Which file format on a website and where to store?

In projects with clients and in our own environment, we have always two questions

"Where do we store files?"

and

"Which file format do we use?"

A few thoughts about both questions.
We are building websites based on open source content management software. Mostly we choose Drupal, sometimes Joomla! und sometimes WordPress. The basic ideas behind these systems are more or less the same (Here can you find a small, funny but not that far from reality decision chart which of the three you can choose).

So, concerning storing files we have to divide between our projects. As example, I can mention a typical small European project. It needs a website for the participation of people coming from different cultural backgrounds with different income, different age (18-70+) different media competence, a totally different way of using tools and of course last but not least, different languages you have to considder and plan all one year in advance.

Usually, we decide to use only file formats, where we can expect to have viewer applications for every existing platform (desktop pc, mobile, netbook). That means

All these formats are not perfect, but they have an incredible marketshare. And – they are the lowest common denominator. Bigger companies like Microsoft, Adobe or Apple were not really interested to use these formats in the past, because they don’t want to have concurrents to their software application markets. For that and other reasons, like quality, you have a number of different file formats.

With the rise of web 2.0 users started generating content and it was important to offer an easy way to create content. Since the iPhone started to make smartphones with internet connection common it is even more necessary to have an open file format, which you can use on a mobile.

On a website there are different technical possibilities to deal with files:

  1. users upload files to the server where the website is hosted via the browser http POST method.
  2. users embedd existing content on other websites via html and the type of files by using the right tags (images and object tags)
  3. users embedd existing content via copy & paste from different plattforms and different users. (youtube, flickr, vimeo, …)
  4. users connect their user  accounts fro one website to another user account on a different website via a programming interface (API). Here an example from our flickr account, which is completely embedded into our website – http://cocoate.com/flickr

If you ever had the problem to render/convert large mpg or avi video files on your own server with the help of ffmpeg you will realize very fast, that is not really possible to be as good as a professional videoplattform like youtube or vimeo. Same with Flickr or Picasa for photos.

Concerning audiofiles the last 10 years were spend to develop DRM systems and propriety file formats. But since a few weeks, the world of DRM changes. Even Apple delivers now mp3 files if you want to have them (http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/04/02/emi-apple-are-announcing-sale-of-non-drm-music/).

Today it is possible to open an account on a photo-, video-, slideshow-, or whatever sharing platform, upload and edit the fileformat you want. Usually the service convert your file to a standard webformat and generate a code that you can embedd on your website.
Another advantage of posting files to these platforms is, that you will be connected with different platforms and you have your content under your own control.

For these reasons we often decided to use Drupal as a mashup/aggregator in European projects and embedd all these ressources. The Drupal modul emfield makes it possible.

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