Do you prefer Video Blogging or Vloging? How about plain old Online Video. Maybe calling it Online Television gives you a little credibility. Or perhaps it’s better to call it Video Podcasting. But using the term Pod might see you being visited by a team of lawyers from Apple. Quick, come up with something new…maybe, Netcasting.

These are among the many names that are being used – sometimes interchangeably – when people talk and write about distributing video on the Internet. While it may be argued that debate over these terms is futile and eventually it will just “work itself out” and we’ll decide on a name, I think there is good reason to look at the names we use to describe online video and what effect they have on how we conceive of the medium and its potential usage.

I think there is value in investigating the names we use to describe online video because of the way they contribute to the discourses developing around new media distribution. Right now we are in a unique moment in the history of this technology where its popular use is still being contested. The different discourses that are developing around this media represent the different interests people have in shaping its direction. At the advent of radio, film and television, it was just as unclear how these new technologies would be used and how the public should interact with them. The dominant discourse that wins out attempts to naturalize its particular vision of the technology, just as licence requirements to broadcast radio, a Hollywood film distribution system, and a networked television system seem natural today.

An examination of the discourses developing around online video distribution would be well served by looking at the different names people use to describe what they are doing. While this is by no means an exhaustive analysis, here are some brief reflections on the words we used:

A Vlog, or Video blog, seems to distinguish itself from regular Online Video in that it can also be used as a verb, as in vlogging. Using the term vlog implies the action of vlogging itself, an often personal activity that was born out of text blogging. Rather than just being a video that exists independently online, calling a video a vlog suggests the presence of an individual artist or creator as opposed to a production team. This is also the suggestion implied by the term Citizen Journalism. These terms tend to emphasize the democratic nature of online media by putting the tools of production and distribution in the hands of individuals and leveling the playing field between citizens and major media outlets.

Online Television seems to be a term that is both user-friendly and problematic. It’s user-friendly in the sense that gives the average user a good idea of what to expect by pointing to previous technology: what you are about to see is a bit like television, but it’s different because it’s online. This is not the first time we’ve seen this kind of wordplay; film, for example, was often referred to as “moving pictures.” While film isn’t really moving pictures, rather the appearance of moving pictures, by referring to a previous technology it provided people who were not familliar with film a way to imagine it. However useful this can be to introduce an audience to a new technology, in this instance, referring to a television to describe online video can also be problematic in that it can normalize the traditional networked television system of distribution and the dominance of major media outlets. Further, it may also presume a particular format for entertainment that is typical of traditional television. The term also becomes problematic when trying to distinguish between “online television shows” that are being produced solely for distribution on the Internet (theburg.tv, zefrank.com, rocketboom.com, etc.) and traditional television shows that major media outlets such as ABC now also making avaiable on the Internet. Many of the internet-only shows being produced are challenging the conventions established by traditional television shows, such as episode length, broadcasts schedules, and production quality. Many of these shows are exploring new possiblities for niche content markets and pushing the boundaries of audience participation. Shows created for television and being made available on the Internet is more an example of Media Convergence and streaming content across multiple platforms for maximum market penetration and profit.

Many people creating Internet-only shows refer to use the term, Video Podcasting or Vodcasting. These terms refer to the process of distributing content over the Internet via RSS enclosures. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, provides content feeds that allow users to essentially broadcast their content over the Internet to other subscribed users. This term is somewhat useful in that refers primarily to the distribution process instead of the medium itself which would allow it to be relevant across several platforms (home computer,iPod, cell phone, television, etc…). However, it is also problematic in that it refers to Apple’s iPod and entrenches Apple’s dominance in the market. Apple has even begun to send cease and desist letters to companies incorporating the term “pod” into their products. As a response, Leo Laporte has suggested using the term Netcasting as an alternative. While still referring to the distribution process, this name seems to avoid the corporate association but now locates consumption on the Internet while many people will soon be consuming content on mobile devices through wireless access where the infrastructure of the “net” has less meaning.

While further reflection on the impact of these terms is needed, I’m advocating that a critical examination of the interests served by their usage would shed light how this contested technology is being shaped.


