NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2009
YouTube for Posterity
By Mike Moore,
Editor, Bowling Green Computer Users Group, Kentucky

ml.moore (at) insightbb.com (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author’s permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

The video sharing websites, such as Google Video and YouTube, are either great resources or the world’s biggest time-wasters, depending on your viewpoint. YouTube for example, allows users to view and share video clips with ease, and anyone can upload a video clip on this site without cost, making it a kind of “America’s Funniest Videos” of the internet.

In an effort to keep users coming back to their site (and thus generating more ad revenue), YouTube encodes its video files in the Macromedia Flash format (SWF), with Flash video (FLV) data embedded within, which also prevents viewers from downloading files and making digital copies. Instead, the video files are streamed directly to the embedded player in your browser (Internet Explorer or FireFox). There is no obvious download link for users to save the video locally for offline viewing or for transferring to a portable media player. You might think of this in terms of your desktop: you get the link, but not the file.

One of the things I like about the internet is it’s a little bit like a dream that you can control. Or, if you like, some kind of software heaven. If you can just imagine a solution for some perceived problem, often times you can look out there, and a solution will have already been created, like magic. In reality, this arises from the very large number of creative folks that use the internet and come across the same difficulties that you and I do, and are actually able to whip up a solution. More often than not, they don’t want any money in exchange for the solution, they just want the problem to be fixed.

There are, in fact, multiple solutions for this problem-that YouTube offers no handy download link and no apparent way to put its videos on your iPod or computer for later enjoyment. I will present only one, but I also want to tell you how I found it, because that process is one that will help you with locating future solutions like this.

You can find YouTube video recorders at download.com and a host of other download sites, but I have a problem with programs found on these sites. I look for well behaved programs that only minimally solve the problem and do not try to do too much. And the distinction between well-behaved programs and ad-ware and spy-ware is getting to be very small indeed. The word “free” on these sites, in reference to someone’s program, usually means anything but free.

It is difficult to find a site that presents only open-source, well-meaning programs that respect my desktop and my time. Such programs are like finely crafted European or Japanese tools. They are understated and unassuming, and behave exactly as expected and are documented well. The closest I have ever come to a site that presents such tools for download is http://sourceforge.net.

Sourceforge.net is not perfect. One of the pervasive problems on the site is that you won’t always know if a particular program is for Windows, Linux, Unix, Mac or some other more exotic computer. Another problem is sometimes programmers jump right into the middle of their story when documenting the program and forget to tell us what the heck the program is supposed to do.

Anyway, I browsed to sourceforge.net and typed in two keywords: youtube recording ...and got 45 hits. Try that on Google and you be lucky to get less than 45,000!

Since SourceForge is about teams of programmers communicating towards a solution to a particular problem, we find far less junk on here than we do on one of the more popular download sites. But we also find projects that have only just started, and don’t really have anything for us to download yet. To help me decide which of the 45 solutions to look at, I focus on the last column, which tells me the number of downloads and therefore the relative popularity of the program.

Please turn to page 7 for a screen capture of what the SourceForge search looked like.

Based on over 35,000 downloads, it looks like “Youtube Downloader” is a good choice. Note: SourceForge is not known for creative program titles either!

Note that the description of this program indicates the program is “platform independent,” meaning that it does not matter whether you have a Mac or PC, this should run on both. Platform Independent usually means that the program runs inside of a browser and uses Java technology to achieve its independence. See Java.com for more information on how Java manages to do this. If you have the latest Internet Explorer or FireFox browser, you probably have Java. If not, it’s easy to download it from Java.com if you have a fast internet connection.

The file comes down as ytd17.zip. After I unzip the file to a directory (a good choice would be My Videos), I notice there are two directories, one labeled YouTubeDownloader and one called simply, bonus. Without even being tempted by the “bonus” directory, I navigate into the other directory and find two more directories, “full” and “opensource,” and I chose full. Inside there is a file called ytd.jar. It carries a little blue and orange coffee-cup logo which is another giveaway that this is a java program. I double click on this file and hope for the best. Windows asks me if I want to open it, and I click OK. It opens, but I am also directed to a web site automatically. I hope the programmer just wants me to know something about the program and is not wanting to sell me anything!

Here we see another benefit of Java programs—no installation needed. Just double click and it goes to work for you.

I opened my browser and went to YouTube.com, selected a video and then copied the URL (from the browser address window) using CTRL-C, put my mouse cursor in the space where it says “Enter youtube links separated by a new line” and hit CTRL-V to paste the URL in there. I guess you could type it in too, if you were very accurate. [In Europe, they refer to the ENTER key as a “new line.” ]

I clicked on the download button and when the download was complete, the program rather cryptically referred me to the download directory, which turned out to be where I installed YouTube Downloader, My Videos. There was a file in there called YouTube-Dancing Liquid.flv, which was indeed my video, but there was a problem—the FLV file extension was not associated with any of my applications! No matter, when I double clicked the FLV file, Windows gave me a choice of what to open it with. I chose my trusty VideoLAN player (on your BGAMUG CD), and it worked just fine.

Happy YouTubing!

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