Lessons Learned from 10 Years of Video Hosting

One of the features that our members most often want is to host videos on their site.

As it happens, we've learned a little about how to do that over the years.

We've been hosting video for 10 years, and the technology is almost unrecognizable. In it's infancy 10 years ago, today's video technology is truly amazing.

Here are our four recommendations if you want to host video yourself:

Lesson #1: Don't Host Videos Yourself

This is the option that our members always seem to look at first. However, we rarely advise doing this.

There are advantages to hosting videos yourself:

  • It is a much cheaper option than it used to be. In days gone by, hosting space was expensive and so was bandwidth. Videos took up a lot of room and also a lot of bandwidth. Nowadays, both space and bandwidth are cheaper from hosting companies and even cheaper from places such as Amazon S3.
  • Once you've uploaded the video, you can easily use a WordPress plugin, Joomla extension or Drupal module to show the video on your site.

However, there are also multiple disadvantages to hosting your own videos:

  • Your hosting probably isn't optimized for videos. The viewing experience probably won't be smooth.
  • There are numerous technical challenges. These include finding the optimal file formats and file sizes for your visitors. For example, if you choose to use Flash, your videos won't be viewable on iPhones. If your visitors are primarily in Africa, you'll need to choose different format and sizes than if your customers were mainly European.
  • You're only going to be able to serve one copy of your video to all your customers. This doesn't work in the modern web where almost everyone is on a different device with a different connection speed. Good video hosts get around this by serving different copies of the video to you, depending on your device and connection speed. If you host your videos yourself, you're stuck with serving the same video to a New York user on a T1 line and a mobile phone user in India.

For these reasons, we don't host any of our own videos.

Lesson #2: YouTube and Vimeo Are Mainly For Promotion

vimeo youtubeBoth YouTube and Vimeo are great options for hosting videos:

  • Their sites are easy to use.
  • Once you've uploaded your videos, they'll work on almost any device and at many different connection speeds.
  • They'll give you access to two hugely popular platforms with many viewers.

The downside is that neither YouTube nor the free version of Vimeo works particularly well if you're running a professional-quality site.

  • The free version of Vimeo won't allow you to upload videos intended for commercial use.
  • The default option for both YouTube and Vimeo is to make videos public. These services aren't designed for you to upload videos and show them only to people on your own site.
  • The YouTube and Vimeo branding can distract from the professional quality you're trying to achieve.

For these reasons, we tend to only put videos on YouTube and Vimeo if we intend to use them for promotion. Still, if you want to use videos for marketing, try the YouTube extension for Joomla, the Vimeo extension for Joomla, or EmbedPress which adds any video to WordPress.

Lesson #3: Be Prepared to Keep Moving Hosts

We've gone through many options for video hosting. Each time we've upgraded slightly, buying more features, more space and better service. As technology changes over time, and some hosts just don't keep up.

First, on a previous site, we self-hosted our videos. That's why we know so many of the disadvantages of self-hosting!

Second, when we launched OSTraining, we used a site called Screencast.com. They charged only $10 per month, but we only had around 100 videos at launch. Screencast provides only a simple player with few customization options. 

Third, when we needed a more professional look and more space, we moved to VPFactory.com for three times the price of Screencast. That company is no longer in business, but they allowed us to create a custom OSTraining video player. VPFactory also converted our videos so that they were mobile-ready.

Next, we updated again to Brightcove.com. Brightcove was around ten times the price of Screencast, but they are one of the biggest boys in video. Most big newspapers and media sites work with them in one way or another.

Now, we're on Wistia.com. Any video shown in the OSTraining membership library is served from Wistia. We've also developed a Joomla extension for Wistia and a WordPress plugin for Wistia to make it easy to use embed videos.

Lesson #4: Not Many People Have High Speed Connections

As soon as your audience expands, you'll start to run into people with very slow or expensive connections. This means that many of your videos aren't available to most people.

We had people complaining of connection problems on both Screencast and VFactory. African countries, I could understand. South American and South-east Asian countries too. But we also started to get a lot of video playback problems from Australians. Apparently, they have some of the worst and most expensive internet in the world. Even some parts of the United States and Europe had very slow connections.

It was only when we joined Wistia that the problem was solved. To solve connection problems, when you upload a video to Wistia they create many different versions. Each copy is a different size and is optimized for a different connection speed. If we upload an HD version of a video, that version can still be served to a viewer in New York on a T1 line. However, if a viewer is in Africa or Australia, Wistia will serve one of the other versions which are smaller and lower quality.

Your thoughts?

Let's turn this over to you guys. Hosting video online is a tricky and constantly changing challenge. What advice do you have for people wanting to show videos on their site?

About the author

Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.