Archive for the ‘video’ category

Debate Hub: How Did C-Span Get So Cool?

2, October, 2008

C-Span–the tediously even-handed, eat-your-spinach, 24-hour civics lesson–has somehow caught the Cool2.0 virus. As you prepare for tonight’s debate between Sen. Loose and Gov. Moose, check out C-Span’s Debate Hub.

Okay, nothing that special here–your basic interactive platform that lets you dig into the debate several different ways.

But the cool thing is this: Using the hub, you can pluck snippets of video in near-real time, snag the code and circulate it to make whatever mischief you want.

See a condescending Biden scowl? Grab it, post it to YouTube, and Tweet the url before he’s bloviating on the next question.

Like the way Palin crinkles her nose like a schoolgirl when she’s trying to discourage additional questions? Grab ’em and e-mail ’em to your brother in minutes!

You can mash the content up into comic repartee worthy of Neil Simon before Chris Matthews is on MSNBC praising Biden’s stalwart performance!

This is all possible thanks to the Debate Hub’s near-real-time debate timeline, which will spill out transcript and video as the action progresses. Here’s the timeline from the Oxford, Miss., debate between Obama and McCain.

I suspect C-Span didn’t realize it was creating a mischief-o-matic when it launched this site. But it certainly knew it was stretching its brand image. Why else would it include this graphic representing the words used most in the debate by each candidate?

And why else would it publish a real-time Twitter feed? And live blog entry aggregation?

If C-Span–whose average viewer is probably about as old as John McCain–has gone so deeply into democracy 2.0, something truly revolutionary is happening with our politics.

People are participating in it.

Are we sure we want to encourage this sort of nonsense?


DataViz[zes] of the Week: Google Election Map Gallery

1, July, 2008

I’ve long argued that journalists use too many words. Or, more precisely, they try to use them for everything.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When all you have is a Microsoft Word and a deadline, everything looks like a 25-inch story.

Google’s just launched Elections ’08 Map Gallery illustrates the limitations of this approach.

Want to know how John McCain got to where he is today? You can read this four-screen, tiny-type piece at It’s well-researched and full of important information and fair-minded observations. Or you can click around John McCain’s Journey, one of several maps in the gallery.


You will find a biography organized by geography (a geo-bio!), starting in the Panama Canal Zone (where he was born) to. . .1600 Pennsylvania Ave. (?). You won’t get much intellectually satisfying detail from the map–no Keating Five, no material about his days at the Naval Academy, nothing about his role as a “maverick.” If real journalism were poured into the framework, you’d have a great product that could reach a lot more people than the highly literate version.

Google, of course, knows from search. And so one of the more successful Election 08 maps is a geography of search queries by candidate name. [Earth to Mountain View: Hillary Clinton is out. You may remove her from the election maps now.]

Michigan Search Election Map

Others have reported this search query data in print–it’s a fun [if dangerous] parlor game to use search volume as a marker of public sentiment. But once again, a visual, geography-based presentation that offers real-time search data offers a completely different view of election dynamics.

And finally, a video-based map, which essentially does away with both words and numbers. Obama Videos is a map showing where Obama delivered key speeches, with each location linked to a video of that speech.

Obama Video Map

This is great stuff. With Google’s mashup tools being wide open for use, the gallery is likely to grow and get weirder [A Map of Lies! The Flip Flop Highway!].

I, for one, think it’s going to be a much more entertaining election season thanks to these visualizations. Will it produce a better informed, more engaged public? We’ll see. There’s promise that some of these maps will capture different kinds of citizen participation–the “wisdom” of the crowds writ large. The Election Search map is an example.

One map shows real-time election-based Twitter items geographically. It’s about as exciting as watching gum being chewed. But it’s a start.

Eyeballing the Best “Contextual” Video Ad Ever

29, June, 2008

While playing around with the video platform MetaCafe today, I came across a particularly shrewd use of contextual video advertising.

Lasik? No, I\'ll just have contacts, please.

Are you a Lasik candidate? Check out this educational video illustrating the procedure, with a flap of cornea being sliced off and laser pulses reshaping the eye–all while the patient is wide awake.

What’s that? Think you might want contacts instead? Click here, my friend!

Web Video Statistics: I Smell a Rat

11, February, 2008

The web metrics firm comScore has published a tally of of how many online videos were viewed during the month of December. That number is 10 billion. That’s “b,” as in “freakin’ billion.”

Like Mike Huckabee, I didn’t major in math. But as a journalist I do have an Associate’s Degree in Rat Sniffing. And I smell a big one.

By my primitive calculations, if comScore’s stats are correct, during the month of December 2007 2,237 person-years were spent watching online video. (That’s assuming each of those 10 billion videos was watched for :30.)

