Sharing text online in the form of urls, quotes, or just raw text has been a core part of how content is shared online. For almost any kind of content on the internet, even nontext content such as video or audio, there is always an associated url that links to it or some representative text. However, I think that this leaves a lot of room for improvement as nontext content becomes a more developed medium.

The following sections outline a few features that I think take better advantage of how nontext context is consumed on the internet.


Currently, YouTube offers a functionality for tagging a video link with a start time. When the link is opened, the video will load the video player with the head set to the given time. This feature is so useful because:

  • It is annoying to separately communicate timestamps if just a certain part of the video is of interest.
  • Navigating a video without context is often cumbersome, and is especially difficult on mobile. Thus, the start time function serves a legitimate purpose. It is also the first step towards a suite of similar, potention features that add only slightly more complexity.

Most obviously, a stop time function could behave symmetrically. This feature would be useful because:

  • Often when a certain part of a video is of interest, it is not just the entire video after the specified start time but just a small section of it.
  • After watching the video for some amount of time, the user has to decide at what point to stop the video. This choice is often made arbitrarily and counter to the sender’s intention.
  • A user usually takes length heavily into account when deciding whether or not to watch a video or video segment. An unspecified length of a shared video segement may be less appealing than a specified length.
  • Sections of videos could be more easily linked to in the context of citation, putting both a left and right bound around where a citation references in the video.

YouTube currently offers another functionality called Playlists where a user can aggregate a selection of YouTube videos in a specified order. If YouTube offered both start and stop time functions, then a user could make a Playlist that included videos that only play a specified section when watched as part of the playlist. I think this would be a hugely useful tool for YouTube users that want to share bundles of videos, especially longer ones, but currently need to actually splice together the videos off-platform and then upload the product as an independent video. If users could splice together videos using the start and stop time functions in Playlists, then Playlists become a super easy way to do this that preserves all easy-to-follow links to the original video sources (for instance, to watch context around the spliced section). Perhaps even, a creator could splice their own video content into the Playlist as a way to easily do commentary that preserves the original sources.

I describe these features in the context of YouTube because I am most familiar with its start time function, but in theory it would work just as well with any video or audio. For audio, the ability to link to specified sections of podcasts and splice together small sections of several episodes would be very useful for sharing small bits of longer pieces of content. Currently, there is not even a start time function for the largest podcast application Apple Podcasts.

There are other possible functions in this area such as a YouTube function for Playlists that play two videos side-by-side or in some sort of overlapping arrangement. I think, however, that there will develop a relatively clear line between what people are interested in making use of inside YouTube’s interface and what they will prefer to do in other ways (e.g. the raw video source). For example, I predict that not many people would make use of the parallel-videos Playlist functionlity just mentioned.

Timestamped Comments

For text-centric content such as articles, a commenter can easily refer to a part of the article by quoting the section. But for nontext content the analogous capabilities are very clunky. Two examples:

  • YouTube comments can reference a specific time via text in order to generate a link to the video at that time in the published comment. It’s annoying to transcribe the timestamp, especially since its difficult to navigate a specific time on mobile
  • Soundcloud comments are all timestamped, and can only be viewed by navigating to the part of the song the comment is at. This is extremely stupid because no one reads the comments as the randomly flash during the song - most of the comments are insignificant and if there are many comments near each other, it’s impossible to navigate. Additionally, most of the comments have no reason for being linked to a specific time in the song.

In these and many other ways, the idea of timestamped comments has been addressed superficially. However, for longer-form video and audio especially, timestamped comments can be very useful. For example in a podcast, the analogous act to quoting a section of an article would be to quote to a span of time in the podcast.

The actual UI implementation of this feature seems to be a main sticking point. YouTube’s automatically-recognized timestamps are a good approach to start with. The next step would be to allow a user to select the time rather to be the current time of the player or by allowing a scrubber interfact for choosing a timestamp. This removes the middle step of reading, remembering, and then typing the timestamp.

Chapters, Sections, Etc.

Modular Video and Audio Widgets