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Microsoft Puts Soapbox Into Public Beta

Last September, Microsoft announced an invitation-only beta of a video sharing service called Soapbox, designed as an expansion to its MSN Video service. The idea behind Soapbox was to expand MSN Video into the user-generated content arena, take on the likes of YouTube, and give the world’s largest software company a footprint in what proved to be the hottest digital media category of the year: user-submitted video.

Now, Microsoft has opened Soapbox to the public, albeit still in beta form.

Soapbox enables users to upload videos to the service in a variety of digital formats, including AVI, ASF, WMV, MOV, MPEG1/2/4, 3GPP, or DV file formats; video playback is supported using either Windows Media Player (under Internet Explorer for Windows) or Macromedia’s Flash Player (for everybody else). Video upload takes place as a single step, with background video processing and transcoding: while users are uploading video, they can continue to browse the Soapbox service and watch other videos. Soapbox supports video tagging, offers a search feature, and groups videos into 15 categories by tags, user, and popularity. Soapbox offers RSS feeds so users can receive automatic notification of new videos, enables users to rate videos and share video links with others, and even lets users embed videos in their own blogs and Web sites. Right now users can’t download video for offline use on a computer or transfer to a portable device, but Microsoft says those features are planned for a future release.

To upload video to Soapbox, users must have a Windows Live ID; right now, all videos uploaded to Soapbox are public (privacy features are planned for future versions), and the service is only available in U.S. English. There’s a 100MB cap on video upload sizes, and Microsoft plans to enforce the same content guidelines on Soapbox as it enforces on Windows Live Spaces and MSN Groups. Videos that are flagged as inappropriate will be reviewed and possibly removed from the service.

Without a doubt, Microsoft is the 800 pound gorilla of the software marketplace…but for years it’s been an also-ran to the likes of Google and Yahoo for Internet and online services. Soapbox might be too little too late to jump start Microsoft in the arena of online video sharing, but—as with the Zune—Microsoft has the deep pockets to stay in this game as long as it wants.