Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Against video

Is anyone else out there annoyed that an increasing proportion of web content — particularly on political blogs, although the disease seems to have spread more broadly — consists of embedded videos or links to video files?

As a communicative medium, video on the web:

  • Runs on Flash, and therefore looks lousy.
  • Runs on Flash, and therefore is flaky on any platform where Flash is flaky.
  • Runs on Flash, and therefore cannot easily be saved offline for future reference.
  • Cannot usually be watched muted (no subtitles).
  • Cannot be easily quoted, re-edited, or linked-to. Note the large number of people who embed or link to a video and say "watch for 0:28" or "the relevant bit starts at 4:37" (argh). Again, this cuts against the spirit of the web. Video on the web — YouTube comments and "video replies" notwithstanding (har har) — is not a medium of conversation, the way that text or even images can be. We need the <blockquote> and <a href> tags to work with video.
  • Cannot be scanned, skimmed, or watched at greater than 1x speed (again, usually no subtitles); so in order to watch a video, I have to sit there for however long the person responsible thought was an appropriate amount of time. This is perhaps the worst scourge of all. I probably read word-for-word no more than 10% of the stuff I look at on the web. On any given page of text, mostly I read the title and then skim for interesting phrases; I only Read The Whole Thing for the rare article that appears to be worth the time. Video makes this behavior impossible: the viewer has to suck the content through the narrow straw of the video player, one paltry second's worth of content in any given second. In three minutes I can read a 200-word blog post and skim 5 more; or in three minutes I can watch one video containing, often, about 200 words of contentful speech. What a waste of my time. (Audiocasts are no better.) To make things worse, many web videos are poorly and amateurishly edited. And those which are professionally edited are often no better, as they have often pointlessly long intros/outros (musical, animated, or both) which are frankly holdovers from a pre-Web era where video producers had to do all branding via interstitials instead of overlays or surrounding dressing (that is, time-division multiplexing branding with the content instead of space-division multiplexing). Just cut to the chase already!

Seriously, for any given video I run across on the web, there's roughly a 99% chance that I'd get just as much or more out of a textual transcript. But video seems to be so damn popular and honestly I don't understand it. Is it just because it's campaign season and everyone feels like reposting ads? Or is it something deeper? My previous post was about how video game fans mistakenly seem to think video games aspire to the condition of cinema. Is it possible that the web has the same mistaken inferiority complex with television? But television seems worse in almost every way. I mean, video's fine for carefully hewn narrative works of entertainment — I like The Wire as much as the next guy — but as a medium of online conversation I find video sorely lacking.

1 comment:

  1. I am so happy to see I am not the only one to be awfully annoyed by videos! Everybody and their dogs seem to find it genius, and I just plain dislike it for the same reasons that you list, especially the inability to quickly browse through it the way one does with text.