For Dina Kaplan: Why I Don't Have a VLOG

by alec on September 15, 2006

Yesterday, Andy Abramson posted a video blog entry from VON, goaded on by Blip.tv‘s Dina Kaplan, who asked “Why not video?” at the bloggers panel.  Andy’s piece is a roughly one minute segment in the same style that Andy and Ken Rutkowski use on Ken Radio — rapid fire, quick commentary on a number of different stories.

Andy deserves applause for taking up the challenge.

However:

  1. His eyes must get dry. Notice how little he blinks.
  2. He’s sitting very close to the camera, which gives the impression that he’s talking to the guard on the local grocery’s security system, rather than his audience of thousands on the internet. Perhaps that’s in order to get the lighting to work (Andy doesn’t have a studio).

Both of these flaws detracted from his message.  After watching this video once, do you remember the high points?

Granted, most of blip.tv’s shows have higher production values than Andy’s experiment.  Neo-Fight, or the Captain Humphrey‘s project, for example, have better quality video, camera angles, and post production editing.  They’re easier to watch.  Andy, however, is a better speaker.  He might make a great vlogger with a small studio behind him.

Look at the blogroll list on the left sidebar of this blog.  It’s over 400 sites.  Most don’t get read everyday.  Most don’t even get a scan every day.  But imagine if that content was buried in a video — not indexable, not searchable, not even easily scanned by the human eye.  Imagine if it took three minutes of watching, to get the same information easily garnered by a 15 second scan of a text post.  Imagine how few of those blogs would ever be read.

For me, turning the internet into TV isn’t interesting.  Over the past five years, I’ve probably trimmed my television viewing to less than 1 hour per week. Don’t get me wrong — I used to watch quite a bit of TV, using ReplayTV to search out and find the good stuff.  When I returned to Canada, where the Replay service doesn’t exist, I turned away from TV.  There was no way to find programming I found interesting anymore, other than by locking my time schedule to the networks time schedule. I have a family, and I have a startup, both of which come before television.  My choices were network TV or no TV.  Most network television lacks depth; it’s pablum for the eyeballs of the masses.  Most network news is uninteresting; it’s barely able to scratch the surface of a topic in a one hour broadcast.  It wasn’t a hard choice.

I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to TV. I’ve rediscovered the value of the written word, the nuances of meaning that can be conveyed, and the delight of a particularly clever turn of phrase. Why would I want to give that up for the pap that most video represents?  And conversely, why would I want to turn my blog into just two minutes of daily sound bites?

And that, Dina, is why I don’t have a vlog.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Siegel September 15, 2006 at 2:01 pm

Right on, Alex.

That’s a great observation about vlogs not being searchable, or “skimable” like text. It’s clearly a problem with the latest fad of podcasting as well. When it gets boring you’re tempted to skip ahead a few minutes to see if the topic has changed, then another few minutes, then you lose context and you have no idea what’s being discussed and have to rewind and rewind, until finally you just give up and listen to it without messing with the controls.

I think it comes down to using the right medium for what you want to accomplish. If you want to “tell” someone something, such as relay some information, you don’t need to make a video of yourself talking to do that. Text is much more efficient. If, on the other hand, you can “show” someone something in much less time then it would take to explain it, video is the perfect medium.

When I was blogging about the ‘video on the net’ keynote and what the experience was like from second life, I couldn’t think of a better way to give people a taste but to record some of it and make it available on my blog.

In the old days we had either a newspaper or a TV, and so the medium was restricted to be one thing or the other. With the Internet being the blended medium that it is, I see no reason why we shouldn’t leverage this ability by blending communication styles to maximize our ability to communicate. That is, after all, what it’s all about.

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Alec September 15, 2006 at 7:59 pm

I agree with you Dave. Great footage from Second Life, by the way. It's a little weird to be doing the meta meta thing…

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Dina September 16, 2006 at 2:11 am

Alec, I’m not sure I agree. I enjoyed watching the video and – since it was about a minute – found it easy to get this information “TV style” as so many people in my generation are accustomed to doing. (I still get the NYTimes delivered to my doorstep, but that is unusual I know…) I think people in the US are accustomed to unusually attractive people delivering the news, but the BBC is full of real reporters reporting real news, and I would love to see more vlogs on a variety of subjects, reported by people like Andy who clearly are the top experts in their fields.

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Nick Douglas September 16, 2006 at 6:49 am

Also, you couldn't fill video with all these blasted annoying ad phrases.

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Alec September 16, 2006 at 7:13 am

check out Revver, Nick. It's coming to video too!

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Alec September 16, 2006 at 10:38 am

Dina, thanks for stopping by. Naturally, this is a personal view. I think the work you’re doing is going to have value to many people with a different view from mine.

Do you want to write a rebuttal? My soapbox is yours if you would like the space :)

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Gary September 16, 2006 at 1:27 pm

I agree with Dave Siegel.

The big mistake that many people make is copying the formats that are used by broadcast TV. However, many of those formats exist, not because they are the best way to present the most information in the least possible time, but because they are the cheapest way to make TV and fill screen time.

Andy Abramson's video is a typical example. It is a talking head of the kind that fills hours of broadcast airtime every day. It is quick, easy and cheap to produce. But once we have looked at Andy for five seconds, we are ready for other visuals (no offence to Andy). We want to see pictures of what he is talking about, with his voice continuing over those shots.

Of course, shooting lots of extra visuals takes time and it involves a more editing which also takes time. Which is why the broadcasters don't do it and we just get a reporter staring into the camera, lecturing us.

Although videobloggers do have restrictions on their time, most are not tied to a budget.