For comparison, 2,237 person years would be the equivalent of:

  • one human watching online video¬† continuously, without bathroom break or time spent dying and being reborn, since the reign of Julius Caesar.
  • 2,237 people spending one year, day and night without rest or time to stretch, planting the Great Plains with switchgrass.

And that’s just one month in 2007! In 2008, I’m sure enough person-years of video will be watched worldwide to rebuild the Great Pyramid of Giza by hand (20,000 men 20 years, according to recent estimates).

This is either a preposterous bit of stat-pumping or a terribly, terribly sad commentary. Or, probably, both.

Visions of ’08, Vol 2

27, December, 2007

Today’s prognostication for the year ahead is near and dear to my heart: A warning that all the video people are watching on the web (along with music, phone calls and other bandwidth-sucking activities) will soon slow the Internet to a crawl.

The prediction appears in Harvard public policy lecturer Emily Kamarck’s op-ed in the Boston Globe.

False apocalypse?

Another reason to boycott web video?

Or a wise warning that the Internet free ride may have to end? Which is to say, someone [and we always know who that “someone” is] will have to pay for the new infrastructure needed to keep things moving along so you can exercise your god-given right to watch Battlestar Galactica ruruns on Hulu?

We’ll find out, maybe, in ’08.

[n.b.: The home page of today’s, home of the Globe, includes a particularly well-done, if terribly earnest, Globe-produced video.]

Writers’ Strike: Imminent Proof that Web Video is Hideo

19, November, 2007

As regular readers of this blog [both of you!] know by now, I am bearish on Web video. More specifically, I think the idea that people will watch many half-hour or hour-long TV-style programs on their computers is bull. I believe it’s a hopeful, consensual group delusion among VCs, broadcasters, and 2.entrepreneurs.

And so for purely selfish reasons I hope the writers’ strike against TV production companies continues. Why? As the strike goes on and broadcast fare dries up, several things are likely to happen:

1. Services like Hulu, NBC/News Corp’s platform for delivering standard TV content, will face an early test of value as online delivery mechanisms for network television content. Hulu is still in carefully guarded beta, so the data certainly won’t be conclusive. Similarly, Joost, is just launched and still awfully content-thin. But you can view plenty of broadcast video online at NBCDirect (also beta) or just off the main NBC website. There are other similar opportunities for online episode viewing at various broadcasters’ and programs’ sites. And YouTube is loading up on “real” TV content. The key question: Will TV viewers turn to these services as the writers’ strike continues and broadcast and some cable content goes gray? My guess: No.

2. Projects like QuarterLife [the MySpace series of 8-minute minisodes that’s pretty much about web video, from the creators of thirtysomething] will get an early proof-of-concept opportunity. Will folks who have turned away from the rerun-rich plasmatron go online to view even this program, which is crafted so specifically for online users and for this moment in time? Word just came out that the series will run on “real” NBC in January, so the online version will get a boost from the established broadcast medium. I still foresee no huge audience for it.

3. We’ll find out how many sofa spuds generally really do boot up their computers as the reruns continue. This will provide some data to test the widely accepted hypothesis that TV viewership is down because viewers are spending the time on the web instead.

My self-serving prediction: The remote control operators in the household will stay right on the couch and simply watch more “unwritten” cable, premium movie channels and on-demand content. The beneficiaries of the writers’ strike won’t be Hulu, Joost, YouTube or other web video schemes. They will be the The Discovery Channel, History Channel, the BBC, TVland, Survivor (it’s still on TV, really!), the Biggest Loser, and local cable systems’ on-demand fare.

Oddly enough, if I am right, the whole strike is meaningless anyway. It’s based on the idea that web users in huge, monetizable numbers will view half-hour and hour-long broadcast content on their computers.

Which means either I am wrong–at least a 50-50 chance, I’d say–or that those writers are out there pressing for a fair chunk of revenues that may never come.

Hulu, Web Video and That Scary Kid from High School

31, October, 2007

As I’m writing this item, a second browser window on my computer is open and playing a video of Michael Scott and company meeting in a Dunder Mifflin conference room.

we armak fur infinitee paperfessional

to help us make itlater so it’s ajhhhh not too shabby

Ah, those cut-ups at The Office! Listen’ to ’em go at it!

so, Anybod it take car anima tried to do a logo

luug a da


I suppose I need to explain that the dialogue I’m quoting is from a video of The Office embedded on the blog of Hulu, a new video service just launched by NBC/Universal and News Corp. The service is still in beta and very few free-living humans, aside from some media people and one analyst at Forrester and Co., have laid eyes on it.

Some venture capitalists and assorted bigbrains have proclaimed Hulu a “YouTube Killer.” By this they mean one of two things: (a) Hulu may demonstrate that big media companies can control distribution of their own content in a digital world; or (b) Hulu may prove someone has a freaking clue how to make money by streaming video on the web.

