Content blunderbuss hits everything but the target

We humans have been sending signals out into space in the hope that, one day,
aliens will pick them up and respond to us. As far as I know, the results have
been precisely nil.

This thought popped into my head following a visit to the Office 2.0
conference in San Francisco. The event was billed as “an experiment aimed at
discovering the future of online productivity and collaboration”.

Everything possible is put online ­ go to if you’re interested.
The website contains details of attendees, the suppliers, the conference
sessions, blog posts, comments and videos, which were posted within minutes of
the end of each session.

The site contains so much stuff that you might think a visit to the event
itself would be unnecessary. The organiser’s gamble was that delegates would
extract most of their value from the face-to-face opportunities. And the
organiser would be right. That sort of thing cannot be replicated on a website.
Some of us added content, but it’s unlikely that much of it was read.

Which brings me back to the aliens. At the risk of jumbling my metaphors, I
have to say that certain kinds of social media are little more than foghorns
booming out just in case a passing ship needs them.

Twitter, Facebook, blogs, wikis, videoblogs, podcasts ­ – you name them. They
can be an utter waste of time. Or, of course, they can be useful. It depends
entirely on their quality and their relevance to the reader/listener. (Perhaps
the aliens are receiving but simply don’t find us interesting.)

Because the check-in for my flight home meant missing the closing session, I
decided to catch up by watching the video of event organiser, Ismael Ghalimi. My
heart sank when I saw that the video was 49 minutes long. Somewhere in that 49
minutes was bound to be something useful to me, but where?

I jumped ahead to 15 minutes from the end. Good call. Before talking about
plans for next year (all good, by the way) Ghalimi was waxing lyrical about

A video platform company called Veodia had recorded and uploaded conference
sessions and other mini-videos from the event. Ghalimi’s basic observation was
that video is a more engaging form of communication and is easier to create than
writing well-crafted English. He also believes that people don’t have the time
or patience to read blogs and that communicating ideas with video is more

Wow. There’s a whole load of assumptions there.

For a start, with the written word, you can see at a glance whether you want
to continue reading. You can pluck out the bits that interest you or simply move
on. And it’s easy to search.

A long and unembellished video recording, on the other hand, is a gamble. You
have to risk a slab of your time and patience ­ the very things that videos are
supposed to sidestep ­ that you will find something worthwhile.

If index marks are added with comments and overlays, the video becomes more
navigable, more obviously valuable and more likely to be viewed. But, it has to
be said, adding this kind of metadata would probably require more effort than
would writing a decent blog in the first place.

However, Stanford University was showing off some courseware at the event and
one of the more interesting ideas was that students themselves could annotate
videos with their own observations. Viewers could filter by date, commenter and
so on. This points the way to an even richer use of video in future.

When advocates of technology speak of ease of creation, be very wary. It
could lead to the alien problem of masses of information but little interest.
The far more important consideration is ease of consumption.

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