Motivations to read

July 9, 2010

Video Vortex Reader – Responses to Youtube

Filed under: Uncategorized — shirishag75 @ 8:41 pm

Hi all,
This post shares my experience/insight about the INC reader Video Vortex Reader – Responses to Youtube .

I got this book around 2 years ago. I read it at that time and then again couple of times as time went by. One of the first things which happened due to reading the reader was my own ideas about youtube and looking at it. Before I used to look at youtube as a 2 minute thrill site, but after reading the book came to see it as a slightly more serious site. If the purpose of the Reader is to raise questions/debate then I would have to say it has succeeded.

I’m no video maker but interact more as a user. I still do not make comments but have become a bit more aware of the community aspect it tries to do. Even my Youtube site navigation skills leave lot to be desired perhaps rather than my Google search kungfu skills but then I have used/abused the latter much more.

The idea of the book/reader from what I could see/or try to understand is that the reader tries question some of the premises and conceptions people have, critically debate whether sharing/creating and communities have built around Youtube or not. Also why some people shun and will continue not to use Youtube for their video making practices.

From further distillations it becomes clear that the book is directed to large sections of people. Digital anthropologists, sociologists who are into digital movements, artists, journalists, new as well as social media consultants and like. The only hitch is its datedness which I will share/elaborate later in the review.

Lemme start of by sharing some of the things I liked in the book :-

a. Referencing :- Unlike many other reference books I have read in the past, in this book whenever the author makes some reference by using superscript one can see the reference below on the same page. This is a much better way and keeps one in the flow of the chapter/subject.

b. One of the interesting points which is bought out in the reader are the failings of FLV format. While the reader is dated and some of the issues may not be there as of today but still tells what issues plagued and continue to plague on-line distribution of video. What would have been interesting is if they had known also at that time the introduction of the WebM project. From a casual reader/viewer POV one comes to know for the first time the restricted pallette of YCbCr (256 color) as compared to full RGB color range (16 million colors) which one can view on almost all display technologies available today. It also shares the issues about audio-video mismatches which happen as well as slow slow streaming/downloading of videos etc.

c. It also brought attention the whole culture of remixing videos in answer to videos and such kind of things. Although I would have to say it needed to give some more examples of the same and/or a way in which such interaction can be seen on youtube. From a casual user such connections/interactions/relationships are not easy to spot/see.

d. One of the more interesting realizations was that the resource as well as the destination Youtube was being used/consumed by both mainstream professionals as well as amateurs. Although questions are asked about how open Youtube is to amateurs it still could go a bit deeper. It also does share in passing about the power struggles between mainstream media houses using Youtube as well as amateurs having ideologies using Youtube. This classic power struggle needed to be captured more succinctly.

e. One of the more interesting comparisons drawn in one of the articles was how Windows OS (of Microsoft) and GNU/Linux are phanerogamic and cryptogamic software respectively. They described phanerogamia as having present clear external characteristics while in cryptogamia are lifeforms that function in a sphere that is imperceptible to the human eye. Both the terms seem to come from Biology and I liked the synonms used to describe the two.

f. One of the more interesting chapters in the Reader was about the (Mis)Conceptions about youtube by Patricia G. Lange. This should be read by anybody/everybody curious about youtube in particular and social media in general as many of these misconceptions are same/similar to the misconceptions people have about social media as well.

g. One of the interesting points as a casual gamer I felt as well.

In ‘The Conceptual power of On-line Video’ (page 53)

In Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (1984), literary theorist Peter Brooks claims all stories are obituaries that provide pleasure by forestalling a premature death. This theory helps explain why so many great narratives are long and why they create an expansive middle as a ‘force-field of desire’, a narrative field that resists death and other kinds of premature closure. Although this dynamic is best modeled in Scheherazade’s use of storytelling to save her life in The Arabian Nights (which Brooks uses as a narrative), it also explains the centrality of biography as a common narrative structure and the historic importance of long experimental novels like Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Though Brooks never wrote about movies, television or digital media, his theory also helps explain the pleasures of serial fiction and electronic games, particularly those in which players struggle to gain new lives for their avatar and avoid premature death at the hands of enemies. In such game narratives – as well as in serial television and game-like films (like The Matrix, Groundhog Day, Vantage Point and Run Lola Run), there is a built-in drive to extend the period of engagement within the narrative field, even if it involves compulsive repetition. While Brooks’s theory explains narrative addiction, it doesn’t illuminate the pleasures of modular on-line video, particularly the brief forms now being seen on YouTube.

