Wednesday, July 20, 2011


A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript,...Image via Wikipedia
When I wrote yesterday about the efficiency of text in communicating ideas and concepts my primary motivation was to point out that no matter what medium is used, everything boils down to ideas that can be most efficiently represented by a finite number of words that take up much less space than video, images or audio. I think this is one of the reasons that audio blogging never took off the way many people expected it to. Audio BLOG's are difficult to search through and the information density just isn't as high as good old text.

Video arguably has taken seen more success but I'm not convinced the level is as impressive as some would claim. It's true that Videos very low information to byte density makes it an increasingly large percentage of total network utilization but one factoid I heard at Cisco Live 2011 put the amount of video uploaded to YouTube per minute at forty eight hours. That really underwhelms me. How many BLOG postings do we see in an average minute? I don't have any stats but I'm betting it would take a lot more than forty eight hours to read one minute of BLOG posting output.

I'm not trying to convince anyone that audio or video are bad. I've found a lot of value in both when they are done well. What I am pointing out is that in spite of all the hype, particularly for video; text is still the most efficient means of expressing ideas and concepts.

Video draws us in though as we are programmed by many years of our ancestors living out in the wild to constantly be looking for and assessing motion. When we go to a web site and a video starts playing somewhere on our screen we can't help but look at it; and that is what advertisers count on and a big part of the reason for videos popularity. That small video ad is going to be 99.99% of the total bandwidth of just about any web page in spite of the fact that it will in most cases be a tiny fraction of the total information delivered. From a revenue perspective though that ratio is totally flipped. Video advertising is a big chunk of the revenue pie for any site that employs it.

Moving pictures have entranced us since their invention more than a century ago and that isn't going to change. Stories told with words, whether written or spoken have entranced us for a lot longer though and I think it would be a mistake to forget that fact.

I'm not really a Luddite, but I do occasionally play one on the Internet.
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Hi Mike,

    I've heard that statistic about YouTube uploads, and I remember having a different reaction to it. The apparent ease with which YouTube handles that kind of load on their servers fascinated a non-IT guy like myself. Viewing that statement from the perspective of the overall efficiency of delivering a message, as you have, is an interesting take on that statistic. I agree that, in this regard, text remains the most efficient.

    I think that each form of communication you mentioned - text, audio, and video, have uses that make sense for the content. I had this discussion on one of the EA boards this week. When I have an idea, I decide which format best conveys the information and I go with it. People have definite preferences in how they consume media, so I cater to the different audiences. For the most part, I don't embed my YouTube videos into blog posts for that reason. Visitors to my blog are interested in text, not videos. I'm dabbling with introducing audio to my blog, but only as a complementary component, leaving text as the primary media found there.

    As for the sites that autoplay video, they don't grab my attention, as I'm prone to flee a site that launches anything automatically.


  2. Ray,
    I see what you're saying. I was kind of stumbling around trying to figure out what I was saying in this one. Based on your comment I think at least in part that I was feeling uncomfortable with the implied (or imagined) implication that text is somehow becoming obsolete or that video is the best possible form of communication.

    I agree with you that at least in part the best format depends the information you are trying to convey. I think another important factor is where the expected audience is most likely to be. People driving need audio for instance.

    My wife and I just got back from the final Harry Potter movie. That story was done originally in book form, then in audio and finally in video. All have their merits but the original text of the books is by far the most space efficient way that the story got conveyed. Along with the audio books it's also the most detailed. I've never read the books and I can tell from watching the movies that there are a lot of details that are either left out or glossed over very quickly. I enjoyed every one of the films but I'm going to make time to read the books at some point so I can get the authors full story.