Microsoft announced today that it's rolling out a limited public beta test of an upcoming service called Soapbox on MSN Video that will compete with YouTube and Google Video, offering consumers a place to share and enjoy video clips. Like the competition, Soapbox will let people rate videos and link to them from their own Web sites.
"Soapbox delivers on a critical component of the MSN growth strategy of deepening audience engagement by enabling people to participate in the content experience," says General Manager of Entertainment and Video Services for MSN Rob Bennett. "By adding a user-uploaded video service, we are rounding out our existing investments in commercially produced and original content on MSN Video."
I spoke with Mr. Bennett about Soapbox recently, and although Microsoft is a bit late to the shared video arena, the service looks strong. Video uploading is much simpler than on similar sites, and Soabox's unique layout and UI makes it easier to find and share videos and doesn't require you to navigate away from the video that's currently playing. The community of Soapbox users can also take advantage of unique features such as tagging and emailing videos. YouTube looks pretty primitive by comparison.
Functionality aside, YouTube is still the market leader. Is there a place for Soapbox in what is suddenly a pretty crowded market? Microsoft points to the 465 million unique users that MSN garners each month, suggesting that Soapbox will appeal to users who are more mainstream than the often-techie crowds that frequent other similar services. And MSN Video already has more than 11 million unique users each month. Certainly, Microsoft's reach is an interesting advantage, though YouTube does draw more than 30 million viewers a month.
Also, give Microsoft a bit of credit for compatibility. Soapbox will accept a wide variety of video formats for upload and is compatible with Mac OS X and Mozilla's Firefox as well as Windows and Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE).
Currently, Soapbox is available as an invitation-only beta, but Microsoft expects to roll out a widespread public beta version soon.