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New tool brings interactivity to Web video

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Video has become one of the most popular forms of storytelling. From Kony 2012 spurring people to action to PSY making even the most uptight personalities dance Gangnam Style, Web video's influence continued to grow in 2012.

But the online video experience has lacked the infinite and enriching possibilities that the Web has to offer, since it allows little or no interaction with the viewer, almost like plain old TV.

A new tool aims to change that. Mozilla's new Popcorn Maker allows users to add layers of content to video and make it more interactive.

Announced at the 2012 Mozilla Festival, this HTML5 Web app is meant to be an easy-to-use tool for bloggers and other Web makers, enabling them to add text, photos, links, maps and other content to video, creating a richer experience. The tool makes “video work like the rest of the Web: hackable, linkable, remixable and connected to the world around it," explained Mozilla's Brett Gaylor in a blog post introducing Popcorn Maker.

Popcorn Maker 1.0 builds on Mozilla’s experience making a similar tool: Popcorn.js, a JavaScript library that offers the same capabilities, but requires coding skills. Bobby Richter, lead developer at the Mozilla Foundation, told IJNet that the purpose behind the creation of Popcorn Maker was to “empower more people," which follows the foundation's philosophy for creating Web tools.

How to use Popcorn Maker

To use this tool, start by adding a video file under the “media” tab. You can paste a link from YouTube, Vimeo or SoundCloud, or use an HTML video. (If you want to add content to your own original video, edit it and upload it to YouTube or Vimeo first.)

Once you select a video, add content to it by clicking on the Events tab. There are two elements that make Popcorn Maker easy to use: the timeline-based editing experience, similar to other video editing tools such as Final Cut Pro, and the ability to drag and drop elements in either the video screen or in the timeline.

After you chose the video you want to edit, you can add elements by selecting them from the right-column menu. You can add text, a pop-up, a Google Map or even a Wikipedia entry. You can even add a Twitter search or integrate a user’s stream.

You can also use Popcorn Maker to make an audio slideshow, similar to Soundslides. One of my favorite examples is a piece on New York’s Stop-and-Frisk policy made by WNYC Radio Rookies, which makes creative use of Popcorn Maker's capabilities.

Using Popcorn Maker is fairly simple, but I suggest you watch this tutorial first, just to understand all the possibilities it offers.

To save your file, sign in using Persona, Firefox’s identity service. After you’re done, you can then embed the video in your blog. Each new video will be embedded in a video player that includes a remix button, which means that any video created with Popcorn Maker can be remixed by anyone else.

It took me awhile to find out how to delete events from the timeline. The tutorial doesn’t explain how to do it, and I assumed dragging and dropping them outside the timeline would do the trick, or pressing the right click button would offer some help. I finally figured out that you need to select the event and press the delete key. (Going from using only your mouse by dragging and dropping elements around to switching to the keyboard didn't feel very intuitive to me and is a problem other users have mentioned.)

Richter acknowledged that there's some fixing to do, and he also has new features for Popcorn Maker in mind, like being able to edit video in the Web. "It's hard to imagine that feature being complete any time soon, but browser technology is certainly headed that way," he said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to get there next year, but the Internet and its Web technology needs to grow some more if we're to see it happen elegantly."

Mozilla also wants to translate Popcorn Maker into several languages, and the team is looking for tech-savvy volunteers who can contribute to the project with their skills.

You can start playing with Popcorn Maker here. Some of the site’s suggestions are creating your own political ad or, if you’re in a more playful mood, add funny captions to celebrity videos.

And who knows? The next viral cat video that we all will be sinfully watching while pretending to work might be yours.

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