h264 and Wikimedia

The Wikimedia Foundation (multimedia team) just opened a “Request for Comments” on adding the use of MP4/h264 to WMF-hosted wikis. It closes on February 14th, 2014.

This basically is asking the community if the WMF should support the use of a patent-encumbered video encoding format so that we can provide video to users on devices (mostly phones, which are growing in percentage of page views) that don’t support webm/ogg theora.

I see parallels with the Firefox h264 decision. And also implications for the current IETF webRTC codec decision (which standard(s) will be “Mandatory to Implement”).

My initial personal thoughts:
The Wikimedia Foundation, because of the Wikipedia et al community, is firmly in the Free and Open Source world. Everything we create that is user facing is Free Software. The bits of non-free software we use are internal (eg: Google Hangouts, finance/hr-related, that type of thing). I’m employed by the WMF because of its stance on Free Software. It has a more principled (and consistent) view on freedom than my previous employer (and the one before that).

Luckily, the decision will be made with community input, and our community is made up of contributors to the Wikimedia projects, not paying members like W3C (hi there, MPAA!). We also don’t have a single big overlord in terms of money in-flow aka Mozilla with 85% of it coming from Google.

I hope we can continue to take a principled stance on this and not start down the path of big compromises.

I also hope readers of my blog would take the time to read up, think, and contribute their thoughts on the RFC. Many voices are appreciated here.

I plan to post at least once more on this topic, with a more full explanation of my feelings/reasonings.

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