Watch out, YouTube

More federal agencies take steps to get their message across using online video content

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Some government agencies have refurbished their Web sites with the YouTube generation in mind by adding video content to enhance their online presence and engage the public.

Agencies, including the State Department, the General Services Administration and the Defense Department, have joined corporations and news organizations in capitalizing on video technology. Those agencies have developed in-house video production facilities and hosting capabilities or contracted with third-party services to publish original video content.

DOD, a leader in this area, uses its Pentagon.mil Web site to show video originally produced for its 24-hour Pentagon Channel TV broadcast. The video content is also available to cable and satellite providers via the American Forces Radio and Television Services.

Using a military Web site as a portal for video reports is useful because it lets people access programming on their terms and eliminates geographic limitations, said Brian Natwick, the Pentagon Channel’s general manager.

“Because of the schedule of a Guard or reserve person, I would never expect the majority of my audience to commit to scheduled programming, so it’s really important that we take all the information that we have and distribute it as many different ways as possible,” Natwick said.

DOD officials opted to use a commercial service provider called FeedRoom to publish videos on the Web so DOD could focus on producing the videos.“At the end of the day, it’s much cheaper [to outsource] and let the pros do what the pros do and let me focus on hiring…good people to get the best content that I can get to my audience,” Natwick said.

Under the outsourcing contract, FeedRoom handles the conversion of the Pentagon video to a catalogued, Web-ready digital format, hosts the video files and tracks visitor activity. When visitors to the pentagonchannel.mil Web site click on a video link, one of FeedRoom’s Web servers delivers the video file.

Other companies that provide similar video conversion and hosting services include Roo Group and Maven Networks. Some also offer consulting services to help agencies and corporations develop a strategy for using video on their Web sites.

State began using FeedRoom’s services in September 2006 to incorporate video from official daily briefings and events worldwide on its Web site. The Health and Human Services Department also uses FeedRoom to host video information on avian flu.

Third-party video hosting services can provide audit data on how visitors are viewing the video content. Although policies restrict government Web sites from using Internet cookies to track personal information about individual site visitors, the general audience data for certain videos provides useful rating information, Natwick said. That data allows him to track and analyze the total number of users and unique users, how long content is viewed, how viewers search for content and how they arrive at a page.

“Traditionally, there really haven’t been good ways of measuring the effectiveness of content,” said Bart Feder, FeedRoom’s president and chief executive officer. “With online video and digital content, that changes dramatically.”

Although video can be more engaging than plain text or still photos, agencies should not necessarily expect that their online video posts will have the same social-networking effects as amateur video posted on YouTube, said David Weinberger, a research fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Amateur-quality video perceived as authentic on YouTube would probably be seen as unprofessional if it came from the government, he said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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