Video is rubbish

I’ve had an idea in the back of my head for ages for a post on how fundamentally rubbish video is as a medium on the Internet. (Rough outline: it’s not the quality/bandwidth/storage capacity issue – that’s a problem still, but will fade. It’s fundamental to the nature of high-intensity visual media. You can’t skim. Reading speed is way higher than spoken speed. Audio suffers similarly but you are usually doing something else while you listen. In an attention economy, video is far and away the most expensive format. Lauren Weinstein, writing in RISKS earlier this year, makes the contrary case that you need video to capture subtleties of expression.)

I was prodded again by Martin’s recent discussion about David After Dentist, the latest viral video. (Outline notes: I think that what this shows is that viral stuff, especially videos, are the antithesis of what higher education is about – very surface, very little consideration or thought required.)

But now I’ve been prodded by some solid proof that video is terrible – just take a look at these videos of me on YouTube.

Here’s me talking about my talk last week on Scholarly Publishing 2.0:

Here’s me talking about the Biodiversity Observatory late last year:

And here’s me saying Learning Design is going to be big, five years ago at a Lab Group meeting:

On the plus side, these are all good ideas. (Latching on to LD five years ago looks prescient, though I hadn’t grokked that the thing that would get it to scale was to relax the stringent standards thing.)

On the negative side: it takes an awfully long time to grasp these ideas from the videos. That’s partly an artefact of my dreadful presentational style (I’m aware of my propensity to um and ah, but these make it painfully obvious – and note to self: look at the camera, dum-dum, not shiftily all over the place – and letting that experimental beard be captured for posterity was a terrible mistake). But it’s largely because video is such a slow medium.

Author: dougclow

Data scientist, tutxor, project leader, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist, online learning expert, and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in a wide range of contexts and industries.

11 thoughts on “Video is rubbish”

  1. I think a lot of the problem with video on the Internet is to do with the way it is consumed. Watching a video on a laptop can seem an unnatural experience when you are used to using it to read text. You mention the attention economy, this is a particular problem on a laptop, which is often used during high quality, high attention time so video again can feel unnatural due to its pacing. Not all time is of equal quality though, sometimes it is nice to just relax and watch video, it can be a low effort way to take in information when you’re tired. That’s why projects like Boxee ( are so interesting, they bring Internet videos to the place where we are more accepting of it as a format – the TV!

  2. Oh, for sure the Internet is changing how we watch TV profoundly, and yes, things like Boxee and Miro show the way.

    I say ‘we’ in the broad sense here – I’m not very keen on TV either, though 🙂 My weekly watching total is probably somewhere around two hours. And it’s almost never live. Which I strongly suspect is pretty untypical as a viewing profile.

  3. Watch this clip:

    Now tell me it’s rubbish and the antithesis of education. Choosing selective cases does not prove a point. Video is good for some things. Print is good for some things.

    1. Fair cop – I don’t need much convincing that different media have different strengths! And sure, there are some great HE uses of video.

      I can’t actually look at that video atm, tho – those connectivity/device issues still bite now and then! 🙂

  4. I agree with that talking-head videos are a poor way of getting a message across. I lose interest v. quickly. However I’ve found the wealth of informally produced YouTube “how to” videos very useful and engaging. I learned how to embed a YouTube video in a ppt presentation from YouTube (a bit incestuous I guess) and I love the two geeky guys who show you how to build your own odd-looking GPS device and then head out to hunt a geocache with it. Maybe it’s more a question of having voice-over something visually engaging.

    And from one fidgety hand-waving presenter to another – I think there’s nothing wrong with your presentational style. 🙂

  5. Agree that video is good for demonstrating things that actually need to be shown, but also agree that the inability to do an initial skim-read puts me off – I quite often click on a link that looks interesting and then, when I see it is video rather than text, I don’t take it any further (especially if it is video lasting more than a couple of minutes). But that may say more about my prejudice for traditional book-type presentation than it does for the video medium in general.

    Perversely, I find narrated presentations a la slideshare more involving than video. But then with presentations I’m in charge of the forward button, and can skim through if I want.

  6. I think video is a bit rubbish to be honest – you may remember I tried to start a discussion about whether Seesmic would take off. I think the skimming issue is important, and also your situation – in an open plan office I can’t be bothered to dig out my earphones to listen. Or I’m often in the backroom, daughter is watching TV and I’ll be chastised if my video of Doug talking about Scholarship 2.0 interfers with her Chuckle Brothers viewing experience.
    But it does work in places – usually when people do something with it. Jim Groom’s videos are always great, and of course there’s Michael Wesch’s stuff, etc.
    In terms of thinking we can just upload big chunks of video of us talking though, generally that doesn’t work, and an insightful blog post is usually better.

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