I saw an interesting lecture at McGill this evening given by Douglas Kellner, the George F. Kellner Philosophy of Education Chair at UCLA. His presentation was on the metaphors we use to talk about computing and the Internet. Kellner is an well published academic who has tried to bridge the gap between Cultural Studies and Political Economy, advocating for a Political Economy that incorporates a critical Cultural Studies approach and challenging his peers to involve themselves in putting theory into practice, or praxis. Kellner has become known for his activism and he described how his own call to action after witnessing George Bush “steal” the 2000 American election. This event prompted Kellner to write a trilogy of books that examine Media Spectacle: Grand Theft 2000, From 9/11 to Terror War and Media Spectacle and the Crisis of Democracy.

This evening, however, Kellner spent little time talking about politics and focused on how we talk about computing and the Internet. He opened by illustrating that throughout history, those writing about the introduction of new communication technologies – be it film, radio, or television – end up having one of two responses: Technophilia celebrates new technologies for the way they democratize access and open up new opportunities for business interests and cultural production. This is typical of writers such as Nicholas Negroponte, Bill Gates, and Henry Jenkins, who look to new technologies as the keys to our future prosperity. Writers characterized by a technophobic response to new technologies are concerned with issues of surveillance, hegemony and alienation through technology, and Kellner cited Jean Beaudrillard as a prime example. Kellner advocated incorporating aspects of both of these responses into a critical approach. Such an approach would incorporate a critical examination of the way power operates through technologies and critical reconstructive praxis that looks to find ways new technologies can be used to further democracy and social justice. Such a dialectical approach is informed by scholarship from both the technophobia and technophilia camps.

Tonight, Kellner’s focus was on the metaphors used to discuss computing and the Internet. He traced the development of metaphors from the 1980s and how they were primarily shaped by four cultural forces:

  1. The Military
  2. Business Interests (IBM, Apple, Microsoft, etc.)
  3. University “Technoculture”
  4. Hacker Subculture

In particular, Kellner discussed the anthropomorphic nature of the metaphors we use. The term computer was originally used to refer to a person who computed using counting machines. Ever since the advent of the personal computer, metaphors that have been used to talk about computers have reflected real materiality to describe often abstract ways of interacting with information. We have “windows” as our “interface” and we “point and click” using a “mouse.” We organize the things in our “notebook” on its “desktop” or keep our documents in “files.” Our computers get sick from “bugs” and “viruses” and more and more websites like myspace and yahoo are offering users the ability to customize their “homepage.” Many of these metaphors cause for reflection on the ways computers act as extensions of the human mind and act as an externalization of the self. This is a very “McLuhan-esqe” way of thinking, but expands the way we can see computers as “agents” to whom we can “delegate tasks.” Kellner also discussed the way metaphors were used to naturalize technology by collapsing the distinctions between nature (a la Blackberry and Apple) and how metaphors of communication on the Internet rely on metaphors of transportation (information superhighway, routing, surfing, etc) that illustrate the collapse of time/space distinctions on the Internet.

While his presentation was interesting and provided the audience with a good history of the metaphors in common usage, it provided little critical analysis of the metaphors themselves – a analysis that Kellner himself advocated for at the opening of his presentation. While he briefly discussed the historical roots of his many examples, he provided little explanation as to the potential effect that using these particular metaphors could have and who’s interests are being served by using such metaphors. Such an analysis seems crucial to a critical approach.

Granted, it seemed as though this was pet project for Kellner, a collection of his reflections on the language of computing as informed by reading Wired Magazine. Kellner’s academic contributions to date have been lofty, so I had high expectations for the presentation. While he may not of provided a through critical analysis of the the metaphors being used, his presentation was useful in raising the issue and calling the audience to “mind our metaphors.”

Darrin Barney, Departmental Chair of Communication Studies at McGill University, asked the question, is merely deconstructing these metaphors enough? It’s my thought that many people now are being raised on these metaphors and grow up naturally accepting them as normal parts of life. Deconstructing these metaphors may provide insight, but will do little to affect the way people interact with computers. A feminist critique of the mouse seems of little use and wont change the way people use a mouse. Rather, I believe that it is important to examine metaphors that are being used in moments of transition, while they are still contested and vying for permanence. Critically examining these metaphors and the interests they serve can allow academics a point of entry to affect the course of society’s integration of technology.

