On the last day of I/O (Friday) get your hands on some of our latest APIs with the help of YouTube engineers at two codelabs:
  1. YouTube Anywhere – Using the YouTube API on Phones, Tablets and GoogleTV – where you will learn how to build an Android app using the YouTube Android Player and YouTube Data APIs.
  2. Mashing Up Videos with the YouTube and the Freebase Knowledge Graph APIs – which will teach you how to use the Freebase API with the YouTube Topics API to build fun and smart apps leveraging the Knowledge Graph.
Last but not least, if you are interested in Gaming check out the session by yours truly and Corey Johnson from Unity, the leading game engine developer: Super-Charge Your Mobile Game with YouTube. We will show you how you can incorporate video uploads and in-game video playback into a sample video game Amir Ebrahimi and I built last year.

 

Have a great I/O! And if you are not coming this year worry not, all of the sessions will be recoded and published on YouTube.

 

So you wanna run a conference?

In 2011 I had the opportunity to co-chair a conference with prof. Ani Nahapetian from UCLA. Now that the proceedings from The Third International Conference on Mobile Computing, Applications, and Services (MobiCASE 2011) have been published by Springer, I thought I’d share a few experiences with future generations of conference co-chairs.

Mobile Computing, Applications, and ServicesThird International Conference, MobiCASE 2011, Los Angeles, CA, USA, October 24-27, 2011. Revised Selected Papers

MobiCASE Conference Proceedings

If you have not heard about MobiCASE, perhaps I should start with a short overview. Not to be confused with computer aided software engineering (CASE), the conference focuses on the mobile applications, and for us, the organizers, that meant that anything below layer 5 in the OSI model was outside of the scope. The conference was held in the beautiful Santa Monica, CA, in October of 2011. The conference was sponsored by ICST and endorsed by the European Alliance for Innovation, with technical co-sponsorship from IEEE Computer Society.

I first came to know about the conference as a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, and presented a poster on YouTube Direct at the 2nd conference in 2010.  In late Fall of 2010, the conference’s steering committee approached me about co-chairing the third conference, and I readily agreed, not fully appreciating the time and effort this would entail. Which brings me to my first piece of advice:

1. If you think chairing a conference is largely a ceremonial post, think again.

While the first few weeks did not require much time investment, once the organizing committee was formed, we need to have a weekly call and devote a couple of hours each and every week to make sure things stay on track. This only accelerated as we got closer to the conference. Thankfully, I was able to spend some of my 20% time at Google on MobiCASE.

Right from the start we decided to set some goals around a) international participation and  b) industry presence. Since the conference takes place in the US, it was very easy to end up with primarily US papers, and the world is, you know, a big place.  To that end, we’ve used Google Analytics to monitor the traction our web site was getting from countries, and in particular, universities around the world. This way we could adjust outreach appropriately. Below is an example generated using Fusion Tables form the Google Analytics site data.

Red dots represent locations with universities which interacted with our site in the Spring of 2011. By looking at the map we realized there were a few countries where more outreach was needed. I must admit that without analytics we’d be flying blind, so if you are thinking about running a conference or any other event, remember that:

2. Site analytics is your best friend. Use it.

While organizing the conference we worked with Create-Net which helped with some of the logistics. Create-Net has its own process for running conferences with well-defined roles and responsibilities (R&Rs) listed below:

  1. Technical Program Chair (TPC)  – drivers the review process
  2. Publications Chair  – makes sure proceedings gets published
  3. Publicity Chair  – drives social media, announcements (e.g. Call for Papers)
  4. Local Chair – makes local site arrangements
  5. Web Chair  – takes care of the Web site
  6. Workshops Chair – reviews workshops submissions and runs the workshops
  7. Demos and Tutorials Chair – sames as above for demos and tutorials
  8. Panels Chair – same as above for panels
  9. Sponsorship and Exhibits Chair – “show me the money”
  10. Posters Chair – reviews poster submissions and runs the poster session

For MobiCASE we’ve mostly followed the recipe but combined some of the roles. If you are reading this because you are thinking about running your own conference, pick the ones that make most sense for you, but, by all means:

