Chris Roberts

Don't give up on the Written Word

• Posted in Technology

I'm always interested to watch how new technologies and media are adopted by the Internet as a whole. The web has quickly progressed from pages of plain text to include support for images, various formats of audio file, video clips and even 3D worlds (remember VRML?).

As the availability of bandwidth has been increasing at an outstanding rate, so has the availability of video on the web. Website providers are practically falling over themselves to pour video content down the throats of their visitors. As I type this post I am catching up on some missed TV programmes courtesy of the BBC iPlayer.

Increasingly, content providers are making the transition to providing video based content in preference to more traditional, text and image based content. One noticeable example is the prevalence of video based tutorials.

I'm always keen to learn new skills - particularly when it comes to programming. I've noticed that as I search for tutorials and information about new technologies, I'm getting more and more links to 'screen-casts' and video based content.

In case it's escaped the notice of the people who are publishing this content, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind them that humans are generally very good at reading. We're so good at it, in fact, that we've even developed an entirely new way of reading, especially for the Internet!

When reading more 'traditional' tutorial based web pages, our ability to quickly scan for information of interest allows us to not only determine whether or not the content is going to be of any use, but also allows us to skip to the exact piece of detail we're looking for.

Given the volume of information available, this skill is an essential way of getting through your average day. Imagine what would happen if you had to read, in detail, every page you visited from a single search in Google before you could work out whether or not the page contained the information you needed!

By publishing content in video form, you're denying your visitors the opportunity to use their page-scanning super powers to drill down into the meat of your content. You are effectively drip feeding your content, one word at a time into their minds with no visibility of what's ahead.

But what about the fast-forward buttons and the timeline controls that you can drag around to see what's coming up? Well, these may help - but they are still nowhere near as effective as the ability to use your peripheral vision.

Try it out for yourself - cut a small hole in the middle of a piece of paper and hold it over the first word of a book. Then, move the piece of paper around to reveal the words one at a time. Sure - you can move that piece of paper around as fast as you like, but it'll still take forever to find the information you're looking for!

In short, this is just another instance of good technology being used for the wrong thing. Video definitely has its place on the Internet. I'd much rather watch an episode of The Sopranos than read the script! But - I'd always rather read a programming tutorial than watch one!