Contrary to what Alec says, video also has wonderful 'value' as a means of telling a story, through audio and visuals (moving and still) and in a way that no other medium can. But we all have to learn the best techniques, which are often not the ones that are used by current broadcasters. Check out classic movies and documentaries for how to do things well and alternative techniques.

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Dina September 16, 2006 at 1:49 pm

Two thoughts: First, I believe it is within the realm of possibility that videoblogging could become even more mainstream than blogging. Many people have insecurities about writing (worried about semi-colons and colons and commas and spelling…) that they don’t have about talking. And vlogging can be just talking…or shooting an interview with someone interesting…or capturing a beautiful scene…

Also, some people might consider it easier to shoot video on a cell phone and email it to a vlog (directly from the cell phone) than to sit at a computer and write something that will be available on the internet forever.

Second, doing a vlog on an issue (or a film review or a book review or covering what happened at a conference like VON) is actually pretty easy. I have a tripod I keep in my apartment ($75), a semi-professional light ($75), a $250 Panasonic camera and a $50 lavalier mic from Sony. I do futz with make-up a bit, fix my hair a bit, but then I basically write out a script, tape it to the camera, and read for a minute (usually doing a few takes.) If I am just talking, I do only one take with no script. Then I download the video to my computer and post it to blip.tv. The process takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, or 5 minutes if there is no script.

We hear all the time from people want to be on more news programs and talk shows, and many “experts” are thrilled to espouse their point of view on CNN or ABC News. I love the idea that people can do a commentary and be seen around the world…and answer exactly the questions they want to address…all on their own terms and in video (without having to deal with bookers at the TV networks.)

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Robyn Tippins September 16, 2006 at 2:33 pm

Alec,
I’m playing around with vlogging, but I’ll have to say the worst part about it is that it takes more time and a quiet home/studio. With 4 kids the quiet home and lack of time can get you off schedule quickly. However, it’s opened up my audience quite a bit. I chose blip.tv, after much research, because of the autopost features and the ‘even a moron can do it’ interface. Plus, I’ve been on the videoblogging yahoo group for about a year now and I like how the founders interact therein. My one complaint is that I’d like to see a way to convert the files I upload (WMV) to mp4 so I could offer my RSS feed on itunes.

I agree, though, that video has it’s drawbacks for the user. It’s not really mobile, as you can’t watch it while you’re biking/driving and w/o real search, it’s hard to find the video that is there. Truveo is a pretty good video search though…

Good post.

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Alec September 16, 2006 at 5:39 pm

For the record Gary, while I don’t watch a lot of network TV, I watch a ton of movies — classic and current. Your observation is spot on!

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Gary September 17, 2006 at 10:37 am

In some respects, Web 2.0 has meant a move away from video being used in a more accessible way. On a web page you can mix stills, audio and short video clips which are put into context by the surrounding material. Whereas, with RSS and blogs the focus is more on downloading a single self-contained video.

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joe c September 18, 2006 at 7:33 am

Isn’t it simply that one is not a substitute for the other? Like photos and video? The same difference for mainstream vs. new media. A lot of OldMedia types still don’t get that vloggers aren’t trying to be Katie Couric. The evening news shouldn’t be a vlog and vice-versa. Vlogs are a great way to say and especially show some kinds of content.

What’s really hit me about vlogs is something that Dina mentioned in her “rooftop” post. The really unique thing about vlogs is the subliminal side-effect of personal connection that they create. Marshall MacLuhan had it right decades ago: The Medium is the Message.

This personal closeness experience can have unintended consequences, as I learned Saturday night at the Blip.tv/AmandaAcrossAmerica launch party. Some vloggers seem to deal with it better than others. It must be a bit like actors who suddenly become popular in a TV series or movie. Suddenly people they have never met before act like they’re their friends. Amanda seems to feed on it and be energized by it (like she needs more energy), while others seem a little unsure, even creeped out. Looking back on the recorded flashmeeting of the evening, I cringed, listening to myself talking to people I knew only through their vlogs. Jeez, I can see now how they must have felt. But that’s the power of that medium. It’s a very brave thing that vloggers do, to offer up that closeness to anyone out there. Well, assuming that they realize it’s happening.

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Alec September 18, 2006 at 10:57 am

Hi Joe,

I finally had a chance to see Dina’s rooftop post. Unfortunately, I’ve been travelling since yesterday, and my blackberry, while great for reading a text blog, is sufficiently media impaired that I wasn’t able to watch Dina’s post until a few minutes ago.

She, and you, make some great points.

So, although I won’t commit to MAKING a video blog, I am going to spend some more time learning about them. I haven’t seen a lot that I would watch repeatedly at this point, but the format has some intriguing elements that you and others have pointed out.

Thanks – A

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Peter September 21, 2006 at 4:09 pm

I think Dina brought up a good point: that people with insecurities regarding their own writing feel more comfortable when speaking freely. And the same could be said of those averse to videoblogging. Many freeze when before the camera or lack the skills needed to deliver the spoken word in a way that retains interest, but are quite verbose and eloquent when writing.

To be sure, the younger generation (myself included), who were weaned on arguably too much television, have the advantage when it comes to videoblogging. More established bloggers are used to explaining a point with many points and references, which is fine to read (given the time), but would seem an interminable torture on video. Distilling viewpoints down to a succinct and enjoyable video would be a big step, and the youth’s notorious short attention span works well for short videoblogging clips.

The best of both worlds would be a videoblog (either as an outside link or embedded video) in addition to a blogger’s text entry. While none can truly compete with the other, both would complement and enrich the experience.

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