3. Define R&Rs and share it with your organizing committee early.

While we’re able to quickly identify most people responsible for all of the roles above, the Sponsorships Chair took a while.  In my experience, being the Sponsorships Chair it is the toughest job at a young conference, such as MobiCASE. Most sponsors ask for the number of potential participants rather than quality of papers or any other criteria. If you conference is not yet established, finding sponsors willing to pick up the tab is quite a challenge. Somebody famous once said that “The hardest thing to do is to make a man (woman) part with his (her) money”. MobiCASE 2011 was no exception. Our sponsorships chair worked his rolodex very hard, but it was very challenging to obtain meaningful contributions to help offset the cost of the conference. Therefore, my advice is to:

4. Hire a “salesperson” as your Sponsorships Chair.

Since MobiCASE has mostly an academic character, the paper review process was very important. This is where your Technical Program Chair can make or break the conference. For MobiCASE 2011, our TPC was Prof. Joy Ying Zhang from CMU and he did an excellent job assembling an international group of reviewers (program committee), driving the process and formalizing the call for papers (CFP). In case you’re curious, here’s the MobiCASE 2011 Call for Papers.

MobiCASE 2011 Call for Papers

One important aspect of the review process is eliminating bias. For MobiCASE, we’ve chosen to adopt the double-blind peer review  and it has served us well:

5. When in doubt, go double-blind.

One of the more mundane aspects of running a conference are site logistics. Expect to spend fair amount of time dealing with that. Therefore, it is best to find somebody who lives in the area where the conference will be held ahead of time. In other words:

6. Make sure your Local Chair is in fact…local.

That last point may sound obvious, but only a local Local Chair can properly evaluate a conference venue and consider factors such as rush-hour traffic, proximity to local attractions, quality of the facilities, and so on. Make sure to do at least two thorough walkthroughs before the day of your conference.  We’re quite fortunate for MobiCASE as two members of the organizing committee lived in the LA area, so we’re able to pick a nice venue in Santa Monica that did not explode the budget.

Earlier in this post I mentioned using Google Analytics to understand the traction your conference is getting (or not). This is one of the tasks that your Publicity Chair should be confortable with. In general, you should:

7. Find a demand hacker to be your Publicity Chair.

If you’ve not heard the term “demand hacker” before, here’s a short explanation: a next gen marketer. Your Publicity Chair should be comfortable with not only using social media, but also hacking it, analyzing it, and making it drive interest in your conference. You can check  how well your Publicity Chair is doing by looking at the analytics report every week.

In addition to international representation, we wanted MobiCASE to have a mixed academic and industrial focus. For MobiCASE 2011 our results were not very good in this regard. While we did get interest and paper submissions from traditional research organizations within large corporations, the bleeding edge for mobile apps is often happening at small startups doing innovative work. Unfortunately, the paper format with a strict submission and review process is not a good fit to attract their attention. The poster, workshop and panels are much more attractive opportunities to participate for them. The lesson there is:

8. Do not freak out the innovators who are too busy to write a paper.

Ok, as they say hindsight is 20/20 but here are some stats from MobiCASE 2011:

  • Number of submitted papers: 50
  • Number of accepted papers: 18
  • Paper acceptance ratio: 36%

As far as international participation goes, we did hit the objective of making MobiCASE an international conference. With 16 countries represented at the conference in Santa Monica, you can see the participant distribution chart below.

MobiCASE 2011 Participant Distribution

The best paper award went to the XMLVM team led by prof. Arno Puder of San Francisco State University pictured below:

Arno Puder, SFSU

Arno Puder, SFSU, photo by Thomas Phan

Hopefully you will find at least some of my ramblings useful. If you are working on on a conference yourself I wish you good luck with your endeavor. You will probably spend more time on it than anticipated, but will likely be surprised by the fun and enrichment that comes with it.

Embedding lots of videos on one page

You may have noticed that sites with lots of video embeds on the same page may suffer from performance issues due to player load overhead. My colleagues Greg Schechter and Phil Harnish suggested not loading the player at all to handle this use case, you can find more info in the GDD talk entitled HTML5, Flash and the Battle for Faster YouTube Cat Videos.

After Pamela Fox asked me about this issue today I decided to prototype a simple example of how a workaround might work. You’ll find the code here. It loads thumbnails and replaces them with the YouTube iframe player upon click. Pretty simple, isn’t it?