Why Vlog? Entertainment, Education, Emotion, Belonging

With the archive of my video blog The Eye growing, people increasingly ask: What is the purpose of video blogging? Is it to make money? Is it an attempt at fame? What possesses one to take a camera and decide that he or she is going to create his or her own show? What is the charge of online user generated content? Here is my response.

When I first started video blogging, my motto was lifted from public television. I worked for NHPTV for several years, starting as a production intern and leaving after a season as a game show co-host and floor director for a nightly news magazine program. I left the station to become a teacher but the motto -Entertain, Educate, and Enrich- stayed with me. It was a worthy mantra as I dipped into the world of video on the net.

As I recently told my students, we are involved in a media revolution. Few moments in media history have allowed for the individual to readily engage such a wide audience with such ease. Last month I attended the first Podcamp where many of the inspired gathered together to exchange visions and techniques. Here my perspective on the potential for this medium broadened greatly. During a presentation called On Internet Audiences: Who’s out there and what to do with ’em, Andrew Baron of Rocketboom expressed what he believed to be the draw to video blogs: entertainment and/or information. Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering raised his hand and asked, “What about belonging?” His question immediately altered my perspective. That night I approached Andrew at the bar and told him as much.

‘Belonging’ is the word that best expresses the opportunity that new media offers. What seperates CBS News from Rocketboom is that viewers can have direct interaction with the media makers. The ability to comment on the daily post or contribute to Rocketboom’s wiki empowers the viewer in a way that the old media cannot match.

When it came time for my own presentation at Podcamp, Video Blog as Visual Art (thanks to Steve Garfield, clips can be found here and here), I echoed the lessons I learned, adding my own component. If years of comedy and theater have taught me anything, it is that sincere human emotion is what engages an audience. Emotion may be the unifying drive behind all art. Whether it is a painting, a comic book, a television show, or a video blog, the reason we take notice is because it makes us feel.

By the way, Andrew Baron also spoke at the global IP communications industry event VON, and I was pleased that when time came for him to list off what draws people to video blogs, there was an addition to his list: belonging. The creator of a program that solidly exemplifies the innovative nature of the medium acknowledged that belonging is what seperated his show from the old media.

Another good example of the product of providing an audience with belonging is Ze Frank’s The Show. Here the content is generated by a daily give and take between the viewers and the charasmatic host. It is the interaction itself that often drives the content. Frank challenges his viewers to send in their own content in the form of animations, welcome segments, music remixes, and photos. Whole episodes are written by the viewing community through an open wiki. With such an embrace of the most innovative aspects of the medium, it is no wonder that Rocketboom and Ze Frank’s The Show drive such a massive viewership.

Old Media is taking notice, but clearly there are lessons still to be learned. Katie Couric announced the start of a new “freedom of speech” segment on CBS News. One person excited was video blogging pioneer Steve Garfield, but he was quickly disappointed to find that there was no way for him to submit a video. According to Garfield, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric’s “free speech” segment could be a lot better. We should be able to upload a video to a public place, others should be able to see the submissions and be able to rate and comment on them. Steve even made a website,, so people could do just that. Hopefully CBS News takes notice.

So yes, video blogs can entertain us. They can inform us and provoke emotion in us. But the reason I vlog is the same reason that inspired me to watch: belonging. It is this facet that truly seperates us from the old media. And it is viral. As more programs like Rocketboom and Ze Frank’s The Show are created, they will attract more viewers, inspiring more people to actively engage themselves in the media. The line that has divided the media observer and the media maker will blur. This is our revolution.

Let’s get to work.


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