Soapbox, Microsoft's new video site, is a solid video-sharing service with plenty of features. But where's the content?
Microsoft's competitor to YouTube is Soapbox on MSN Video. Soapbox is Microsoft's user-generated video site, not to be confused with the company's professional video site, MSN Video. It's a solid video-sharing platform, but its features alone are likely not enough to win over a legion of YouTube users. We tried out the private beta of the Soapbox service, which will expand soon to allow more people to try it out.
If you use Soapbox to watch other peoples' videos, you'll be able to tag videos and comment on them, and it's easy to find videos based on tags or popularity. You can also browse the video catalog without stopping the video you're watching, which is a nice user interface development. Of course, Soapbox uses Windows Media Player technology to display videos in Internet Explorer. But when run on Firefox or a Mac, it uses Flash.
The Soapbox page rarely is long enough to require scrolling, so using Soapbox feels more like using a PC application than a typical Web site. But, in the beta, the browser's back button doesn't work--it takes you back to the last site you were on, and loses your place on the Soapbox site. This is infuriating.
Uploading is easy. A neat trick lets you upload videos in the background on your PC without requiring a standalone uploader application. Videos can be of any length, as long as they're fewer than 100MB. The service takes videos in almost any format and converts them, so they'll display to other viewers in either Windows Media or Flash, depending on which browser they're using.
It's fairly easy to share videos you post on Soapbox. Each video gets its own "share" tab in the player interface, where Soapbox displays separate URLs for the video itself, the video with an image, or the video in an embeddable player. We ran across bugs in the embeddable player, but expect this core function to be fixed as the beta progresses.
Missing from the service are many modern features you see on other video sharing sites. For example, you can't edit your videos once they're uploaded, as you can in
Soapbox has plenty of features. What it's missing is content and community. It's very likely that Microsoft will steer millions of people to Soapbox via the very popular Windows Live Spaces blogging network, among other avenues. Given a vibrant community and a decent catalog of videos, many users will likely find Soapbox a good adjunct to the Spaces blog network. Soapbox is a solid platform for user-generated video, even if it's no technical breakout.