I Won’t Watch Your Video Blog Post

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no-video-allowedA growing trend in blogging as well as informational website production is the video blog post. It’s cousin, the video tutorial, has been around a little longer and with much better justification. When it comes to explaining things, sometimes it is much easier to show than to tell. For example, I can show someone in about thirty seconds how to share their printer on Windows 7, that is, once they figure out how to get around HP not supporting a LaserJet 1012 on Windows 7 with proper drivers. On the other hand, it would be a relatively lengthy set of instructions to tell you how to do the same thing with words.

The other issue with writing instructions versus showing someone how to do something is that there is an element of guessing involved in writing down steps to follow. At some point, I have to assume that you know something and stop explaining it. For example, if I were writing an article about using Microsoft Office PowerPoint templates, I might start by writing something like, "Click File and then New."  

This makes some pretty reasonable assumptions, such that you know what a mouse is and that you know what it means to "click" on something. In particular, I did not specify the you click with the left mouse button, instead, I rely upon you knowing that when it comes to computers, "clicking," means to click once with the left mouse button. This is a pretty good assumption because anyone with enough computing knowledge to know about PowerPoint templates, probably knows how to work a mouse.

However, that is not always the case. For example, if I were writing an article about Windows 7 screensavers, I might say, "Open Control Panel and click Display."

This is a bigger assumption. There are many computer users who seldom, if ever, use the Windows Control Panel. Without some guidance on what steps to follow to open and use Control Panel, my instructions may be insufficient. This dilemma is the bane of computer interface designers and technical writers who develop software manuals and instructions. The more information you assume the user already knows, the less useful the manual is to beginners. However, more information you include, the longer and more intimidating the manual seems to beginners and the less useful it is to experienced users who just need some help about how to do something.

With video instruction, assuming the video is clear enough and unobstructed enough, the user can always watch at the level of detail they need, albeit perhaps needing to watch in slow motion or to re-watch a scene several times.

Video Blog Posts and Podcasts

This does not apply to the idea of video blog posts or podcasts or the like.

Essentially what these "multimedia" forms of blogging or content production do is take what would be written, and instead, they just read it, or more specifically, they just say what they would otherwise write.

For example, instead of writing out this post, I could just sit in front of my webcam and say things like, "When writing documentation, you always have to make some assumptions…"

The idea, as far as I can see it, is that this is faster for the content producer because all they have to do is talk for 10 minutes in front of a webcam or video camera and then post it to the website. Theoretically, this is also faster and easier for people who want to receive the content because they don’t have to read it; they can just listen to it or watch it on their computer.

The major flaw in the whole concept, and the reason I quickly abandon websites that have too much of their content in "multimedia" format, is that it simply is not true, for the reader (customer) at least.

I happen to read very fast. I understand that not everyone does, and therefore must make some allowance for that. However, I still content that reading something that is non-demonstrational is faster and more efficient than watching a similar video or listening to a similar podcast.

For starters, if I’m looking for a specific piece of information, I can scan or search text to find it and get it quickly. On a video or podcast I have to listen to the whole thing. The worst thing about that is that there is no guarantee that what I need will be spoken. It’s basically gambling with my time. Contrast this to me quickly scanning a document to realize that it is either too basic, too advanced, or just about something completely different than what I need to know.

Another problem with video blogging or podcasting is the temptation to "wing it."  Publishers who produce clear, concise, information packed articles, become rambling, forgetful, speakers who leave things out. Any content producer worth paying attention to edits their writing. The same cannot be said for videos and podcast that seem to be "fixed" only when something "big enough" happens to warrant it.

Finally, when I read something it is generic, universal text. There are no accents, no fidgeting hands, no voices, no lighting issues, no nothing, just words. With videos and podcasts, there’s background hissing, odd lights, people sitting uncomfortably on stools, people whose words are hard to understand, people who talk too slow, people who talk too fast, people who…

You get the idea.

I’ve decided that unless there is a compelling reason for something to be video content, I will never see it, hear it, or otherwise look at it. If too much of something’s value is locked away in video or audio, then I will find a new source.

It may be easier for you to ramble for 10 minutes in front of your webcam than it is to craft a well-written post or article with the same information, but it is neither easier, nor as pleasurable for me to consume, and what you do, is dead to me.

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My tirades and rants become longer and more self-righteous the less sleep I get. Guess how much sleep I got last night?

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