Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why do people think a 19th century format will dominate the Web?

YouTube's Chad Hurley posted an essay this afternoon on the future of the Internet. Like many other people, he supposes that video will be the dominant technology in ten years' time.

There certainly is a lot to say for this view, starting with the fact that video is growing exponentially as video cameras come down in price and more people get broadband Internet connections. But at the same time, it seems remarkably short-sighted: After all, video was invented in the 1930s, and mimics an even older format -- film -- which first gained traction in the 1890s. Despite ratings systems, overlaid advertisements, and Internet embedding and syndication technologies, most online video is basically a static, one-way communications experience. In my reaction on the Internet Standard (which was based on my last grad school paper), I made the following observations:
For Web video, interactivity is limited to tangential content -- the text links in the navigation column, the comment field below the Flash video player, the icon-based ratings systems, and the offsite commentary on blogs and discussion boards. The video itself has none of these features. Objects on the video screen are not linked. An audience member cannot easily reshoot it, to make it more to his or her liking. What the viewer sees depends upon whatever lit subject or scenery passed in front of the lens, and whatever creative choices the people controlling the camera and editing the footage decided to apply. Yes, there are some encouraging experiments with online video -- overlay-style ads and links spring to mind -- but these do not change the linear character of video.
I went on to write that moving imagery on the Web will be dominated by 3D, computer-generated environments, not video. Will it be the dominant Web technology in 2018? Maybe not, but it will certainly be a competitor for video-based news and entertainment.

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