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Saturday 24.02.2018 | Name days: Diāna, Dina, Dins

Secrets of YouTube

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It’s a technological marvel that YouTube can handle so many users watching so many videos simultaneously. But consider the other side for a moment: Every minute of the day, users upload an average of 72 hours of footage to the site. YouTube engineers tell us how they deal with so much data without getting bogged down

On September 29, at the statistical height of its popularity, the music video for Psy’s “Gangnam Style” received 12.8 million views on YouTube. That translates to an average of 8900 streaming requests for the video per minute, or 148 per second. And it’s not as though Psy’s was the only viral video on YouTube that day, writes Popular Mechanics.

YouTube as a site gets traffic at a level every day that would DDoS a large percentage of other websites,” says Rushabh Doshi, a software engineer at YouTube.

“We get 72 hours of video uploaded every minute. That’s like 36 full-length movies being uploaded to your site every minute,” he says adding that “everything at YouTube is made immensely more complicated because of the scale at which we operate.”

When Doshi joined YouTube in 2007, he says the site was getting 6 hours of video per minute. In the past five years, then, the site has seen a 10-fold increase in volume. But, Doshi says, the amount of data has exploded at an even higher rate. “The insane part is that there has been this huge shift going on from people capturing video at 240p resolution with low-bit-rate cameras to modern consumer devices that are 1080p with 25- to 30-megabit-per-second video streams,” he says. “That really explodes the amount of data that you need to process.”

Digital video has fundamentally changed the Web in the past half-decade, and no company has been more central to that evolution than YouTube. It democratized and popularized video sharing. It provided an opportunity for expression and protest for citizens of oppressive regimes, such as those in Iran, Libya, and Syria. It has also provided a vehicle through which the provocateurs of one culture can incite outrage in another; the video that prompted riots and mayhem throughout the Muslim world was spread through YouTube.

The site has become so synonymous with online video that it’s easy to overlook what a technological marvel it is. The site can ingest video directly from pretty much any source: phones, tablets, connected cameras, computer webcams, what have you. And engineers at the site have worked hard to make some of the complexities of digital video—codecs, bit rate, resolution—invisible to users, doing all of the transcoding and processing on the back end.

YouTube’s upload page, for instance, is embedded with software that can automatically upload and transcode multiple HD video files in real time. To decrease latency, the uploaded video is usually sent to whichever Google data center is geographically closest to the user. “We absolutely obsess over speed,” Doshi says. “One key insight is that you don’t have to wait to have the entire video to start processing it. The other key insight is that we can split up the video into smaller chunks and start processing each chunk separately. This plays really well to Google’s strengths—we have big data centers with lots of computers, so we have the CPU power to throw at it. Instead of trying to process one video on one computer, we break it up and distribute it.”

It is surprising to learn that YouTube doesn’t use any sort of face detection or video analytics tools to try to figure out what each video is about.

YouTube never deletes a video, no matter how few people watch it, unless the video’s owner requests it to be taken down.


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