Online Video: Where’s the Interactivity?

April 8, 2008

Video on the web is a great thing. It’s hard to overestimate the importance and joy of instant access to ever-growing libraries of both professional and user generated content. There’s something for everyone and the quality of delivery continues to rapidly improve. But something’s missing: where’s the interactivity?

Internet video today is largely just one big VOD service. You can argue that’s interactivity, (and right you are) but, I mean, is that it? A typical web page is much more “multimedia” than web video. Web pages typically have some combination of text, pictures, links, interactive AJAX forms, advertising, RSS, e-commerce, etc. Video, by comparison, is a monomedia (just made that up). You can watch it, but it’s largely cordoned off from the web.

Why is that? Probably many reasons, but how about this one: video has one dimension you don’t find on web pages: time. A web page is a pretty static experience: all those media elements there for you to look at in any order you want. Video by comparison is a linear journey over a fixed period of time designed by the creator of the video. It’s a much more guided experience.

But what if video could interact with the other media types on the web? How would it be different? Whatever the interactivity is would need to address the time dimension. Sounds like interactive TV right? The saga of iTV is a long and grisly story of failure I won’t go into here.  But hope abides.  Many have sought to add interactivity to web video (notably: overlays, conversations enabled by Seesmic, commenting tools like viddler and overlay.tv).  The Internet is the most promising medium for interactive video, but unless you can synchronize parts of the video to the media types available to the simplest web pages, video will remain for the most part a lean-back experience on a lean-forward medium.

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