But for insight on business matters I always defer to the Sage from Scranton:

I wan youngwik cutTV on crack!

ind of ing. . .

What Michael in his infinite wisdom is saying is, a computer is a pretty crappy way to watch video.

It’s true that my broadband connection at this moment isn’t great–it’s one of those free hotel-room networks–which likely explains the Tourette’s-like vibe in the Dunder Mifflin conference room. But even when the sound is working right, a small screen isn’t something you cozy up your Barcalounger to.

I’m afraid the folks at Hulu don’t stay home and watch TV enough. If they did, they’d realize that nobody is going to sit through an hour-long drama on the notebook computer, even one of those swank 19-inch multimedia jobbies with cool speakers. Where does the viewer sit? In a desk chair for an hour with fingers poised at the keyboard? Maybe if you have wireless you watch it in bed until your neck cricks.

Or how about this: Just bring that flashy new Dell in front of the couch in the family room, and set it on top of the TV. Look, hon: A 19-inch color TV with no remote! Ain’t America great?

I know vast fortunes will rise and fall as investors try to figure out how to capture some of that YouTube fairy dust. But some pretty bright people seem to be confusing the technical ability to transmit video to computers with the desire to watch broadcast TV shows that way.

Note to Hulu: People aren’t deserting TV because they don’t like the device. They’re deserting because they like what’s “on” the computer better. By sticking your broadcast TV content on the web, you’re acting like that creepy-sad kid in high school who, after the girl breaks up with him, follows her around all day long hoping she’ll reconsider.

Dude: She’s just not that into you.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe these broadcasters really are onto something. They are, after all, big, successful corporations with decades of experience mastering the nuances of the American appetite for entertainment. Maybe their lurching attempts to press their decreasingly popular products onto the very people who have deserted them is not a fatal miscalculation.

I am certainly no expert on these things. For advice on these matters I turn, as I often do, to the Sage of Scranton:

a creative profess

how abou dampain?

ood luck Michael

Work at “The Office,” Virtually

25, October, 2007

If you’re a fan of the NBC program The Office because of its unsettling verisimilitude, you may be happy (or scared) to know you can sign up to work there.

DunderMifflinInfinity is the month-old online division of the cheerless paper concern, and a reported 100,000 people are now on the playroll (to coin a phrase). DMI has become a massive social network, a sort of FaceBook where nobody will “friend” Dwight, a Second Life for people underpaid in their first one.

NBC is really putting the online division to work. People apply to set up “branches” whose “employees” [no more quote marks, sorry] do various office tasks to make SchruteBucks. These are redeemed for virtual desk accessories. Branches compete for corporate’s attention.

The effort is led by Ryan Howard, the erstwhile Scranton salesguy, who is recast as a cruel corporate titan pushing the Infinity staff to higher and higher production.

This is fun stuff for fans, and one of the more inspired and original social networks built to support a TV program fan base. Alas, the site material is written by the junior varsity, and it lacks that unnerving je ne sais quois that makes the show so good.

As for user-generated stuff, it is–stop us if you’ve heard this one before–a mixed bag. Some branches get the joke more than others, as their videos show. Some employees are clearly drinking on the job (the bar party in Dundalk, Md., is highlit by one of the fans falling on her butt, and it does not appear to be staged). Some are guilty of not-funny office pranks, but some are hilarious tributes to the spirit of the show.

Oddly, if you apply to join, there may be a two-week wait before you are “hired” at a branch. It’s not clear if this is a failure in NBC’s to handle the site’s huge popularity, or whether it’s all part of the joke about DunderMifflin’s incompetence.

Unsettling verisimilitude indeed.

Al Gore vs. Drew Carey: Another Nail-Biter

17, October, 2007

What a curious synchronicity that the same day brings announcements about key politically motivated web moves by Nobel Prize winner Drew Carey and comedian Al Gore. No, wait, my mistake! That’s Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and comedian Drew Carey. Sorry.

Gore & Co. are relaunching their Emmy-winning cable/web operation,, to incorporate more user-generated content. Meanwhile, Carey & Co. are launching a libertarian video web channel, ReasonTV [; note funky “tv” domain].

Carey is clearly positioning himself as a right-wing Michael Moore: Another fat funny guy ranting against the stupidity of government, but from the other side of the red/blue chasm. As the French say, les extremes sont meme. I hope I’m doing that college French right.

[Conflict of interest revealed: Drew Carey and I lived in the same dorm together at Kent State University in 1975. He used to mimeograph jokes and post them in the bathroom and call it “The Urinal Journal.” Actually that’s not a conflict of interest at all, I just like to tell people about that.]

Let’s look at the two political broadcasting efforts and see who wins this race for the hearts and minds of America.