For example: Online Video.  What are the consequences of calling video distributed online, “online television” or “video podcasting?”  The former reflects the transition from the preceding medium and perhaps its preeminence (ie, online is a different, lower quality version of television) and the latter implies the use of Apple’s iPod, supporting the branding efforts of a corporate powerhouse and perhaps limiting our potential conceptions of online video’s use.  I don’t offer this as a complete analysis.  Rather, it is an example of a still uncontested name for a technology in transition.  In light of Kelner’s presentation, this, to me, seems like an important discussion for academics to have and one where our insight could perhaps even take effect.


Ze Frank always helps put things in perspective…watch him here.

In distributing your media online, it’s important to consider the way you want your media to be legaly used in the future. Of course, if you’re not in the position to employ a team of lawyers, it’s very difficult to protect your content from being used illegally. However, Creative Commons Licenses are a way to allow your media to be used by others and still retain some control over how it is used.

There are different types of licenses that you can choose to attribute to your content. Each type of license provides basic rights, such as the right to distribute the copyrighted work on file sharing networks. However, the type of licence you give your content depends on the selection of four conditions:

  • Attribution:This means that whoever uses your video in the future must give you, the original artist credit.
  • NonCommercial: This allows others to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work or any derivative works, but they can only do so for non-commerical purpuse (they can’t make a profit off of it).
  • No Derivative Works or NoDerivs: This allows others to copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based upon it (they can’t modify your orignal work).
  • ShareAlike: This allows others to distribute derivative works, but they can only do so if they use a license identical to the license that governs your work.

There are six regularly used licenses:

  1. Attribution alone (by)
  2. Attribution + Noncommercial (by-nc)
  3. Attribution + NoDerivs (by-nd)
  4. Attribution + ShareAlike (by-sa)
  5. Attribution + Noncommercial + NoDerivs (by-nc-nd)
  6. Attribution + Noncommercial + ShareAlike (by-nc-sa)

Creative Commons licenses are currently recognized in 31 different jurisdictions worldwide, with nine others under development. For more information, visit www.creativecommons.org


There are a several different websites providing services which allow you to host your video online for free. Some of these sites have different features which set them apart and they all seem to attract differnt types of video content. What follows is a brief summary of a few of the services available to help you make your decision if you’re thinking of posting video online.

Blip is where I have been hosting my video online most recently. The website is starting to become more popular and has attracted some serious members of the videoblogging community. They allow you to access your file in its original version and they also provide a flash conversion that you can embed directly into your blog. Another bonus is that Blip allows the creator to choose one of four creative commons licences to attribute to your conent, giving the them a little more control over how their content can be used in the future (it also allows you to post with no licence at all – all rights reserved). Blip also provides you with the ability convieniently cross post you uploaded content to your blog.

Cruxy is somewhat of an online marketplace for creators original digital media. The site allows the creator to upload their video, audio, or image to the site and make it available for sale at any desired price. Sales are made through paypal and Cruxy is very transarent regarding how much money goes to each party (the artist, cruxy, and paypal), providing a calculator indicating the profit off of each transaction. Content can also be sold with a Creative Commons License of your choice and the creator has the ability to include their own clauses indicating how the media can be used. What makes the site unique and unlike other simmilar marketplace sites such as iTunes, is that the media content is sold without any Digital Rights Manangement (DRM) protecting people from distributing the media themselves. They seem to be hoping the users will act in good faith, allowing users a way to support artists who are operating outside of the corporate system.

Google Video converts your content to flash for viewing on the web or to their own google video file (.gvp) for viewing in their downloadable Google Video Player. Because Google allows creators to charge a fee for downloading content, it has attracted the interest of television networks and other established media outlets who are making some of their programming available to download. Those uploading their content can choose to make it available for free or charge whatever the want in the Google Video Store.

Internet Archive is now the grand-daddy of free online video hosting. Grand in the sense that was a pioneer and still has an incredibly huge amount of video. This is where you can also access public domain material and uploaded material that has been given a creative commons licence. Ourmedia helped popularize video blogging through their partnership with Internet Archive, providing unlimited free hosting and helping bloggers through the step-by-step process. However, since people started to discuss video blogging using terms like “business models” and “speculation investment,” more and more hosting providers have entered game. Many of these newer sites offer flash video, a format which loads much faster and is more accessible as Flash plug-ins are commonly pre-installed in most internet browsers. As a result much of the videoblogging traffic has moved away from Internet Archive. However, they are still the pioneers and played a key role in popularizing the use of Creative Commons Licences.

