Too much internet video

I’m just coming off about three months of hellish over-work (via a party to celebrate the completion of Ben Rubin and Mark Hanson’s awesome Moveable Type project at the NYTimes). But I want to gripe a bit: does anybody else find the recent rise in internet video irritating, especially on news sites? The problems I experience are:

1. When I’m reading webpages, I’m frequently not in a place where watching video with sound is appropriate (e.g. at work). So I just can’t get that news.

2. Sometimes I listen to music when I’m connected to my computer (much, much less than other people do, though). Why should I interrupt my song half-way through to get a piece of video news, when one year ago I could have just read the same news?

3. Call me impatient, but I want my content as fast as flipping a page. Furthermore, I want to skim an article to the meat of the matter. I don’t want to sit through an ad, then sit through inane introductory footage, etc. just to find the one possibly interesting bit in a video.

4. Video brings in a whole different relationship between me and the material. Suddenly, instead negotiating with a single writer to find the truth in an article, I’m dealing with all the various aspects of video production: framing, pacing, voicing, facing… Frankly, I spent YEARS weaning myself off television. Now television is taking over the internet, whose tendrils I have allowed to reach deep into my thought processes. We are in for some culture trouble.

5. Video is “anti-web”, as Phil Schwan likes to say. In other words, you can’t link into it, you can’t copy and paste it easily, you can’t quote it. It dictates its terms to you, more so than any other medium that I can think of. Of course what all of this is DESPERATELY calling out for is the ability to link by time-stamp directly into video. I have a lot of trouble right now understanding why this hasn’t yet become mainstream; it would do away with so many of the unfortunate control aspects of video, and would allow the editing of video by hypertext. We need hypervideo.

Given all this, I wish the NYTimes, the Globe and Mail, and even The Onion would just stop doing video coverage (WHY did the Onion take on video? Is it that the next generation can’t read and laugh at the same time?). At the very least, for those of us whose Tyrannosaurian eyes are irritated by moving images, perhaps they could provide a verbatim transcript?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against all video on the internet. I enjoy quasi-legal anime DivX feeds as much as the next guy. And while I don’t see why a first-person account wouldn’t do just as well, ‘citizen journalism’ video on the internet, like videos of tasering, are probably a good thing. Some content is originally produced in video format and it’s nice to get it that way. But for purely feeding me news about most of the world, video is frustrating overkill. Even hockey replays piss me off, to be honest; just write what happened and let’s move on.

I think that print, as a medium including the web, has until recently had a fundamental role in pacing many aspects of our culture and our politics. Obviously video has changed that elsewhere long ago, but I’m sad to see it messing with my online reading.

4 comments to Too much internet video

  • George

    Addendum: I’ve since read up on what Wikipedia calls hypervideo, and that’s not quite what I mean. It’s really the ability to *mix* video clips from my browser, based on a series of links provided by the website, that would be interesting. Obviously there are bandwidth concerns since all those different clips would have to be handled as separate streams, I guess, but surely this is possible? And surely it would be more liberating and exciting than just the idea of clicking on an object in a movie and linking to info about that object? (this is how hypervideo is currently conceived, it seems).

    Video operates in time, so links are to chunks of footage, and the point of linking is to cut or fade to new footage, NOT to get text tags or whatever.

  • Couldn’t agree more about the anti-webness of video. How can there be no time-stamping so far? Surely it would be the easiest thing in the world to tag.

    Also, videos of high quality (such as MSM sites favour) are extremely expensive to produce; whereas for me the web has always been about cheap production and publication.

    Frankly I’m increasingly sick of the virtual. Blogs and whatnot aren’t virtual – they’re real content; but video is a pale imitation of life.

  • Sean

    To give web base video a more democratic “cut-and-paste” quality you would need to create a video format which encodes it’s time stamp into it’s file name. This would make it possible to link directly into a specific time stamp within a video (i.e. http://www.yoursite.com/yourvideo.mov.2:30:04).

    Then you could link a series of video clips together to make your own web based mash-ups, or link to a specific piece of video within a larger movie.

    As for better search-ability…this is something that we also have a problem with for static images. The best solution so far is user made meta tags. Of course this limits the possibilities for a successful search to the list of tags. And until we have far better pattern recognition software I’m not too optimistic that it will get better. For the best results we would need to be able to parse video on the front end of the search, but of course we would then also need a lot more processing power to avoid long searches.

  • George

    I’m actually pretty paranoid about searchable photos and video — until recently, searching imagery was purely the domain of human beings. Losing our mastery of this domain is yet another step on the way to complete technological assimilation. Projects like Microsoft’s amazing Photosynth are steps in this direction.

    But I suppose by the same logic of the video timestamping (yes, this is exactly what I had in mind — the technical challenge is in the compression and serving of the data), we will be able to remix imagery based on content strings to a greater and greater fidelity (tagging already makes this possible to some degree, of course). So maybe we’ll be able to ride out ahead of technology by editing its offshoots with irony.

    It bears remembering that “Fidelity” is frequently the enemy of content. E.g. the first Play-station’s effect on gameplay — it favored ‘realistic’ graphics to such an extent that all kinds of dynamics and relationships were eliminated from mainstream gaming. Another example would be those who obsess over the quality of screens, but then watch fairly thoughtless, effects-driven movies on them. “Fidelity” has no human component.

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