OK, I officially don’t get it. Don’t get all this talk about how online video is the next big thing. Perhaps more accurately I do get it, but don’t understand why so many bright and well connected folks don’t seem to understand that there is a very important challenge with video that makes it far less significant of an online force than most of the early adopters seem to understand. Online video has a role to play in the information landscape, but it’s not nearly as significant as many seem to think.
Here’s a BBC story about the very clever Loic Lemeur and his clever SEESMIC project. We’ll see more of these stories over the next few years as mainstream press slowly figures out that the early adopter online community is very enthusiastic about videos, video blogging, and pretty much any moving pictures that you can pump online. Seesmic is a combination of video and community and thus offers the killer combo if you buy into the idea that the online world is going to revolve primarily around two key components: social networking and video.
I’m very skeptical. Not about the internet, which continues to rule. Not about social media, which clearly has become and will remain a key driver of online life. The internet has always been about people far more than technology, and the best definition of “Web 2.0″ is an internet driven primarily by people and their needs rather than technology and its constraints. But I’m very skeptical about online video, and I think the early commercial challenges of companies like RocketBoom, PodTech, and YouTube are an indication that it is very difficult to build a business or a community around video, let alone create a highly profitable environment that will drive future innovation in this space.
The biggest single challenge to video is obvious but overlooked by most of the sharp folks I see working that angle: Most video clips are very boring. Unlike a wordy blog entry you can quickly scan for the quick info buzz, and unlike pictures which you can review at the speed of an eye blink, with a video blog entry of video clip you’ll need to pay a lot of attention, and take up much of your attention span to glean the nugget or two of interesting content you’ll be lucky to find.
Video online enthusiasts often agree with this, but then suggest the answer will be better video indexing services - applications that chop up the video into dialog chunks or “ideas” that are then indexed and easy to search and easier to surf. Sure, that is an improvement, but if I want the goods I’d rather have a transcript and/or a few still pictures than a video any day, because unless you are a very slow reader a transcript is going to be easier to deal with efficiently than a video.
So, is there any room for video online? Of course, it’ll continue as a major force for cheap little entertainment bits and perhaps even could become a minor social force as tech enthusiasts use tools like SEESMIC to communicate in a more robust and intimate fashion than you can do with writing. However the lack of monetization potential combined with the fact that 99.99% of all video clips will bore to tears means that ultimately video will NOT create the kind of sea change in internet focus many have been waiting for.
In fact, the video revolution is so boring it’s not even online yet, and it may never be.