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A Year of Interactive Video Annotations

By Michael Fink

Software Engineer

"Choose a different ending" is an interactive video describing the life of a teenager trying to survive the slums of London. The story, which is shot from a first-person point of view, lets viewers control the hero’s actions (e.g. deciding whether or not he should take his knife to school). Only when the plot reaches one of its grim endings do you realize that the video, commissioned by the London Metropolitan Police, is actually a powerful tool in helping youngsters cope with some of the tough decisions they are faced growing up in a violent environment. This interactive video is a great example of how annotations on YouTube have evolved in just one year: what started as a small-scale experiment is now changing visual storytelling on the web.

If you've seen "Annotations Man," one of many user-created tutorials about annotations, you would have learned that interactive video annotations are a set of simple tools that enable you to add text and hyperlinks directly onto your videos. The feature was originally launched in the summer of 2008; since then, we've seen the featuring being put to use with increasing sophistication to:

  • Provide dynamic commentary: Basically, this means placing a layer of comments on a video; things like director comments, pet dubbing clips, and how-to tips for everything from origami to guitar lessons.
  • Add interactive links and menus: Many video-makers use the links to direct traffic to other videos and to create spatial video menus.
  • Create branching story-lines: Unlike the above two types, which maintain the individual video as the comprehensive story unit, this third group emphasizes a collection of videos organized in a hierarchical structure as a new format of storytelling. Here we find a wide spectrum of use cases, including interactive advertisements, murder mysteries and even wacky dating tips.
We really find it hard to imagine that all this happened in just one year, and can't wait to see how you might knock us out in 2010. So go ahead and choose your own ending…