Long Blogging Break

February 3, 2011

Yes, that really was quite the haitus.  The inspiration to come back is that I’ve been thinking of a series of blog posts on how to make interactive video successful.  What attributes is it of the video itself or of what you add to it that makes it work, and work better than either alone.  I think there’s a formula – a set of guidelines, and if you stray too far the interest won’t be there.  I have a bunch of individual guidelines thought out in a vague way, but I’ll be putting pen to paper soon to explore why efforts like ABC’s interactive My Generation didn’t work, and where interactivity will thrive.  Should be fun.


The term interactive television has awful connotations: failed, expensive experiments by media companies, klunky, slow, simplistic interfaces on set-top boxes, kludgy two-screen interfaces. Despite some wonderful efforts (Who Wants to be a Millionaire comes to mind), television is just not the right medium for interactivity. But the web is. Are media companies convinced that interactive video is dead because of these bad executions? You’d think so because now that we have a truly interactive medium and standardized interface, we’re not seeing much interactive video content from the media. I may be biased, but I think this will change soon and huge.

Of course you can’t. You can only get a first impression, and first impressions are powerful. It’s fairly obvious that these are just the author’s initials. It’s not a bad graphic to put on the cover. But really, he’s had these initials his whole life – he knows how this could be interpreted. Now I’m going to read this book because it looks like fun, but I can’t help thinking there’s a hint here to take this (nonfiction) story with a grain of salt.

Virgin America is in beta.  On our flight back from San Francisco, we couldn’t find a working power outlet, the satellite signal routinely broke (it didn’t work at my seat at all on our way out, and there are many features of the “Red” interactive service just not working yet.  But these are small complaints.  Virgin is embarked on a bold, user-centric rethinking of air-travel, and I’m sure they’ll overcome the problems.  I’m rooting for them.

An article in The Financial Times points to the growing criticism of the peer review process.  If you don’t know, peer simply review means that specialists in the field determine what research gets funded and what results get published.  The problem is these peers have agendas, egos, vested interests and jealousies that add up to make scientific research, innovation, and discovery itself political.  And when politics and science meet, science always loses.   We need to find ways to encourage and incentivize challenges to orthodoxy.  That’s why the  Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is creating a new grant process that bypasses peer review, and scientists are increasingly publishing directly to online outlets like “Case Reports.”  These are encouraging developments which should be praised and supported.

I Love Slingbox

June 13, 2008

We’re in San Francisco, and the Yankees played at Oakland last night.  Inexplicably, the hotel TV didn’t carry the game, so we watched from our cable back in New York.  The Yankees won 4-1.

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.