“Good writing is partly a matter of character. Instead of doing what’s easy for you, do what’s easy for your reader.” – Michael Covington (slide 8, “The unselfish perspective”)
It seems the collective heart of the social media crowd has been stolen away by video blogging, which appears to them more or less The Ultimate Tool. I can see why some might think that. But I hate it, and you should, too.
With some great bloggers, like Jeff Atwood and Steve Yegge and Marc Andreesson and even Mark Cuban (who’s a great blogger w/o being a particularly good writer), I know what they do. Their ability to blog intensely interesting pieces is just part of the unfair measure of talent they’ve been given in a field other than their primary one.
But there are lots of people making lots of social media noise whose actual profession I cannot figure out. I enjoy reading Chris Brogan, Andrew Chen, Kevin Lim, etc. – I just can’t for the life of me figure out what they get paid to do, and by whom. (OK, I think Kevin’s a grad student, but the others – no idea).
And they’re the tip of the iceberg. There’s apparently a semi-closed system of maybe a hundred or more of nearly-A-level social media butterflies out there blogging and twitting and flickring and who-knows-what-else-ing each other, all while getting more and more excited about the “possibilities”. But possibilities for what?
My impression is that right now it’s sort of a blogorrheic derby, to see who can output the fastest, most nearly stream-of-consciousness flow of stuff, to “make people think” and “examine the issues in social media”. Right. Make noise, get attention. I have a 3-year-old. Some of this is not unfamiliar to me.
That brings us to video blogging. When someone sits down to write a blog, unless they’re just compulsive, they have to at least be aware of the idea of editing or re-reading before posting. They may not do it much, but at least the idea’s there. Most people, even in the blogosphere, still seem to at least recognize the notion that ‘better’ writing is something different than ‘first draft’ writing.
But this doesn’t seem to be the case with video blogging, where immediacy seems to be one of the Primary Virtues, and where editing, even cutting out sections altogether, is verboten.
Most video is like bad writing: lazy, self-indulgent, flabby, poorly arranged, flaccid and pointless. Bad writing used to be much easier to make than bad video. But suddenly it’s vastly easier to produce video than to write. After all, you only have to manage to get the button pushed to make video; you don’t even have to type words. But good video production is much harder than it looks. It’s tempting to confuse visual quality with content quality.
When I’m reading a great post, I don’t have to read through 47 lines of “um…um…um…um…” that were auto-generated while the author was gathering his thoughts. But when I’m watching (heaven help me) a video, all those stay in. Each little 3-second pause, or 2-second nervous laugh, or irrelevant aside that seemed funny at the time, but, well, you had to be there, is left in, and then you and I and every other poor sap trying to extract value from it has to sit through them.
Look, it’s no accident that Scoble, the human content cataract, has moved so eagerly from written blogging (which at least allowed him the *opportunity* to gather and edit his thoughts before publishing) to twitter/pownce (which actively discourages either gathering OR editing of thoughts) to audio (which lets you just conveniently babble) to video (which is just audio with more let’s-face-it-do-we-really-need-to-see-that video of the mugs of the babblers).
Just click, chatter for a while, and upload! Woot! I’m adding content, I’m creating value, I’m re-conceptualizing our paradigms! Except I’m not. What I’m doing is blowing out 20 minute chunks of crap with an occasional nugget of goodness buried inside. Then I’m asking thousands or millions of people who want the nuggets to go spend 20 minutes each to find it, rather than doing the work once, digging out the nuggets, cutting out the extraneous and self-indulgent stuff, properly framing the remaining pieces so that the nuggets are presented in a reasonably fair way, and saving (18 minutes) X (however many viewers) = a lot of time.
It gets worse with every shiny new VC-backed way for people to put up endless video streams of the minutiae of their lives. Think about this: how many live-action 24×7 streams of video can you watch? The answer is 1. Only one. And you can only do that by expending an exactly equivalent stretch of your own life.
And here we come to the fatal flaw of web video (and audio; let’s not forget audio, though it seems to be passing away as passe so quickly that it’s barely worth mentioning): you can’t scan or compress it very much.
Now, you have to understand, I read fast. Not as in “fast for a trained speed reader”, but much faster than an average reader. That includes many of you who think that you’re fast readers, but are really only high-functioning average ones. But while I read pretty fast, I scan like a demon. If it’s in text that I don’t need to absorb in detail, I can move through it at a scorching pace, and generally catch and either slow down and “zoom in” on, or revisit later, most of the important stuff. And it makes yummy things like Google Reader a veritable buffet of information and knowledge and (mostly) reading pleasure.
But what happens when I see a blog entry in Google Reader that consists of “Hey, this is great, watch this” and an embedded video (or worse, a link to a video)? What are my choices? For many of the various sucky video services on the web, it’s not even readily apparent how long this piece of crap is going to be before I start.
Apparently, it’s the purpose in life of a lot of the chuckleheads who write these players to keep you from skipping even one second of the Blessed Incarnation of Video that is this particular video. These brain-dead Flash-based players that can’t even do basic things like FF and REW usably. Pausing, while iffy, at least works more than not. But fast-forwarding or skipping to specific points in the video? Right. So it’s either press play and stare for however long it drags on and hope that somewhere in there is a payoff, or skip it.
So most of the time, I skip video posts to written blogs, and ignore “vblogs” entirely. And the more people post video instead of taking the time to write the #*&$#*&% essay so I can read it (quickly) or scan it (ridiculously quickly) and get what I need, the more I ignore them.
What’s needed is for people to compress and edit and excise and eliminate and then post it. Just like with your blog. Don’t make me watch what wasn’t useful. Only show me what was good. Cut it down to size. Then re-arrange it so it’s better organized. Then cut it down some more.
Do the hard work once, at your end, on behalf of every consumer of it. Don’t make your many viewers each duplicate the work or spend the time that you should have invested once for everybody. Don’t think that because you’re slamming out hours of video and audio that you’re adding any value to the world or the lives of those trying to pan through your stream of nonsense for the elusive golden nugget.
I may be in the minority. I suspect that I am, at least amongst a populace with a demonstrated affinity for “less reading, more video”. But I’m guessing that my view is more common among influencers or any people whose time is more valuable than pretty much any other commodity (note: I’m not claiming here to be an influencer, only that I suspect that we share this view of reading vs. video).
And that’s the thing video abuses: my time, and yours.