Archive for the ‘UsabilityTube Reviews’ category

The Usability Tube Review: GoreTube

18, September, 2007

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?

The Sell

“Current is a global television network that gives you the opportunity to create and influence what airs on TV.”

The Reality

“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.

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The UsabilityTube Review: Andy Jordan’s Tech Diary Video

21, August, 2007

All right, time to take another look at a conspicuous use of Web video.

Remember, our idea isn’t to view platforms, partnerships, investments or technology. It’s to take a look, often through parted fingers, at the stuff that some one is putting on the Web, and asking: Would anybody really want to watch this stuff?

Today we look at Wall Street Journal online technology reporter Andy Jordan’s just-launched Tech Diary video podcasts.

The Sell

“Tech Diary is an extension of [Journal online columnist] Andy [Jordan]’s other work as a multimedia reporter covering technology. The video podcast format is the perfect complement to the stories Andy tells so well on the quirky intersection of technology and culture.” — Jason Anders, Technology Editor for The Wall Street Journal Online

Medium-Message Match  Downgrades for inane video fad-mongering; upgrades for content best conveyed by video rather than another medium. The videocasts are Jordan’s contribution to the reporter-foolin’-around-with-people-and-a-cheap-video-camera-within-a-few-blocks-of-work genre. The competition is fierce: Hundreds of reporters are currently working through this phase of multimedia adolescence. Like puberty itself, this phase is full of great promise, bad decisions and humiliating gropery. Let’s hope it only lasts a few years too. 

Andy’s a smart and funny guy with, so far, three mini-journeys under his belt. There is none of the self-serious smarm you see when some reporters try to “go broadcast” with their little video cameras and pursed-brow stand-ups. There’s just a bit of hamminess–a kind of reporter-at-large throatclearing endemic right now. But Jordan has clearly messed around with enough Circuit City inventory to know the difference between a tool and a toy.    But back to medium-message match: Is video a good medium for exploring the people/technology relationship? There are moments that make me think, well, maybe so.

  • When Jordan discovers in a New York wi-fi park an opera singer willing to perform for his hand-held (to overdramatize the point that she will later send voice clips to a show producer), it’s an usettling, compelling 9 seconds.
  • When he follows around some poor iPhone early adopter schlep who learns that, well, nobody really is impressed that he has an iPhone (and, better, that someone sees early adoption as a negative, not positive, social attribute) it’s a hilarious, heartbreaking vignette-ette.
  • But the video in which Jordan trails a New Jersey family “geo-caching” (using GPS units to find stuff hidden in the woods, a high-tech scavenger hunt). This would have been done far better with an annotated Google map with photos and voiceovers, or snippets of video linked to various locations along the path. For the geo-caching story, the medium-message match is poor.

Score: 3 out of 5 rabbit ears

Respect for users’ time and attention Upgrades for tight editing; downgrades for excessive length and production incontinence.  

The productions, with simple titles, voiceovers and clean swipes, are craftsmanlike but not slick. Except for the intro video, however, the three Tech Diary videos nudge the 4-minute mark.

[Pause for effect]

  • John Lennon delivered “Imagine” at 3:04.  
  • You can complete two speed-dates in 4:00.
  • The Space Shuttle escapes the earth’s gravitational pull within 4:00.
  • There are some people who can run a freakin’ mile in 4:00.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: On the Web, except under extraordinary circumstances, 2 minutes is your allowance: spend it wisely. I know editing a video for which one has high hopes into 2 minutes is difficult, even demeaning, relative to one’s grand auteur ambitions. Tough nuts. Nobody’s forcing you to put video on the Web. Certainly nobody’s forcing anybody else to watch it. 

Score: 2 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.

Remarkably–alarmingly–puzzlingly–there are no commercials blocking the way to the Tech Diary videos. And no, they will not reside behind the Wall Street Journal’s swaying, crumbling pay wall. So who’s going to pay the cable bill? Let Rupert worry about that. Meantime, Tech Diary is on the air 24/7, and free for the watching.

Score: 5 out of 5 rabbit ears 

Innovation Upgrades for inventive use of the video medium; downgrades for pack-trailing production habits. 

It’s early, so let’s cut Jordan a break for filming two of his videos within a few blocks of his pod at WSJ headquarters, and a third in the wake of a family making their way through nearby woods. 

