The great black hole of video

29 January 2007

Robert Scoble has discovered several things about the media although I'm not sure he has consciously realised any of them. On Saturday, he was mightily annoyed that very few bloggers had linked to his 40-minute video of a visit to one of Intel's fabs in the wake of the chip giant's claim of a breakthrough in chipmaking.

He particularly railed against sites like Engadget ignoring him, saying that they were prepared to link to mass media but not bloggers and that it's all to do with snobbery. Several people beat me to the main reason: it probably has a lot to do with the video being 40 minutes long. Who, in the short-deadline world of gadget blogging, has the time to watch 40 minutes of video just to find out if anything interesting happens. It doesn't get much better if you start the video. You get the usual fab-tour stuff of "it's really clean", "it's bigger inside than I expected", "people wear bunny suits for real". Where's the news content? You'd have to dig for it.

Scoble's first problem is his chosen medium. With today's techniques, it's hard to dice up video in a way that makes sense for an Internet audience. You've really got to know that something worthwhile is in that block of bits to plough through it. To be fair, Scoble did do a post detailing where the key bits are. But, that only serves to highlight the deficiencies of most Internet video. Everybody is treating it like television. There is actually more innovation in respect of audio and video in financial webcasts than a lot of the podcasting stuff going on now. They, at least, provide links to segments of audio or video. They are extremely unfriendly to any browser that doesn't have the words "Internet" and "Explorer" in its name, but it beats trying to guess where the Q&A starts.

Right now, the videocasters on the Internet are desperately trying to create TV because they think it's sexy, not because it provides any value over alternate forms of communications. Text is fast. You can skim through it and find the bits you need really quickly. Ask people who do shorthand and take audio notes which they prefer to work from. Shorthand is harder to parse, but it's quicker overall when trying to write up a story in a hurry. Audio is for people with time on their hands.

Video is not even as accessible as text. With text, you can get translations into other languages and speech. You get to choose how. With video, it's you and a play button. And maybe a fast-forward and rewind if you're lucky and the connection doesn't crap out halfway through.

Video has its place. You can show people how to do something a lot quicker using moving pictures than with descriptions. But, in a fab, everything interesting is buried inside anonymous black-and-white boxes bathed in a sickly yellow light. Fabs don't allow cameras inside partly because of the dust inside them but mostly because they don't want knowledgeable outsiders knowing which particular anonymous boxes they are using. If you don't know what goes on in a fab, they are the dullest places on earth. Video is mostly redundant in these places even from a demonstration point of view.

Scoble's second problem is that he used to benefit from network effects. Now he is a victim of network effects. I can't help thinking that his video would have been noticed by a lot more bloggers if he still worked for Microsoft. People would track Scoble just to find out more about the workings of Microsoft. A lot fewer are bothered about the internal workings of Podtech. Fame. It's so fleeting.

1 Comment

> Video is not even as accessible as text. With text, you can get translations into other languages and speech.

Never thought of that, translations. But it's most relevant. And it underscores the importance of providing transcripts of all non-text content, something some in the financial webcasting business have been doing for a long time. Cantos in the UK sticks out for me with their video interviews with company executives.

I enjoyed this piece a lot.