Vlogs not there yet, but keep watching
There's a new kid on the blog who is taking Web communications — and ultimately the way we communicate — in a compelling direction...
Special to The Seattle Times
There's a new kid on the blog who is taking Web communications — and ultimately the way we communicate — in a compelling direction.
I'm talking about the video Web log — vlog for short. The potential for vlogs has existed since the late-1990s advent of blogging itself. But only with the growth in fast Internet connections and the willingness of Internet service providers to host fat video files for a reasonable fee has vlogging become practical for general users. Don't enter the world of vlogs expecting TV-like quality or anything near it. Still, vlogs bear watching (in more ways than one) for a couple of reasons.
If you hold your iPod up next to your monitor while playing one of the better vlogs, Rocketboom, you will see how little difference in form factor exists between Internet video and an iPod-like video device. You're watching a tiny square on a big screen — why not watch it on a little screen?
Critics who downplay portable video rightly point out that no one wants to watch movies or even TV shows on a handheld device. But a vlog, a family video clip, a travelogue and countless other short, manageable videos will work on the small screen.
Vlogs also could help spur user-interface improvements in BitTorrent, a powerful technology for sharing big files on the Web that is still too hard to configure and use for most people.
If video becomes as easy to handle as an e-mail attachment or Web-page download, it will free creative folks everywhere to do innovative things.
In the best of all worlds, vlogs could help drive video standardization on the Web, where multiple formats are a real nuisance. Some providers are said to be working on a vanilla video streamer that accepts all formats. It would be easier just to have a single open format similar to MP3 for music, but that hasn't happened yet (MP4 being the most promising).
Vlogs also are significant for upcoming generations used to processing nearly all their information on a screen or monitor. They'll undoubtedly take video into new arenas not even conceived of yet.
If you believe privacy geeks who met in Seattle last week at a Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference, real-time video feeds using tiny portable cameras and wireless Internet connections will serve causes from personal security to new forms of journalism.
For now, vlogs remain a largely idiosyncratic and frustrating medium. Rocketboom features an appealing host, Amanda Congdon (check out her Austin dance tour), but wears thin after a few watchings.
Amateur vlogs (if that isn't a redundancy), like their blog cousins, suffer too much from "vlogghorea" (aimless rambling face-on into a camera). A vlog so far is a one- or two-person operation, using a single (often fixed) camera.
As for editing ... well, dream on.
Anyone who has suffered through the travails of video production even on a two-minute home clip knows how much more of a commitment video represents over text.
Producing a minute or two of readable prose is a snap compared with an equivalent-length video. You have to shoot the clip, transfer it to the PC, edit it, edit the soundtrack, save it and then post it on the Web. Even when crudely done, it's a life.
Still, tools are improving all the time. Apple's recently upgraded iMovie HD automates many tedious video tasks with its Magic iMovie feature.
A Yahoo group on videoblogging helps steer video newbies to appropriate tools and features lively discussions.
Vlog hosting services are popping up, with Google, Yahoo! and others said to be looking into offering vlogs.
Photography is exploding on cellphones and handhelds such as iPod Photo.
No one foresaw the boom in audio, or how podcasting and satellite radio would amplify it even more.
Video is headed down the same yellow brick road, awaiting only the right Oz to show the way.
Paul Andrews is a freelance technology writer and co-author of "Gates." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified a Yahoo! group on videoblogging as a Web site.