Pushing the Boundaries of Online Video with Purple Pop-Tart Cats

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In 2012, 946 people attempted to reach the summit of the highest place on earth, Mount Everest; 548 successfully made it to the peak, and 10 lost their lives. More than 530 humans have been to outer space, and, at this moment, there are six astronauts miles above our heads. And just last year, filmmaker James Cameron became only the third person to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench -- the deepest place on earth -- almost 7 miles beneath the ocean surface. Why do we push the limits? What is it about the human soul that pushes us to the edge? Push on one side of the spectrum and someone else will be on the exact opposite side, expanding the limits of possibility. There is a constant aspiration to be the biggest, smallest, fastest, slowest, highest, or lowest in the world.

Technology is no exception in this global race to be No. 1. These days, it’s almost a requirement for startups to have a record-breaking extreme as part of the business plan. Soon after Twitter launched its 140 character-limited social platform, there was a lighthearted response from a startup called Woofer. The now defunct WooferTime.com social network required a minimum of 1,400 characters to post a Woof. Its slogan, “When 140 characters isn’t nearly enough,” may have been in jest, but it speaks volumes about the limits (or lack thereof) placed on content.

On profiles, Facebook used to display how many friends you had, and races broke out to see who could hit the 5,000 friend limit. With the advent of the Follow function, we can now pursue our race for infinite fans on Pages. This pursuit of the extremes in technology has reached another milestone with the recent addition of 15-second video clips to the popular photo-sharing site Instagram. The addition of this feature is in direct competition with Vine’s 6-second looped videos. And the battle-line boundaries for short-video social networks are being pushed between Vine (owned by Twitter) and Instagram (owned by Facebook). Nine seconds may not seem long, but any time the two largest social networks in the world start trying to one-up each other, we should all take notice.

So what about the other end of the spectrum? Think about the longest video that you have watched from beginning to end. Spartacus is 184 minutes long. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King clocks in at 201 minutes. There may even be one masochist out there who has sat through all 484 minutes of the Russian film version of War and Peace. These all pale in comparison to the 10-hour and longer videos duking it out on YouTube. Yes, 10-plus hours on YouTube.

In 2011, YouTube raised the upload time for videos to 15 minutes in length. What it didn’t tell you was that you actually could upload up to 10 hours of video as long as it didn’t exceed a certain file size. And with the birth of the Nyan Cat 10-hour video in April 2011, this short-lived meme would have its 6-month moment of fame. If you have a few hundred hours to spare, surf over to for10hours.com, and watch all the looped versions of purple Pop-Tart cats, He-Man techno, and epic sax guy. And while the cool factor may have worn off this lengthy meme, there are still 10-hour videos popping up on YouTube every day.

Not everyone wants to climb Mount Everest or go into outer space. But there will always be risk takers who want to push the envelope. And when boundaries are pushed and records are broken, that is where you will find innovation. So I realise that posting a 6-second Vine video of your cat chasing a laser pointer into the pool may seem childish and that watching 10 hours of He-Man belting out a 4 Non Blondes song is insane. But for every crazy step we take into the realm of the impossible, we are expanding the world of opportunity.

This article appeared in the autumn 2013 Streaming Media European Edition as "Purple Pop-Tart Cats Are Saving the World."

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