When Video Doesn’t Work

The only part of Arthus v. Old People that didn’t bore me was this comment from Doug Belshaw, where Doug a) dropped video commentary, b) summarized the video commentary in text, and c) inadvertently made the case I tried to make in my first vodcast, that video is sometimes – more often than not, really – used inappropriately.

Video through Seesmic is uneditable and unindexable. You can’t search it and, while your mileage will vary with your reading speed, I made my way through Doug’s three text points in one-fifth the video’s time, due in large part to conversational tics which are simple to elide in text but impossible to compress with Seesmic.

Doug says this adds personality and I can’t bring myself to disagree completely. In an e-mail exchange (posted with permission) he expanded:

It’s that personable element. We’re people, not robots at the end of
the day, and it’s nice to inject some human qualities into a

I don’t think the well-written word is necessarily less human than video, but Doug’s point is taken. The question is then: is personable video worth the cost.

Mr. K, in a comment, says no:

in the time it takes to speak one sentence, i can read about 4 or 5. the data throughput for text is much higher than for voice.

i can also tune my comprehension level while i’m reading – if it’s of moderate interest, i skim quickly. if it’s thick and intellectual, i slow down and ruminate on it.

not only is reading higher bandwidth, it’s adaptive.

you can’t do that in video.

My summer of video (seven of ten episodes completed so far) has left me a lot to push around in my head. I’m filtering the VidSnacks tagline (“Video is the language of the 21st century.”) through the fact that an average dy/av installment catches a third the eyeballs of an average dy/dan post, and the whole thing seems more naïve than it did the last time.

Video is a language which few people communicate well and even fewer care to hear.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Had to get that out of my system. Now I’m off to catch a boat. Can I get someone to water my begonias while I’m away?

  2. Darn you.

    I was crafting a post on this, once I was done with this high stress Europe trip.

    Short version: I get information better from text than from video or a spoken presentation. My kids, however, are quite clearly not me. Even if I don’t dive into video, there are some lessons to be learned here.

  3. I complely agree on this. Video is almost never the best medium unless there are reasons that both audio *and* imagery are needed. Just as you noted about the difficulty increases over the media progression, so should the requirements for considering it.

    1) The first option should always be text
    2) If text doesn’t work, try audio
    3) If audio doesn’t work, try video

    I also want to make a final point on why video is far more cumbersome, beyond the poor throughput and customization: it is very hard to reference. When you are responding to something, or simply trying to do something with it later, it is hard to very quickly jump to the section you want (you have to pan through the whole thing until you get to it).

  4. You’re absolutely correct from an efficiency point of view, Dan. Sometimes, as you note above, it’s important to get across more than just the idea: the emotion, the feeling behind one’s sentiments are easily shown through video.

    Whilst, yes, this can be done by gifted writers, there comes a point (like the debate in question) where you need to remind everyone that the words represent a real live person with real live emotions and opinions.

  5. Doug, I don’t think the fact that video is more “personable” (which it barely is) really justifies the decrease in efficiency and scanability. How does someone sitting in an ill-lit room and talking in a monotone voice show more emotion or feeling than just writing the same words? It would be justifiable if the speaker was dynamic and was heavily vested in sharing their opinion emotionally. This means the person should really be *doing* something other than sitting there and talking. Unless you’re going to use imagery wisely, don’t use it at all.

    I loathe the idea of more people adopting comment threads where unedited video is used to make points which could much more effectively be made with text. There’s a time and place for videos: comment threads isn’t it.

  6. Appreciate your link, Tom, both as a teacher of writing and as a person/blogger who is certainly to be blamed for hitting ‘post’ too quickly many times over.

    His line about “if you took more time carefully writing/editing” (paraphrased) certainly lands on many fronts, especially when he follows by reminding all that this is the first time in history that one’s writing can be read immediately by millions…which just might make us spend a bit more time in the writing trenches before we fire up the video entries.