So far, Jordan gets a few points for some playful interaction with his subjects and an understated hand in editing. But is there anything fresh in his efforts to use video to explore the links beween people and technology? No.

Score: 2 out of 5 rabbit ears

Bottom line: Like most Web journalists playing with video for the first time, Jordan is educating himself in public and casting some amusing, insightful light along the way. There is little harm, modest payoff and an unclear path ahead. 

But the Tech Diary videos illustrate one of the perils of doing “multi”media journalism when you have just one device around your neck. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you have a video camera, everything looks like “a cool visual story.” As the tapes inevitably show, looks can be deceiving. 

As journalists begin to enter the next stage of multimedia maturity, a good question emerges: How do you get the right tool in the hands of the right journalist at the right time for the right story?

An image of Batman’s utility belt flashes briefly through the mind. Four seconds, max.

Net score for Tech Diary Video:  3 out of 5 rabbit ears

  

The Weekly UsabilityTube Review: NBC 24/7 Video

9, August, 2007

In this week’s UsabilityTube Review, we take a look, through parted fingers, at NBC 24/7 video.

The 24/7 stuff is one sub-brand of video content you’ll find on the twitchy, frantic and distracting NBC.com home page. Since the whole site is available 24/7, of course, it’s hard to figure out what this brand name means. But let’s roll with it and scroll on through.

But first, let me compliment the designers of the NBC site. I have never before seen the use of what is clearly an abstraction of a toilet handle as a navigation device. Whether this metaphor was used consciously or not is immaterial.

And let me also say that the way the handle and related copy scoots around the screen as you mouse over it eerily recalls those joke e-mails from the late 90s where you’d be asked to “click here” and the radio button jumps away. Funny!

But back the serious task here of critiquing the 24/7 video, using the format established last week in this space.  Onward.  

The Sell

“We are the first network to marry gold-standard content with social networking. We’ve listened to our users through message boards and focus groups and are building them the playground they’ve asked for.”–Vivi Ziglar, Executive VP, NBC Digital Entertainment

Medium-Message Match  Downgrades for inane video fad-mongering; upgrades for content best conveyed by video rather than another medium.

The question here is whether the video being streamed is well-matched for Web distribution. Which is to say, is it entertaining to sit and watch this stuff avec mouse? The short answer is no. Of the eight clips presented yesterday on the 24/7 module, three are worth burning off a few minutes with: the clipettes of America’s Got Talent, the Singing Bee, and Last Comic Standing. If you like those shows, or are just lobotomy-bored, they deliver some fleeting satisfaction. The other five clips include two awkwardly self-promotional clips from something called Comi-Con (if you have to ask, don’t), plus three repurposed promos for fall shows. Each show does have a site of its own that is enhanced with 2.0fferings, and there are some promising developments–the promised “playground” is under development, and some kids have begun to colonize it. Heroes at this point is the best built-out. It has a wiki that’s a pretty good example of UGC, and it seems like the show’s fans are enjoying it. It also offers fan art, live blogs, character profiles and other thingbats well matched to the show’s spawn-of-Trekkies cult following. Elsewhere, “Ask the Hoff” is a competent “bonus original content” for America’s Got Talent. On the other hand, across the sites user comments rarely threaten to break the Twitter IQ barrier , and user submitted videos are indistinguishable from YouTube’s. In fact, I’m guessing you can find most of them on YouTube.  Score: 2.5 out of 5 rabbit ears

Respect for users’ time and attention Upgrades for tight editing; downgrades for excessive length and production incontinence.  

The lead video currently on display is a 12:25 [note: Stairway to Heaven is 8:02] segment in which a graceless writer/producer of the show Heroes hogs the podium to do an Emmy-style stemwinder, pimp the show and, somewhere along the way, introduce the actors who do a high-dork press conference. Most of the other edits are fairly efficient, with one head-thumping exception. New rule: When you produce something called a Two Minute Replay, it can’t be 3:19. Score: 2 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.

The first video you play in the 24/7 module is preceded by a :30 movie ad. That ad also pops up on some schedule or trigger I couldn’t figure out. While the rest of the site is chaosified with non-video ads for third parties and NBC content, the videos themselves are not for the most part detained behind commercial barriers. For a TV network site, this is admirable. Score: 3.5 out of 5 rabbit ears 

Innovation Upgrades for inventive use of the video medium; downgrades for pack-trailing production habits. 

