Wed, 08 Jul 09

Conversing with Video

I know several “conversationists”. I refer not to people who can make small-talk with anyone, anywhere about anything. The conversationists think of the Internet as being a vast infrastructure for conversations.

And truly, that’s how it all began. Literate, word-savvy graduate students interfacing with each other through text. Wielding the knives of satire and sarcasm while burning the ether with flame wars.

On the Internet, no one knows you are a dog

To a large extent, today’s bloggers and twitterers carry on this tradition, albeit with better business savvy and slightly larger egos. Many of them know the power of images and deploy them to great effect.

Clearly, there is a huge difference in impact between reading a comment on some nameless text-only forum (or worse, a rendering of a forum in  one of your favorite client) vs reading it in a  controlled space. Despite the atavistic tradition of feed readers, blogs reinforce weight and authority through a hundred and one subtleties around choice of domain, layout, theme, content focus as well as through stats widgets, comment areas and ancillary businesses.

So, the context and the nature of the medium changes the message. It doesn’t require reading Marshall McLuhan to arrive at this notion. (But he is a great read, and I highly recommend reading his books on media theory)

Expounding an idea on camera is very different from writing it up. Different skills, different mind-set, different self-image. Even the most personable and persuasive talkers are careful to release video speeches with a specific context. And popular shows around conversations are moderated and involve personalities that are already well known.

And in its reception, video is even more different. In text, our training and education has taught us to project and receive disembodied thoughts across a narrow, low-bandwidth channel and carefully process it in isolation of many kinds of biases.

But in receiving video, with more senses involved, we open up side-band channels analyzing body language, facial expressions, voice intonation, gestures and more. Stereotypes are reinforced, preconceived notions brought in. We like sound bites and so we get  man on the street interviews.

So here is an idea for mass video conversations. Go with the flow. Forget reasoned debates and everyone getting fair play.

Instead provide dumb tools to create sound bites and smart post-processing to generate a mob around sloganeering. It will be more entertaining and satisfying than the previous attempt at video conversations.

Wed, 08 Jul 09