Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Stupid newspaper video tricks

Kathy Gill, a senior lecturer at the University of Washington reams Gannett for the way it handled video playback of what was supposed to be a stream from a recent editorial board meeting with Barack Obama. (The post is a couple of weeks old, but I just discovered it through a list I'm on.)

Newspapers still keep proving they can do stupid video tricks -- the kind that send viewers/readers clicking for the exits. Among them Gill cites, some of which now seem to have been corrected on the Indy Star video site:
  • Poor linkage to the videos and poor visibility. (Indy, for instance, has a little "multimedia" tag in its top navigation. You have to scroll down almost a page to see the larger display area that explains multimedia includes video. But Poynter's Eyetrack III study showed that below the first screen, readers start searching for headlines to catch their fancy, with clicks dropping off. Put another way, a compact home page that does not require vertical scrolling tends to lead people into the site more, which is where the multimedia is. So if you have to scroll down to learn what "multimedia" is, it might not be very effective.)
  • Proprietary players that do funky things. (For instance, it seems almost every time I try to watch a video on Gannett's player from Maven, it stops inexplicably in the middle. Just happened again as I was trying to watch the Obama video. It's still frozen 10 minutes later as I write this, with the Pause button, not Play, still showing.)
  • Page header tabs that tell you nothing, The Indy Star's for instance, just says "immersiveplayer."
  • URL's so long that not even a mother could love them. (As Gill notes in a post earlier this year, other companies, such as Boeing, for which she worked, learned to link these ASP and other database monstrosities to human readable URLs a decade ago. The point of it all is that if people can mouse over and read the URL, they might actually want to go to your site, but if it's gibberish, not so much.)
A few things she complains about seem to have been fixed:
  • More than the opening and closing clips from the editorial board meeting are up (though I just clicked on another and no response. All it gives me is a black screen and "transferring data from "release.theplatform.com").
  • No ability to spread virally. There is now an embed code, as well as e-mail, link and share with social networks.
  • Search for other related videos seems to work OK.
Hey the video's up now - only took four minutes.

Oops. it just stopped again, 3:47 left into a 6:14 piece on Obama's views on China.

If newspapers want to play in the big leagues on this stuff, they've got to stop frustrating the user experience. Maven's big front-page splash on its site is that it delivers more advertising inventory. Doesn't mean squat if Gill and others can't watch it (the player also apparently does not work in Linux - see the link from Gill's site) or can't find it. (Maybe now that Yahoo has bought Maven, the kinks will be ironed out.)

Hey, finally got through that China video. Third time's a charm.

Newspapers need to meet these criteria:
  1. Video has to be as consistent in playback as YouTube or some of the other similar sites. I can't think of a time I've had a YouTube video stall while I was on broadband. Maybe it's happened, but I've never seen it.
  2. Video has to be enabled to be easily embedded, linked to or otherwise shared.
  3. But also disable the auto-start. The whole point of the Web is to leave the user in control. I'll decide when I want to start something. And can the automatic rollover to the next video. Maybe I want to look at this one again.
  4. Along those same lines, when the video is ended, don't disable the scroll bar. Maybe I want to go back and review something I didn't quite catch.
  5. Use links that real people can read.

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