Not a hint of summer freshness in the 24/7 module. All the videos are either interviews, still-cam podium shots, show clips or outright commercials. On the program sites, there is some good innovation in the user community areas, but it’s early. Score: 2 out of 5 rabbit ears

Bottom line: By focussing on the 24/7 content, ‘ve looked at the NBC.com site in a narrow way, looking at just one entry point in a network portal. Clearly the portal’s broader strategy is to push fans and curiosity-seekers to the NBC show sites. The Web programming and 2.0 experimentation is more ambitious there, if still a work in progress. 

Essentially the network is just beginning to move its Web strategy past the promote-the-shows-with-clips-and-outtakes stage (which can be carbon-dated to spring 2002). The addition of social networking features resets the calendar to fall 2006. 

When will the network will ring in 2007? Stay tuned!  

Net score for NBC 24/7:  2.5 out of 5 rabbit ears

Introducing The Weekly UsabilityTube Review: Slate V

2, August, 2007

Today we launch a new weekly feature, in which we review the use of video on the Web.

We’re not reviewing specific videos, nor analyzing the biz or buzz of various video platforms. We are looking at how video is being deployed on Web sites that are trying to accomplish something other than just streaming video to eyeballs.

We’ll open the action with a look at Slate V, that online magazine’s month-old video service. That’s Slate V as in video, by the way, not Slate the Fifth, though that name would offer some faux regal mojo.

[Interest revealed (to borrow Slate media critic Jack Shafer’s phrase): Slate is owned by washingtonpost.newsweekinteractive, a division of the Washington Post Co. I am a former employee of the Post’s newspaper division.]

The Sell

Slate V is not just a holding place for video on the Webwe will be producing new video daily in the unmistakable Slate voice our users have come to love. . . .Slate V will offer daily web video with the unique Slate voice: smart and topical, yet also irreverent and fun. — Slate V editor Andy Bowers

Medium-Message Match  Downgrades for inane video fad-mongering; upgrades for content best conveyed by video rather than another medium.

Video significantly improves the print features Bushisms, Advertising Report Card, Bad Movies and Damned Spot. But the vid version of Dear Prudence–a high-IQ upgrade of Dear Abby with a wavering layer of faux-upperclass irony–fails as video. As a epistolary Q/A, its ideal form is print. And it’s great in print. But the video version is a classic medium-message mismatch. Score: 4 out of 5 rabbit ears

Respect for users’ time and attention Upgrades for tight editing; downgrades for excessive length and production incontinence.  

About half the videos abide by the [hereby proclaimed] best practice of holding Web video to under 2 minutes, except under extraordinary circumstances. There are too many 4- to 6-minute presentations that don’t earn their precious seconds. The recent Bad Movies: Kid Flicks Pt 1 is spittle-on-the-screen hilarious, but at 5:16 it’s at least a minute too long. The 4:16 Google Earth Downside (a satire whose comedy is undercut by the acknowledged fact that Google Earth images are not live) is at least 90 seconds too long. Score: 3 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.

Slate V currently has a single sponsor, a foreign automaker. Each video presents a silent 5-second ad, followed by a 3-second, beautifully executed Slate V logo-dance. But the latter is more annoying. Users may indulge ads, since they understand, at least dimly, that they pay the bills. But 3 seconds for self-promotion is hard to forgive.  Score: 4 out of 5 rabbit ears 

Innovation Upgrades for inventive use of the video medium; downgrades for pack-trailing production habits. 

Please Watch Media Curves: Contrite Cardinal. It presents a clip of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony apologizing on behalf of the Catholic church after the recent $660 million settlement with victims over abuse charges. While the clip plays, 400 viewers provided real-time feedback assessing his sincerity. A bar chart of results follows the clip; the gap between Catholic and Protestant viewers is remarkable, as is the pattern that shows when the Cardinal’s perceived sincerely rises and falls as he speaks. Maybe I don’t get around enough, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more original and brilliant use of video. Score: 5 out of 5 rabbit ears

Net score for Slate V: 4 out of V (oops, I mean 5) rabbit ears