MotionBox is a new video hosting site that uses Flash 9 and features a filmstrip below the player window that allows you to scroll through the video as it plays. One of the advantages of this format is that it gives the viewer the abilty to select portions of longer videos they would like to share, allowing the viewer to be somewhat of an editor. However, because it relies on Flash 9 for this feature, an update that still hasn’t been installed on every computer, there is smaller audience that has access to to this new application.

Lulu is a free video hosting and distribution service that also allows the chance for creators to make somewhat of an income while still dristributing their content for free. Anyone can upload and distribute their content for free, but creators can also become “stakeholders” by paying a monthly fee which goes in pool. At the end of each month, stakeholders are paid out that pool of money depending on their percentage of the total videos downloaded. It sounds somewhat socialist, yet in a sense pits creators in direct competition with eachother.

Revver is another video hosting service that allows users to the opportunity to make an income off of their freely distributed content. However, unlike Lulu, Rever doesn’t charge a monthly fee to its users. Rather, Revver embedds an advertisment at the end of each video watched. If the user watching the video clicks on the advertisment at the end of video, the creator is paid a small fee. While its placement at the end of the video is certainly makes the advertisment more palatable, the creator has no contorl over what kind imagery will be used or what type of product will be advertised.

YouTube has become one of the fastest growing and most popular of the major online video hosts. They have been critized for not adequately monitoring the content that is uploaded, resulting in the distribution of copywrited material. However, while several major media outlets have pursued YouTube, forcing the content to be removed from the site, others have allowed their copywrited material to remain on YouTube, perhaps understanding the free advertising that they are being given. YouTube has also taken on the form of an online social networking site, many of its users participating in online video conversations. Using webcams and little editing, many of the users participate in this unique form of asynchronous video conversation.

Of course, there are other sites. If you can’t find the right service from the options above, you can check out one of the following: Grouper, Daily Motion, Guba, iFilm, Multiply, Caught on Video, VeOH or Yahoo Video. Have fun.


If you’re a blogger, you’ve likely heard of Technorati. And if you’re new to blogging, you may not know exactly what it is. It’s worth understanding the service this company provides and how it all works. They essentially track and index weblogs, providing a search engine for blog postings. However, rather than try to explain how it all works (I really don’t think I can), you should check out “Behind the Scene at Technocrati” from Ryanne’s Video Blog. Enjoy.


Network 2.0

13Sep06

On his blog at the end of August, Jeff Pulver, co-founder of Vonage and creator of Free World Dial-Up, published a guide to “TV Shows Only Available on the Net”.  It’s definetly worth checking out.  However, a week later he released Network 2.0, a collection of RSS feeds that allows you to watch many of the shows he listed in one place.  The site is quite user friendly and it’s great starting point for people who are just begining to get into online video.

Right now he’s inviting anyone who is producing online video to notify him and provide their feed to the site.  At the moment, there are over 70 shows available with no real organization other than listing them alphabetically.  This works fine for now, but as the number of people producing their own online video content increases, it seems to me that the format will need to improve to assist the user in finding the kind of content they are looking for.  There are also bound to be issues surrounding of selection: what is the criteria for having your show posted?  What type of content will be considered acceptable (ie, offensive, racist, or sexually explicit material)?  And where is the line between “online television” and the 17 year old kid in front of their webcam who regularily posts to YouTube.  This type of Network, given that it could potentially attract a large audience, could play a powerful role in shaping not only how we watch video online, but what we end up watching.

Check it out.  In spite of my questions I think it’s a great way to bring exposure to some hard working folks who are putting up great video content on the net.  And I think it’s important to understand the effect of these types of portal sites.  We’re likely to see more services like this appearing in the future and they will undoubtedly influence our online video consumption.


I came across an interesting video from Meta-Media that discusses the role of viral video and Internet phenomena.  It illustrates how the Internet, like any other communication technology, is influenced by existing technologies.  It also discusses the the contested space of private and public interest in media content published online.  You can watch it here.