Matrix meets Teletubbies

August 26, 2007

ITube! YouTube! We All Tube @ YouTube!

What a waste of time. YouTube is the Nu TV. How can we be so socially inept in an online world full of opportunities? Can’t these kids learn python instead of spending countless hours on YouTube? The promise of sharing has turned into a promise of “check this out, dude!”. In just one click! Somebody must have a patent on “an apparatus for one-click check-this-out-dude”. I am surprised nobody has invented the YouTube Remote yet…

Online time-wasting has expanded from its traditional form to its latest incarnation: moving pictures. The transition went unnoticed: the contemporary brain handles moving pictures well. Its primary goal: escapism. Netizen’s neuron topologies trigger signals promoting new and improved flavors of escapism. Online drooling. Online giggling. It is Matrix meets Teletubbies.

Video content makes the reader stop and pay attention. Web browsing isn’t like antiquing: you are one click away from another location and there’s so much online junk that netizens move fast. Yet, we tend to stop when we see moving pictures. Video content provides a multisensory experience that we enjoy. Moving pictures are still a new ingredient in the web browsing experience. Yes, we are still far from a fully interactive online experience, probably because we are as socially inept online as we are in real-life. This clearly isn’t only a technical issue: humane user interfaces were born almost 10 years ago. It’s mainly a social issue.

So instead of making this a better world by writing python code (shame on you!), here you are “surfin’ the web”. You land on a Killer Tart-Up home page. Instead of the usual “Welcome to Easy Product 2.0! My Mom can use Easy Product 2.0! Everybody at the beauty parlor is talking about Easy Product 2.0!” schpiel, you get a video. The video kicks in, without asking your permission. Your brain goes “whoa, something to chew on!” and you let your index finger be for a few seconds. The mouse button cools down a bit. Then, it suddenly happens. Enter “Easy Mascot 2.0” telling you everything you wanted to know about Easy Product 2.0 but never dared to ask. That’s when you start drooling 2.0 and giggling 2.0.

As much as I find these techniques almost insulting, they are not necessarily evil nor stupid. They are interesting because (when properly implemented) they manage to tell you the essence of Easy Product 2.0 in less than a minute. You end up knowing enough about the product before you even get to actually see the real thing. You even learn how to use it! From the content producer’s perspective, producing this content is a valuable exercise: you have to prove how easy Easy Product 2.0 actually is. In one minute. If you have a hard time producing such content, you have a serious problem. It means that you have to go back to a pub and start doodling ideas on napkins, because Easy Product 2.0 actually isn’t.

An example of a job well done is Google Map’s Street View video. Street View is one of Google’s most technologically advanced online products. It probably scares the average netizen. Google Fights The Future(tm) by adopting the Matrix Meets Teletubbies recipe, producing an impressive minute-and-a-half video that you can share with your Net Dudes™ (infringing that hopefully-fictitious one-click check-this-out-dude patent). Google does a particularly good job at delivering a humane interface on top of its amazing technology, and this video works. Chapeau!

While sentient 2.0 agents drool on YouTube videos, what’s a blind agent or user supposed to do with moving pictures? How do you make the content accessible? Are we going to start a new Video Embed Cage Match ensuring that embedded videos degrade gracefully? Are we going to hear conversations on Unobtrusive Videos at Starbucks©®™? A <vid> tag anyone? If video was a first-citizen in HTML… if Google Image Labeler was extended to video… in a frame-by-frame basis… if YouTube maintained all the metadata found in movies (IPTC, custom metadata, Cozimo annotations, etc.)… maybe our socially inept moving-pictures environment would become a bit less inept. Maybe it’s already the case and I’m not aware of it, probably because it’s all explained somewhere in a video hosted in YouTube… 😉

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