Just one month after launching its full complement of content on the Helio network, YouTube took its new mobile platform worldwide. Thursday it brought its whole video catalog to the mobile device, allowing anyone to access any video from the mobile Web site, m.youtube.com or, from some phones, a downloadable Java client. It’s allowing people to log in and access personalized setting, and enabling sharing, ratings and comments. And what’s more, YouTube is supporting the upload of video directly from the mobile phone. I probably don’t need to emphasize the importance of this. No content sharing service or social networking site has yet extended all of its content and functionality to its mobile portal. It’s quite simply a boon to the industry. Or it would have been. Unfortunately the service doesn’t appear to work.
The YouTube Mobile servers appear to be down. All day, I’ve been trying to access video from my phone from both the WAP site and from the downloadable application on a Nokia N95. The site comes up, the search function works perfectly, the video thumbnails appear, but as soon as you try to play a clip–any clip–an “unable to connect to server” error appears. My colleague Sarah Reedy tried it from the YouTube app on her iPhone, also to no avail. Even accessing the site from a standard Web browser yielded the same results: the site renders, but the videos don’t play. I suppose a reasonable explanation is that the servers are overloaded (I’m assuming YouTube must be running separate servers for mobile and online content since they use separate video formats–Real for mobile and Flash for the Web). But YouTube doesn’t appear to be acknowledging any of this on their site.
What could have been one of the most significant launches in mobile content has fallen flat on its face. Go ahead and accuse me of exaggerating if you like. But the magic of YouTube is that almost any video content imaginable is available in its databases–from film clips to political campaign ads. Extending that content directly to your mobile phone would be revolutionary. Ideally I could bring my beloved Flight of the Conchords wherever I go, pestering my friends with their antics at any time (If curious, check out the wired Web YouTube clips–they still work). The viral e-mails that distribute YouTube content so pervasively across the wired Internet could multiply onto the wireless network via SMS. Its potential is massive. Unfortunately, like so many other attempts to bring wired content to the wireless world, YouTube has half-assed it.