Globetrotting YouTube dancer shares his tech secrets

The man behind "Where The Hell Is Matt" forced high-quality video into YouTube's embeddable player and is quietly a big fan of the player offered by YouTube competitor Vimeo.

Sure, the YouTube video "Where the Hell is Matt 2008" is clever and maybe even inspirational, but what's been overlooked in all the hoopla over the clip is how technology contributed to its popularity.

Matt Harding first earned fame two years ago by filming himself dancing in exotic locales all over the world and posting the video montage to YouTube. Everyone from the The New York Times to National Public Radio has swooned over Harding's latest clip since it first appeared on YouTube three weeks ago.

In less than a month, the video has been viewed more than 5 million times.

While much of the mainstream press is just discovering Harding, he has been well known among the early adopter crowd for some time. His first installment of "Where The Hell Is Matt" was one of YouTube's earliest viral-video blockbusters.

In an interview with CNET News, Harding, a former video-game developer, describes himself as a tech enthusiast and credits software, gadgets, and the Internet with helping to turn his videos into blockbusters.

For example, go to Wherethehellismatt.com and check out how much better the YouTube embeddable player appears on his site than it does at YouTube. Harding doesn't like to talk about it but he went online and found a piece of script that improved the quality of YouTube's embeddable player.

"There is a way to force high quality into YouTube's embed," Harding said. "I felt a little bad about doing it."

A screen shot of Matt Harding's Web site. The dancing videographer found a way to "force quality" into YouTube's embeddable player Wherethehellismatt.com
A screen shot of Harding's video as it appears on YouTube. YouTube

Here's something else that Harding was sheepish about talking about. In addition to YouTube, he posted the clip to Vimeo, a YouTube competitor. He says if people want to watch the video in the highest quality, they should watch it there. "Vimeo's video looks phenomenal," he said.

Who can blame him for being less than loyal to YouTube? He danced his ass off for 14 months in 46 countries (4 didn't make the final movie) and shot everything in high definition. Don't all filmmakers want to showcase their work in the best possible quality?

To this end, Harding upgraded his camera for this world tour. He shot his original 4-minute clip with a point-and-shoot camera, the Canon Powershot SD500. He loved that it was small and easy to carry. This time, however, Harding decided to pay $800 for a Sony Handycam HDR-SR8.

Harding only had good things to say about the camera's durability and ease of use. The hard disk drive camera did have one drawback, but it's one that only someone like Harding is going to encounter.

A safety feature prevents the camera from writing to the hard drive anytime it senses the camera is falling. This proved to be an obstacle when Harding was flying above Nellis Airspace, Nev., during a weightlessness exercise.

"The camera always thought it was falling and wouldn't record," Harding said. "I had to go up again with a solid-state memory card and we recorded with that."

Aside from the gadgets, technology's most important contribution, of course, was turning someone like Harding into star in the first place. He's a former video-game developer from Connecticut. He's neither a trained filmmaker nor dancer (that won't surprise anyone who's seen him dance).

Yet, Harding has earned a modest level of international celebrity from his videos. Fans showed up to dance with Harding in places like Seoul, Lisbon, and Tel Aviv. He said more than 2,000 people in total (Madrid saw the biggest turnout, with 200).

That may not sound like a lot, but Harding didn't do much advertising other than announce on his blog where and when he was showing up.

Harding's real significance is that he's one of the best examples of how YouTube enables anyone to communicate with audiences across the globe. And what's the message Harding is trying to communicate?

"Some people will probably accuse me of spreading humanist propaganda," Harding said. "Everybody knows that we can all be small-minded and petty. But we also like to be reminded once and a while about what we can be at our best."

 

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