Please don't videoblog (vlog)

At the blogger panel at Fall VON (repurposed to be both video on the net as well as voice) Vlogger and advocate Dina Kaplan asked bloggers to start vlogging. It's started a minor debate.

My take? Please don't.

I've written before on what I call the reader-friendly vs. writer-friendly dichotomy. My thesis is that media make choices about where to be on that spectrum, though ideal technology reduces the compromises. If you want to encourage participation, as in Wikis, you go for writer friendly. If you have one writer and a million readers, like the New York Times, you pay the writer to work hard to make it as reader friendly as possible.

When video is professionally produced and tightly edited, it can be reader (viewer) friendly. In particular if the video is indeed visual. Footage of tanks rolling into a town can convey powerful thoughts quickly.

But talking head audio and video has an immediate disadvantage. I can read material ten times faster than I can listen to it. At least with podcasts you can listen to them while jogging or moving where you can't do anything else, but video has to be watched. If you're just going to say your message, you're putting quite a burden on me to force me to take 10 times as long to consume it -- and usually not be able to search it, or quickly move around within it or scan it as I can with text.

So you must overcome that burden. And most videologs don't. It's not impossible to do, but it's hard. Yes, video allows better expression of emotion. Yes, it lets me learn more about the person as well as the message. (Though that is often mostly for the ego of the presenter, not for me.)

Recording audio is easier than writing well. It's writer friendly. Video has the same attribute if done at a basic level, though good video requires some serious work. Good audio requires real work too -- there's quite a difference between "This American Life" and a typical podcast.

Indeed, there is already so much pro quality audio out there like This American Life that I don't have time to listen to the worthwhile stuff, which makes it harder to get my attention with ordinary podcasts. Ditto for video.

There is one potential technological answer to some of these questions. Anybody doing an audio or video cast should provide a transcript. That's writer-unfriendly but very reader friendly. Let me decide how I want to consume it. Let me mix and match by clicking on the transcript and going right to the video snippet.

With the right tools, this could be easy for the vlogger to do. Vlogger/podcaster tools should all come with trained speech recognition software which can reliably transcribe the host, and with a little bit of work, even the guest. Then a little writer-work to clean up the transcript and add notes about things shown but not spoken. Now we have something truly friendly for the reader. In fact, speaker-independent speech recognition is starting to almost get good enough for this but it's still obviously the best solution to have the producer make the transcript. Even if the transcript is full of recognition errors. At least I can search it and quickly click to the good parts, or hear the mis-transcribed words.

If you're making podcaster/vlogger tools, this is the direction to go. In addition, it's absolutely the right thing for the hearing or vision impaired.


Hey Brad, I hear ya. I think your idea of providing transcripts, if it can be easily done, is a great one. I also get that you might not be interested in most of the vlogs that are out there. But what if your friend/mom/kid had a vlog? Would you want to watch that, even if the production values weren't that hot? Also, production values are going to get better with time---they already are. Plus, video is fantastic for showing visual information---how-to-refinish-your-chair tutorials and such. Kids growing up now are going to edit video the way you write a sentence, effortlessly. Editing software is free and many kids already are editing on their own, if they aren't getting taught in school.

Anyway, I read your thoughts with interest. If you are up for sitting through a video on the topic, you can find one at the URL above called "Why Alec Saunders Should Vlog"

If you have just one creator and a few consumers (like family) then video makes sense. I'm talking about more general publication where there are lots of readers or viewers, so a large effort by the creator is worth it even for a small benefit for each reader.

People should not do video because they think it will be less work for them than taking the time to write well. And even if they will put in more work, they should remember the added cost to the viewer in time. They must make it worth it. They should not do it because they hope they will be a famous video personality -- only a small minority have that talent.

As always, ask, "Is what I'm doing with video adding so much it's worth asking the viewer to spend ten times as much time on the result?" Ditto for audio, though in that case the ability to listen while jogging/driving/etc. may provide the appropriate incentive.

Some video productions are good quality, and entertaining, and have sassy blondes in tight shirts clicking next on a fake keyboard. That's OK but there can only be a few of those. The right answer is going to normally be somewhere in between. I think the future will offer us slick multimedia combinations where we start reading, and click to see interesting snippets of video where they make sense, and easily skip to the next item or a particular word when we get bored.

