Space Beer, Editable Video Clips, and Misleading the User, Oh My!

Intriguing content? Check. Easy-to-use online video editing? Check. Easy sharing via popular social networking sites? Check. Other than minor details, (like whether people actually want to edit and share snippets of news videos,) what could go wrong?

So I checked out MSNBC’s freshly launched update to their online video player, which adds basic video editing to a fairly standard set of sharing options. The editor, itself, is relatively well done. MSNBC kept it simple, allowing you to select a clip out of a video by dragging sliders in from the beginning and end. You get good, real-time feedback of where the video will start and how long the clip is, and you can preview your clip at any point.

To test this, I chose something with almost universal appeal—a story on Sapporo’s new “space beer”. Here’s a screenshot from previewing my clip:

MSNBC's New Video Editing Tool

Now if you’re one of the few who watch and share online videos, but are interested in neither space nor beer, (really? we’re talking “outer space”…and beer…together,) well, I believe that MSNBC does cover other topics as well.

Anyway, once you’ve trimmed the video to your editorial delight, the player provides buttons for sharing via email, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as copying the code to embed on a blog or other web page. In my case, this worked wonderfully to help me share my love of space and beer here and on Facebook without making anyone endure the MSNBC anchor’s intro or the two seconds of silence at the end of the original video. Or so I thought…

If you watched the embedded video, above, you could see that it is my shortened clip. It shows a length of 35 seconds—close enough to the 36 seconds the editor said and certainly shorter than the 44 seconds of the original video. (If you haven’t watched it…I mean c’mon, seriously?!? SPACE BEER.)

You might assume that it works more or less the same way when sharing via Facebook, Twitter, or email, right? Surely, they wouldn’t have provided several ways to share your video clip, and then just completely bailed on some of those, would they? Would they?

Videos Are Not Always Shared Equally

Sadly, my (and others’) exquisite editing skills are only passed on with the Facebook and embed-it-yourself code options, (and really only partly with Facebook.) With Twitter or Email, it’s just a link to an MSNBC page with the full, original video; adding insult to injury, you also have sit through a 30-second commercial before the video.

To be clear, that’s

  • Facebook & Embedded: video clip
  • Twitter & Email: 30-second commercial + full video

There’s nothing on the video player or site that tells you this—I found out only because I’m a curious UX nerd who likes to experiment with new tools.

Imagine how embarrassed I would have been had I tweeted

Yo, check out my mad video editing skills where I removed the anchor’s introduction and two seconds of silence from this cool MSNBC video clip about space beer!

and not just because of my head-shaking choice of prose or the fact that that’s way more than 140 characters, (and yes, that 59-character URL is what the MSNBC video player generates for Twitter or email.) I surely would have been mocked mercilessly by my 29 followers, (14 of whom are actual people I know,) or at least by those few who weren’t completely mesmerized by the idea of space beer.

I may be exaggerating somewhat for effect, but MSNBC has chosen a misleading user experience that throws out the editing work and intent of some of its more engaged visitors without any notice or warning. That’s generally not a good thing to do.

Oversight or Unfinished?

Examining the embed-it-yourself and Facebook code, there appears to be just two additional numbers that are needed to play the edited version of the video.  In my case, “6737^42488” was passed as a parameter to the video player.  These are the start time and length of the clip (in milliseconds), separated by a caret.

Here’s how it shows up as as a Facebook update:

MSNBC embedded video clip on Facebook

Clicking the thumbnail image plays the embedded video, which shows just my edited clip. Looking at the source code, the start time and length are in the embedded code there.

Now let’s look at the title of the video, “A beer from ‘outer space'”. This link is a Facebook redirection URL that points to^42488.  There are my start and length parameters, “6737^42488” at the end of the link, but they don’t do anything yet, as this link just takes you to the original, unedited video on MSNBC—in fact, to the same URL as the Twitter/email link, above.

While the Twitter/email link doesn’t appear to include the start and length data, this Facebook title link makes it seem that at least someone at MSNBC intended for a URL on its own to be able to take you to their site and play the edited clip. That functionality, (and a little URL shortening,) would allow them to patch the hole in their video clip sharing for Twitter, email, and half of Facebook.

I’ll check back some time to see if this gets fixed.

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