Microsoft Tests YouTube Competitor

Microsoft hopes to bank on the popularity of online video-sharing services such as YouTube and Google Video with its own competitive service, which goes into beta on Tuesday.

Soapbox on MSN Video, which will allow users to upload and share personal videos with others who use the service, is now available as a beta release in the United States for the Internet Explorer (IE) and Firefox browsers. The service initially is available by invitation only, though users who want to take part in the beta can sign up for a waiting list here.

Like competing video-sharing services, Soapbox will allow users not only to upload videos to the Web in almost any digital video format, but also to tag and categorize them so other users can find them.

The service will let users watch videos and browse for new ones simultaneously on the same screen, something that differentiates it from YouTube, Microsoft said.

Other features in Soapbox include the ability for users to set up RSS feeds for videos in which they are interested, and to embed videos directly into their personal blogs. To achieve the latter, Microsoft eventually will set up one-click integration between Soapbox and Windows Live Spaces, letting users upload videos from Soapbox to their Windows Live Spaces pages by clicking on a button. Eventually, Soapbox will be integrated throughout many of Microsoft’s online services, which include Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Mail.

The Soapbox service will work with IE 6 or later browsers running on Windows XP, and the Firefox 1.0.5 browser or later running on Windows XP or Macintosh OS X.

Social networking services and media-sharing communities are becoming all the rage with the current breed of Web users, with sites like YouTube and the online community MySpace—which generate revenue through advertising—steadily gaining in popularity. However, though these sites are increasingly becoming part of the pop-culture zeitgeist, they are so far unproven financially.

Like its other Web-based services, Microsoft aims for Soapbox, too, to generate revenue by luring online advertisers, the company said. Though the service won’t be ad supported in its initial release, Microsoft hopes it will feature advertising down the line.

-Elizabeth Montalbano, IDG News Service (New York Bureau)

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