November 16, 2008

The silly fuss over Obama’s use of YouTube

President-Elect Barack Obama is posting videos on YouTube. Clearly, his use of relatively cutting-edge communications technology is a Good Thing. It’s also unsurprising, giving the sophistication and importance of video in the recent presidential campaign.

However, various commentators — even ones as smart as Dan Farber — see something wrong with the use of YouTube for this purpose. I think that’s silly. If YouTube and its competitors are happy to provide the bandwidth for free, I see no reason why the transition team or government should pay for it. Nor should ads be a concern. After all, the president’s weekly radio address has long been provided to ad-supported radio channels.

Of course, I think official videos should be available from multiple sources. No site needs a monopoly. And indeed, with YouTube being banned in some countries, there’s a clear “greater reach” reason for multiple sourcing. (The American President doesn’t just speak to Americans.) But as Dan points out, the Obama video is indeed available through multiple major websites.

Now, I’m not saying that the government shouldn’t have sites of its own where it hosts videos of speeches by the Assistant Secretary of Transportation. But if YouTube or some other firm provides bandwidth in return for being noticed as doing same, I only see one kind of possible harm:

Perhaps the implicit advertisement/endorsement they’re getting is of greater value than the bandwidth being provided.

Fine. There are two ways to deal with that:

1. Require YouTube to remove its logo from the version of the video being put up on official sites (the first link above shows how that’s not happening now).

2. Auction off the right to be the primary video provider, or something like that.

Either way, I fail to see the big deal. YouTube and Google are great American companies. Government does things for companies all the time. Until a competitor comes up with a clear description of how it’s being hurt by this mild favoritism — and I haven’t heard of any yet — there are many bigger problems for Obama’s technology experts to solve.

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