Microsoft Soapbox Aims to Scrub YouTube

Redmond software giant Microsoft today announced an invitation-only beta of a new user-generated video site called Soapbox on its existing MSN Video service.

"Soapbox delivers on a critical component of the MSN growth strategy of deepening audience engagement by enabling people to participate in the content experience," said Rob Bennett, MSN’s general manager of Entertainment and Video Services in a release. "By adding a user-uploaded video service, we are rounding out our existing investments in commercially produced and original content on MSN Video."

What they aren’t saying is that Microsoft is clearly looking to tap into some of the buzz and industry momentum currently being enjoyed by YouTube and open another front in the company’s online struggle with Google for online viewership and, of course, billions in online advertising dollars.

Microsoft hopes to differentiate Soapbox to video creators through easy-to-use tools, and attract viewers through new waysof discovering and sharing entertaining content. Soapbox organizes videos into 15 categories and enables users to find related videos, subscribe to RSS feeds, and share favorite selections with their friends without interrupting the video they’re watching. (Of course, whether users can effectively multitask enough to watch a video and subscribe to an RSS feed remains another story.) Users are invited to rate and tag videos, share links via email, and embed Soapbox videos right in their own Web sites or blogs. Video creators might appreciate single-step uploading. In a somewhat unusual move towards acknowledging not everyone uses Windows or Microsoft software, Soapbox says it accepts all major digital video formats, and works with Firefox on Windows and Mac OS X.

Microsoft says it will remove any copyrighted material illegally uploaded to the service once alerted by the rights holder, which is a policy remarkably similar to YouTube. Soapbox won’t carry any ads during its testing period, but when the service (ahem) goes "live" in the next six months or so, yo can bet Redmond will have worked on monetizing the site.

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