Mission statements “It’s about what’s going on, but as you’ve never seen it before. Your brain doesn’t come in boxes labeled NEWS and ENTERTAINMENT. Neither does the world.” “Welcome to, home of The Drew Carey Project and other great libertarian videos. Over the next few months we plan to bring you the latest, most compelling stories about freedom from all corners of the Internet, and we’ll be experimenting with new interactive content and features.”

Winner, in terms of clarity of mission: Drew Carey

Position on Political Spectrum Left, but doesn’t admit it Right, but admits it

Winner, in terms of intellectual honesty about political alignment: Drew Carey

Rhetorical Effectiveness Sophisticated, ecumenical exposition Fist-pounding, insistent propaganda

Winner, in terms of ability to connect with opposing forces: Al Gore

Diversity of Offerings Wide range of videos offering political commentary, professional mini-documentaries, personal expression and the usual goofy UGC Narrow range of issue-focused explainers and professionally produced, sort-of-funny Drew Carey explorations of libertarian anti-government screeds

Winner, in terms of diversity of offerings: Al Gore

Inexplicable Programming Decision Some UGC links lead to . . .articles, not video clips Brian Doherty on Milton Friedman

Winner, in terms of inexplicably bad content: Toss-up

Negative Campaigning “Carey That Weight”, a harshly critical video on Carey’s “weird and awkward” debut as host of The Price is Right. John Stossel book-tour speech that, in questioning the competence of government to do almost anything, complains the government “couldn’t even count the votes” in Presidential elections.

Winner, in terms of effectiveness of negative campaigning: Al Gore

Reach into Mainstream Broadcast via Current cable TV channel into 40 million homes The Price is Right, The Drew Carey Show reruns

Winner, in terms of mainstream reach: Drew Carey

Wow, wouldn’t you know it? Another race too close to call.

But if you add the votes of the Swedish Norwegian judges. . . Gore wins!

Let’s not even imagine the results if the Supreme Court were called in to break the tie.

Video Usability, Cont’d: The Descent of the Starlings

3, October, 2007

We have starlings in our backyard.

Anybody who has experience with this pest bird knows what an invasion means: acidic bird crap that can kill or eat all it touches, including trees, plants and concrete; a chalky, particulate stench that fills the air; the unspoken threat of omnipresent virulence; a wall of flapping and shrieking that, if you were actually able to sit outside, would obscure conversation; fear of nests in the attic, eaves and dryer vents; and, each dusk, the descent into trees of the flock as thick as a fury of bees but as big as the Hindenberg.

So a woman in my neighborhood (who, to protect her privacy, I will describe simply as “my wife”) goes online to see what we can do to relocate, dispatch or if necessary outright terminate the things.

Beginning with the obligatory Google search, she finds, 2/3 of the way down the first page, a link to an amateur video by a guy named Scott Fraser. She clicks it first. It conveys in 2:14 far more about the vulgarity (his phrase) of these birds than I could manage in the labored paragraph above.

Digging into text links we’ve developed a stategy, which involves balloons with big eye shapes on them, shiny metallic tape, laser pointers and paintball guns. (Hey, this is war, and they started it.)

But I digress. My point is that this starling clip is another example of how video can be deployed on the web with great effect, regardless of production quality, monetization strategies or snazzy distribution technologies. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’d say an informative, on-point video like this is worth at least several hundred thousand. (That would be a lousy web experience, but you get the idea.)

I mention this because I am beginning to fear that my position on web video–that it has value and commercial potential only to the extent its content is strong enough to overcome the truly lousy experience of viewing video on the web–is doomed. I fear I’m becoming like that famous dolt at IBM turned away Bill Gates and his little DOS program because the IBM guy didn’t think anybody would really want a personal computer. I’m beginning to suspect I’m on the wrong side of history here.

That may not shut me up for a while. But it does obligate me in fairness to point out a recent report, this one by, again demonstrating how quickly people are (or appear to be) adopting web video viewing habits.

From the press release:

Study results indicate that the majority of consumers are viewing video online, at 62 percent of survey respondents. Contrary to popular opinion, these viewers are not just young adults viewing user-generated videos; in fact, most (69 percent) are ages 35 and older with a preference for viewing news clips online.

Now this report, by an ad agency trying to puff up the video advertising business, is comically self-interested and its findings likely biased. Still, it adds another gram of weight to the possiblity that those who believe video will take over the web are right and I am fatally wrong.

This is unlikely to change my public stance on the future of web video for some time, of course. When facts begin to accumulate to one’s disfavor, the only reasonable response is to deny them, cling to whatever fragments of data support one’s thesis, and generally get more shrill and insistent. I apologize in advance for this behavior.

Or perhaps I can direct a flock of starlings in the opponents’ direction and hope for the best.