Online Video: What’s in a name?


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 (,,, 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.


One Response to “Online Video: What’s in a name?”

  1. Man – if oranges grew into apples what would that do to all the orange juice? Click

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