I love my iPad. One of the reasons I love it is that it’s a great device for watching video. Some mainstream media integrate video very nicely into their iPad applications. However, it seems that all this slickness comes at a price: The conversation with the people formerly known as the audience is often non-existent. It seems that the potentially-messy-but-genuine conversation with
the community is being shifted to Facebook and Twitter.

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The iPad (and similar products) is potentially a disruptive device, empowering people to publish not just blog posts or status updates but also their own books and magazines, as the example of Flipboard (left) demonstrates. There is a danger, however, that traditional media won’t understand this and will revert to its old ways by producing slick end products that broadcast without actually engaging in a conversation.

You can see this tendency at work online in the videos produced by newspapers. Yes, you can (often) embed their videos, share them on Twitter and Facebook and via email. But often you can’t participate in a discussion about the video. Sometimes you can’t even leave a comment. Too little effort is being made to evaluate and integrate interactive and community aspects into video.

For example, have a look at the impressive video production on WSJ.com. The videos are well done, but the integration of community interactivity is underwhelming. We’re struggling with this at my own newspaper as well, but we’re in the process of applying some of the solutions I suggest below.

10 Suggestions

In order to help media organizations do a better job of making video interactive, here are 10 suggestions for integrating video into a wider discussion with the community.

  1. Enable people to leave comments on a video. What I often see on YouTube, however, is that the producer or uploader of the videos do not participate in the discussion. The same rules apply here as for text articles: If you don’t respond to comments, there is a risk that people will consider the comments to be akin to graffiti on a blank wall, and not participate.
  2. When interviewing colleagues or experts in a video, provide a back-channel so the audience can chat along and add to the discussion. For example, Livestream.com and Ustream.tv offer a chat and social stream next to the live video. Ustream also does this rather well in its iPhone App.
  3. It’s also possible to integrate video into a text-chat module, such as the previously discussed CoverItLive. A word of caution: Most people are not good at being a talking head on video while simultaneously chatting — it tends to give clumsy and boring results. So let the live video host focus on her job.
  4. The same rules apply as for a regular chat session: It helps to have a fixed schedule for conversational sessions, and to provide an introductory article or post to provide context and discussion material, thus enabling people to ask questions in advance and to prepare for the discussion.
  5. You can invite community members to have a video conversation by using their webcams to appear directly on camera. I’ve done some experiments with Seesmic video and will note that some psychological and technical barriers stand in the way of doing this well. Which means we need more experimentation.
  6. Especially when it comes to local news coverage, it could be interesting to invite your community members to contribute their own videos. In my previous post about immersive journalism, I mentioned Stroome as an interesting platform for collaborative video editing.
  7. You can easily build a virtual studio in Second Life and invite guests to participate in a live discussion with an audience of avatars/community members. Second Life enables you to combine audio (for host and guests) and chat (for the audience/community members), and a video stream all in one. You can do this for guests who would be hard to convince to come in person to your newsroom for a live discussion. To see this in action, have a look at the Metanomics show. You can find other related practices in the aforementioned immersive journalism post and the comments on that post.
  8. Do not underestimate the importance of text. It could be interesting to have three live streams: 1) The live video stream of an interview; 2) the chat channel; and 3) a live blog. The live blog enables people who missed the live event to quickly find out what the chat was about. During the event it helps those who are hearing impaired, or who are in office settings and can’t watch the video.
  9. A very simple but effective technique is to announce a video interview in advance and to ask the community for input in terms of questions or topics for discussion. This seems very straightforward, but it’s mindboggling how reluctant journalists are to ask the community for input.
  10. Along the same lines, there are many ways to ask for help when preparing for a video interview: You could use a wiki, a collaborative mindmap, or let people vote for the best questions. But in my opinion the good old blog post does a great job because it’s conversational and not technologically intimidating. Just explain what your intentions are for the interview, what the context is (as you would do for your newsroom colleagues), and ask people to react. A follow-up in the video or in a separate blog post would be nice. Be sure to mention which community questions made it into the interview — and make sure you tell your guest when a question comes directly from the community.

Those are my ideas. Please share your own suggestions for turning video into a community experience below in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L’Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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