So Al Gore, the Oscar-winning producer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” is now an Emmy-winning proprietor of the online/cable venture Current. He went on stage at the ceremony and talked about how Current is putting the demos back in democracy, etc., yada, blah, and so on. Bully for him, I say.
But let’s forget civic mission for a moment and look at this proto-network’s onscreen fare and see how it stands up against our Usability Tube criteria.
Recall our analysis of web video has nothing to do with platforms, partnerships, poohbahs or (in this case) politics. It’s all about how the stuff being projected on the tiny screen holds up to the question: Would anybody actually watch this stuff?
“Current is a global television network that gives you the opportunity to create and influence what airs on TV.”
“Current is YouTube with an East Coast college education and a protracted attention span for content about liberal causes.”
Medium-Message Match Downgrades for inane video fad-mongering; upgrades for content best conveyed by video rather than another medium.
A maddeningly mixed bag, though I supposed that’s to be expected from Viewer Created Content (VC2, in Current patois). The material on the home page is definitely best-face-forward material–smart and frisky and likably self-aware. But go deeper, especially into the news and politics channel, and you’ll find stuff where both message and medium need serious work. It’s full of earnest talking-head screeds and self-indulgent junior-varsity documentaries which try to go “long-form” with reports on [fill in your favorite environmental, anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-drug-company, anti-Da-Man cause here]. Like all bad political rhetoric, the work confuse expressions with communication. Yet there are also some brisk eye-openers: Freeway Blogger is a sped-up demo of how one guys posts cardboard sloganalia such as “Impeach Bush” along interstates (favorite placard slogan: “We’re all wearing blue dresses now”). And there is also a cheerfully vulgar musical number called “Lonely Dem07” (2:19) which extols Democrats, “Don’t be pus**es” and uses quick-cut news footage edits to great comic effect. Most “professional” videos on the site, however, plod like Jim Lehrer Newshour reports without the punchline. Score: 2 out of 5 rabbit ears
Respect for users’ time and attention Upgrades for tight editing; downgrades for excessive length and production incontinence.
Rampant production incontinence: It’s hard to find videos that come in under 2:00 (which, as I’ve said before, and will continue to say until my fingers bleed, should be the legal limit for web video). Even 3:00 and 4:00 productions are hard to come by. There are many 6:00 and 7:00 stemwinders (to use an ancient analog metaphor). Would someone please do usability testing with the videos on this site, and send the results out to both amateur and professional Web videographers? And to the folks who run Current? Today? Score: 1 out of 5 rabbit ears
Commercial Time-Suck Upgrades for space- and time-efficient ad presentation; downgrades for tedious, excessive commercials that cannot be avoided.
Pristine; no obligatory wall of ads before videos. You’ll see the odd opening placard for the production company. [The programming is broadcast on cable TV, so the obligation to amortize Web eyeballs here is lower than for most webvid operations.] Viewer-Created Ad Messages, done by amateurs on behalf of sponsors, are posted but easy to ignore. The site’s navigation and usability are world-class. Score: 5 out of 5 rabbit ears
Innovation Upgrades for inventive use of the video medium; downgrades for pack-following video production rites.
Stick with the home page and some of the favorites, and you’ll find some smart use of video: SuperNews is an animated satirefest. InfoBlast is an ironic take on the news and on itself as a news medium. Safari Joe may be the strangest thing to come out of Germany since Silbermond. Elsewhere: A lot of same-old, same-old, but on the web. Score: 3 out of 5 rabbit ears
Net score for Current: 2.75 out of 5 rabbit ears
Bottom Line: The greatest value of Current is the site’s main conceit: substantial programming that is filtered first by humans for (at least) taste, and then subjected to the usual wisdom-of-the-crowds mashing up. This has the benefit of limiting both UGC (user-generated crap) and, for viewers, the wave of self-loathing that can follow a YouTube clickathon.
The service also suffers, at least in its web presentation, from the same problems that face any video made for TV and ported to a screen the size of a jack of clubs. Material that creates a decent experience on the big screen–where user expectations, eye movement, related options, and even body posture are so different from what they are online–often suffers on the web.
Funny about Current’s first level of professional content vetting, though. If any pro-conservative, anti-progressive video has wiggled through the filter, I couldn’t find it.
If it’s there, please send me the URL. Democracy isn’t coming back any time soon unless everybody’s invited to the party.