I'm a programmer, and the language we use at the moment is going through a big shakeup. So the, ah, "marketers", have decided to tell us about the changes and new features by a series of videos. These are professionally produced, fairly well written and edits. But they suck. I can read the transcript in 0.1 the time, but I could read a white paper distilled from those transcripts in shorter time again and probably retain it better. It's about what is important - I don't need to know that the lead dev is overweight and balding (really? A fat bald geek? whodathunkit), but I'm quite interested in the roadmap. So the picture and video is just so much blah, what's important is where they want to go in the next two years.

For all that I dislike their dross, it's orders of magnitude better than 90% of the vblogs I've seen.

Video is useful for a limited range of situations, mostly of the "here I am somewhere dramatic and I'm going to video it while describing the things that don't video well". even three minutes of "look, I'm a hominid" is too much!

Some other points...

- Many (if not most) people don't like to (or can't) read.
- Videos get less SE traffic, obviously.
- A good writer will edit, drop fluff and deliver only the best stuff.


You're making the mistaken assumption that anyone who vlogs is doing it because they want to reach a wide audience.

I agree that 95% of vlogs aren't worth watching, but let's face it, 95% of text blogs aren't worth reading either.

But if someone enjoys the process of producing video, why discourage them from posting it online? Some fraction will turn out to have talent and produce worthwhile material. The rest....nobody's forcing you to watch. No harm, no foul.

Now, if instead of saying "Please don't vlog," you'd said, "Please don't expect a lot of people to watch your vlog," that would be a statement I could agree with.

is more subtle than the title. The real message, for those who have or desire an audience, is to think about the reader/viewer/listener and how they would like to consume their information, and realize they are not all the same. Don't vlog for yourself. Vlog if all the readers would prefer it. And if they are mixed, do transcripts.

Dina's challenge was for widely read bloggers to vlog, I'm not discussing the case of the person with 5 people watching.

Point taken. As the old joke goes, "There's a reason people who work in radio work in radio and not TV."

A very tangential obervation, but if you've ever written in a character-based (ideogram-based) language instead of an alphabet-based language, you know that with ideograms, which require a great deal of education, you can write complex words and sentences quickly (cell phone is four characters in Japanese). It is easier to recognize warning signs with ideograms, but I personally find it easier to read descriptions of things I don't already know in an alphabetical language.

Ideograms are analagous but not congruent to computer resources -- I think that purveyours of information have faced the sort of choice you highlight here since the invention of writing. When writing was for the priestly classes, an exclusive endeavor, ideograms were favored, but with the printing press, the alphabet was superior.

But on the internet? Now it's about the ability of our tools to handle the information. I do know that ideogram-based fonts take up a lot of resources and force printers to have massive amounts of memory.

Games and software are now being designed only for the top end computers, which is disappointing.

Vloggers will need skills, just as ISPs building wireless businesses need to learn new things.

I could see vlogs for: design, architecture, botany, travel, sports . . . any area where the visual is important.

As more people interact with the internet using a portable device, the ability to create visual content that is compelling on a 2" x 2" screen will be useful. . . and might not require expensive tools.

"Please don't vlog" is provocative, and catches the eye, but I think you're making a more subtle, nuanced argument, warning people that vlogging requires a different skill set than blogging. It takes a lot of time to produce a video of, say, four guys dancing on treadmills.

Thank you for saying this. Text is much more consumable than audio, which is much more consumable than video. I would also like to add that using video excludes blind and deaf people from your content. Text can be understood by anyone from Superman to Helen Keller. Video and audio cannot.

I don't care if you don't watch my vlog. I used to blog but i've become a vlogger instead because it brings me more personal satisfaction. Call it ego if you want but vanity can have a very intoxicating effect, and I love it!!! I'm new to the whole vlogging community, but what i've learned so far is that with the right material and the right drive and creativity, a person can get loads traffic. It's fun, plain and simple. I agree with Shivering Timbers. No harm, no foul. So if you're against the idea of vlogging, dont tune in. Vloggers set themselves up for more criticism because your more likely to look like an idiot on a vlog than on a blog. For that we should be applauded for bravery. I believe that Vlogging is the wave of the future with or without voice to text applications. This lot is just an example of resistance to progressive change.

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