18 October 2010

OK, I admit it. I kinda hate online video.

Not my streaming Netflix (hello iPhone in bed!) or Lynda.com or Nettuts+ patiently, pausably teaching me stuff with hands-on, screencast tutorials, — but blog posts, product or company information and “about me” stuff. I know it’s a controversial view. I know video is au currant and terribly hip, and colleagues and clients are asking me about “doing video” all the time with a “this is going to be cool!” gleam in their eyes. Furthermore, I can imagine that one feels pretty accomplished getting a digital video camera all hooked up and recording something and actually posting a video blog post. I know I would.

But here’s the thing. If people don’t have time to read on the web, which apparently they don’t, how the hell are they going to have time to sit through a video?

I know I really have trouble interrupting what I’m doing to pay attention to information being disseminated via time-based media in a way that is not an issue for the written word. With a blog post (or about page or product info), I can scan if I want, to the degree I want, or read carefully. I control my time-commitment. With video, I have to wait through it.

We know multitasking is not productive, or even good for your brain. So, ideally, if I’m to watch a video, I should be just watching the video. But, unlike an article, which I can take at my own pace, video egotistically demands that I sit through 1 minute 24 seconds or 5 minutes 3 seconds, or whatever it decides I should,  whether I like it or not.

Lacks bonus features, doesn’t play well with others

With written items online, I can cut and paste bits I want to reference later into Evernote or some other organized digital collecting depot. I can email specific bits to someone. I can click the links and follow up. With video, I have actually write or type notes real-time, perhaps pausing the video, perhaps scribbling furiously. If I want to share the info, I have to send a link to the video and tell someone to watch starting at a certain point in the timecode — knowing, full well, that they’ll have the same barriers to entry that I just experienced and probably won’t bother to play the thing at all.

Oprah sells transcripts for $25. As you’re (probably) not Oprah, think about offering free ones.

The first thing I do, habitually, when confronted with an online video is to check to see if there’s a transcript below it that I can read instead (like with the audio on the NPR website — thank you!). There almost never is. I suspect part of the appeal for people who create videos is not having to type up their thoughts. Though, I suspect they, at least, have some notes. It’s a bit of a pain to transcribe an extemporaneous talk word for word — but would you do it if it meant more people got your content, commented on your blog, liked your product, etc.? Might be worth it.

I believe that Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service can afford one some very cheap transcription services, as well. But I don’t know, for sure, because the “getting started” info was only in a video, and I didn’t want to interrupt my writing long enough to watch it. Might have read a quick blurb if there was one there, though.

I’m not saying give up your video if you really want to have it, just give your visitors some options.

On the horizon

Mozilla is pioneering very cool new technology for subtitling videos in a community-driven way. This has terrific potential — especially for localization and accessibility issues. A side-effect, however, is going to be video with transcripts. In your choice of languages, if someone’s contributed them. I like where this is going!

Not absolutism

Far be it for me, a visual designer, to absolutely decry the use of visuals! Video certainly has its place online — in didactic settings and for exhibiting time-based art (movies, tv, animation, science stuff, commercials that ad agencies think are cool enough to go viral on the web and sell more stuff, crap on YouTube) it’s perfect. It’s those talking-head videos (which offer little additional information by way of imagery) that I think we can usually do without. People are going to skip them. Or at least they’re going to put them in some background window while they start reading something else, or checking their email or Twittering or playing Bejeweled or designing an invitation or otherwise not giving you full attention.

So, think twice about what content you choose to present in video format. If it really does need to be time-based or is imparting extra information in the visuals that video provides, go for it — but consider offering a summary or transcript.

If you’re thinking, “but my business is all about me and my personality and people need to see me on video to know if they’ll like me”, I say, yes, perhaps. But your authentic tone and personality should come through in everything you put out there. Your writing, your marketing, your branding. People can get a good feel for “you” without the audition tape. Sure, go ahead and offer one if you like, but please make it a supplement, not a barrier.

Am I too curmudgeonly on this front?

Beyond the research about reading online and multitasking, this is all a bit anecdotal — from my own experience with, and reaction to, video. But I do think there’s truth to it. What do you think? Are you a rapt watcher of online video, or a skipper, like me? Should I stop complaining, press play and get with Web 2.0/3.0?

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The Comments Section

  1. Aliona says:

    I’m also a reluctant online video watcher- thank you for explaining why I feel this way. Might also have something to with the high standard and expectation we all have for video based on the movies and TV and it’s shocking to watch something less so. Perhaps if there was a clever “drecktitude filter” function that could be added to our spam filtering software. We could train it by using “love” and “hate” buttons.

    • Annie says:

      Thanks for chiming in!

      Probably my ironically included, only-a-mother-could-love video of my doggie filmed at night with a consumer digital still camera reminded you about the production quality aspect. It’s true — I do like to tell people who ask about video to “at least do it well if you’re going to do it”. It’s pretty awesome that there’s affordable technology out there to help average citizens make high-quality video. I would have been overwhelmed and delighted by all this as a budding film-student in the early 90s, only dreaming of owning my own crappy high-8 video camera or being able to afford to process 16mm film.

      So, yeah, if you’re going to make a video, make it really great! And still let people “opt-out” of the time commitment but still get at least the gist of the content.

      • Aliona says:

        Annie, LOL I SKIPPED your video- so my comment did not reflect the quality of your video, but surely proves your point!

        • Annie says:

          Yeah, despite the fact that I’m gaga enough over my dog to watch grainy video of him digging in the snow multiple times and laugh my head off, I did post it to make a point about how we generally don’t have time for such things (crazy dog-mums aside).

  2. Penny says:

    To me, video is valuable only when it is visually interesting. I’ll be happy to spend a couple of minutes to watch something beautiful.
    If video does not add anything to content, then it is a waste of my time. If writing about your subject can get the message through, then just write. I really don’t have the time for low quality video or, as you mention, shots of a talking-head.
    I watch on-line video only when it is recommended by somebody whose taste I trust. Generally, I’d classify myself as a skipper, because the quality of the majority of on-line videos is not worth the effort & time.
    A final note, I personally find audio sharing the worst. With services like Audioboo, we are flooded with the voices of inarticulate people trying to form complete sentences. I would think that once somebody decides to record their voice, they would make an effort to eliminate words & phrases like uhmmm, you know, it’s like etc etc

    • Annie says:

      Totally agree. I’ll watch something beautiful, intriguing, new, moving, informative, what-have-you, online or off. Something that adds to the world.

      And, yes, it’s the same with audio. The technology revolutions that let me listen to NPR from all over the country, get free audiobooks from Project Gutenberg, lets me listen to podcasts and Open Courseware lectures from around the world — and let anyone with a fairly modest level of access to technology make these kinds of things — is awesome. It’s staggering. Life-changing. But absolutely, one should try to speak coherently and cogently when recording oneself for public consumption!

  3. Wonderful blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics discussed in this article? I’d really like to be a part of community where I can get suggestions from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Cheers!

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