Liam Green-Hughes

making atlas an online video star

A lot of work has been going into Atlas recently to build functionality to make it a first class source of television, radio and music metadata. Our efforts have been largely focused on the broadcast versions of these media which are still, of course, very popular, but we have always been keen to cover online media and properly reflect the phenomenal success of sites such as YouTube in bringing online video to the masses. Our first public prototype, amplus, allowed people to collect online video into their own channels and feed those to players or readers of their choice, and it was built on top of URIplay, the first incarnation of what’s known today as Atlas. Yet, while Atlas has had functionality to obtain information about online sources all along, it’s fair to say this has spent time on the back burner in recent years. So we thought now would be a good time to revisit the area and have a think about what we would like to do next.

why include online video?

Making information about online and broadcast content available in one place makes more sense than ever as these two worlds are getting closer together. It is not unusual now to find original programming that is only made available online and not broadcast, maybe in the form of web series or a podcast. Some broadcasters have a presence on YouTube, a good example being Channel 4 here in the UK. Newer technology also promotes this change with many new TV sets being sold that have the ability to connect to the Internet and apps that make it easy to watch television programmes on your mobile phone or tablet.

the approach in atlas

Atlas has been rather cleverly designed with the concept of adapters which can feed Atlas with information from source systems. While we don’t index online video services (this would be a huge job, YouTube alone has seventy-two hours of video uploaded to it every minute!) we can use some of these adapters to enable Atlas to go to an online service and find out information about a given URI.

As an example let’s make use of the Vimeo adapter to have a look at a video found at this URI: You can use our Atlas API Explorer for this, copy the Vimeo URI then go to the Content tab and paste it into the uri box. If you click on Run you will see that Atlas comes back with some basic information about the video such as the title, thumbnail and online locations where it can be found (you can see the results at this URL:,locations). A great advantage of Atlas is that you always get this information back in the same format regardless of the source you are querying. No need to learn an API for each video source!

A query about a Vimeo video in the API Explorer

As you can see being able to get information back in this way could be very useful if you would like to display these available videos in another web page or maybe even a different platform entirely. The simple to parse nature of the JSON feed format would make light work even for an embedded platform. Plus knowing all of the available locations for a video which may offer information on all of the available formats of a video could be a great way to select the right version of a video for your application, e.g. selecting a mobile optimised video file for a mobile app.

how you can help!

There is a similar adapter for YouTube but it needs a bit of TLC. Our focus has been in other areas for a while and sadly not all of the functionality for online video still works as expected. However we will be getting the YouTube adapter up and running again within a few weeks. We have lots of ideas about how to take Atlas forward in this exciting area and would love to hear your ideas, too, so why not leave a comment or reach out to us on Twitter if you see a way in which Atlas could make your online video life easier. Don’t forget that Atlas is open source, so your contribution is very welcome!

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