    I’ll let the rest of the gang handle the video-specific side of things.

  7. Video and audio files are slow. I read really really fast.

    Plus the sound is disturbing to others. So I have to dig out the headphones from somewhere.

    It’s not often that videos on blogs reward the effort. Easier to go somewhere else.

  8. @Arthus: I absolutely agree that unedited video shouldn’t be used as a default option. I just wouldn’t bother with the comments section if that were the case.

    It is, however, great to have the option of adding a video comment. For example, in our debate on my blog post, I thought it important to show that I’m a real person with all the humanity that entails before things got even more polarised.

    There’s other opportunities for it too – for example to demonstrate procedures. If someone had a question when I was making my Wiimote Whiteboard Infra-Red pen, for example, it would have been quicker to quickly show via video than laboriously type out via text.

    In short, horses for courses. It’s good to have the option, but it shouldn’t be abused (as I think we’ve all said) :-)

  9. @Doug: Unedited video should *never* be an option for comments. The use case is so limited that if a commenter really needs video that badly, they should be able to go through the “effort” of uploading it to YouTube.

    The worst part is the “unedited” part: video can be effective, but only when done right. To do video right without any mastering, you must be a master, and the average commenter is anything but.

    For the record, I don’t think putting your same arguments into a video added one iota to the discussion which couldn’t be written instead.

    If you give an option, you can safely assume someone will abuse it. It should never be an option for people to inflict pain upon others.

  10. @Arthus: I find it bizarre that you’re arguing against diversity and choice in the edublogosphere. Isn’t that exactly opposite to the position you took in the comments section to said blog post?

    Perhaps the video of me didn’t add anything to your conception of me and my ideas, but it was certainly enlightening to actually see you.

    You’re probably absolutely right about people abusing video, but the answer isn’t to stop them using it, but to demonstrate good practice and how to use it effectively. I’m certainly not saying that I did so in the example we’re discussing, but I’m all for the appropriate use of video. :-)

  11. @Doug: Give me a break.

    In that blog post, the issue was discrimination against people, not a medium. There is a huge difference between saying you want text comments and saying you only want comments from people over 18.

    Besides, this does *not* keep people from using video. They have the choice to do so by uploading it to YouTube or another site and then linking to it in the comments.

    My biggest gripe with Seesmic is that there is no editing functionality. Yes, we should let people work with video. But that doesn’t mean we should make it easy to produce poor quality video.

    For the record, I think when video is done well it has a lot of power. Unfortunately, most video isn’t done anywhere close to well.

  12. I’m going to ask a naive question, because I’m possibly not tuned into the ed-blogosophere as I need to be… but:


    If we’re talking about (making and) showing video clips in the classroom, are there examples of what everyone is so concerned about? I’ve lost being grounded in this discussion. It all seems pretty much in the air for me.

    Clearly we’re not debating the merits of a video like this (which I think we could all agree is pretty educationally valueless):


    But are there actual examples anywhere of what kinds of video this whole discussion is based on? I feel somewhat sheepish asking this, but better to ask than to remain ignorant…

    PS. Have fun on your trip to wherever Dan! Huzzah! Gotta love summer…

  13. Thanks Arthus. (It’s Sam, by the way.) I actually read that page and its comments earlier today when I read Dan’s post. I guess I might have misinterpreted Dan’s post entirely.

    I thought he was talking about the benefits & cons of using videos as teaching tools in the classroom… and he was just using those videos from the comment section as further evidence for his more general conclusions that he made earlier in dy/av.

  14. @arthus at the risk of sounding like a teacher, allow me to suggest that your vehemence on this issue may, in fact, have something to do with the fact that Doug Belshaw is the commenter.

  15. @Chris: Sound like a teacher isn’t necessarily a bad thing. :)

    Even if it was you, or Christian, in the comments making those points I would still vehemently be opposing it. I have never been a fan of the blatant overuse of video and will always argue for the proper use, even if it is my best friend who is abusing it.