This paragraph/observation I think was pretty cool/astute.

h. I loved Birgit Richard’s commentary on the different types of videos found on Youtube. It also helped in realizing the different ways in which some of the more creative,emotional people responded to the videos (by creating response videos in different ways) rather than just commenting or rating the video (behavior exhibited by large number of people). Although he does also talk of avante-grade art in youtube he fails to point out the simple fact that art for one is garbage for other. Does having many responses to a video make it an art video? Does somebody tagging it as art video make it an art video? Those are the questions which he should have attempted.

i. I also loved Minke Kampman’s beautiful capture of ‘Flagging or Fagging’ (self-)ce nsorship of gay content on YouTube . While I don’t have any view on the wider LGBT movement, I realized it might be in many ways the struggle of many minority groups and minority viewpoints. While Minke Kampman kind of restricted it to just gay content I am sure there are many more skeletons in the closet. One of the things to be understood is that the LGBT community is that its a pretty vocal and colorful groups and getting press for them is easier than other groups. Many minority groups and viewpoints may not have either the same reach or known much in public consciousness.

j. Just an extension to point h. I also loved the mentioned of the p2p Net art project (page 148). While it gave some idea sadly no website was mentioned. I got the site which shows the work of Artist Anders Weberg and should have been mentioned/articulated in the article.

k. I very much liked Tom Sherman’s take on Vernacular Video. Although have to say the title ‘Vernacular Video’ is misleading as the writer doesn’t mean the classical/literal sense of the word but on a more broader sense of things.

Some of the things/items/ideas that should have been explored more :-

01. One of the first issues is the smallish font size used in the reader. To make the reader little bit more accessible it should have had atleast couple of more points bigger fonts . It would have made the reader with more pages but it would also have made it more easily readable.

02. The other thing which really bugged me in the reader that there is total lack of contribution or research from the global south’s perspective. Does INC think that there is nothing happening in the global south with video making perspectives ?

03. Any talk/reading material about digital video files should start with comparison to Film Stock. Especially in terms of life, reliability its a superior format while in distribution digital scores.

04. The other part about how digital formats change or become extinct has not been talked about enough. One of the more interesting articles on gizmodo talks of this aspect itself. There is no discussion about having tools/algorithm so that a digital file can repair itself if it degrades in future or ways to repair it.

05. The whole discussion is silent about Youtube removals. While censorship and other such practices are talked about, if and when Youtube removes a video is not known. While Youtube was taken over by Google circa 2006, in 2010 are all those pre 2006 videos available?

06. The reader also fails to take into account new/upcoming technologies such as new devices/camera cell phones/digicams which would have in-built video compression IC’s and hence directly uploadable to Youtube (single-click and videos are posted to youtube to your handle). Even earlier, circa 2006-2007 there were ways to do the same but sadly they haven’t been explored in the reader .

While for atleast couple of years or more it would an elitist exercise (till such features don’t come down to ordinary users reach) . Smartphones having such features cost anywhere between Rs. 15 to 20k whereas most of the population (80%) buys mobiles which cost less than 6k. Less than 4% of the population has smartphones according to a Global Initiatives Survey. I would say its even less than that, a truer figure would be close to 1%. This may change once 3G is on by all the operators, most probably after couple of years.

07. The Reader also doesn’t go into any detailing in the commercial aspects of making a video as well as the revenue sharing. A simple search gives me quite a few resources where they have used youtube to make money. Although something like Google Checkout or Paypal on a user’s page to encourage a video maker doesn’t seem to be in scheme of things .

08. Quite a few of the projects the reader shares about are hard for people to follow. For e.g. Getty’s California Video Show or the Labyrinth Project . These are hard to understand as they were real world installations rather than videos. Hence while one could perceive few people’s ideas but not being there makes it a very much incomplete experience as one is supposed to take things at face value 😦

09. There are also many such events which have been talked about in the reader but no on-line references given, the lack of which makes for a poorer understanding/experience.

10. In one of the projects, a producer’s art/video induced some harsh,negative,rude responses. Hence in the next installment of the art/video the producer decides to go ahead without taking due cognizance/feedback of the audience. While the above cab be true, there is no thought given about projects not happening due to no feedback/comments at all. I have seen this personally in many FOSS projects for projects dying because there is nobody to challenge/egg them on. This dichotomy should have been posted and explored as well.

11. A few times, the reader has an American/European bias (most probably unintentionally perhaps) . This results in examples such as Elizabeth Cosh’s examples in ‘Government Youtube’ where she talks about the Transportation Security Administration, a United States authority on transportation but she doesn’t give any introduction or give any idea about the kind of role it performs.While reading the whole article , one does get some idea but its wholly incomplete. A little more background would have been clearly helpful.

12. A companion issue is that most of the research seems to have a American and European outlook. From what little I know there are 120 odd countries in the world. Even if one had taken the top 20 most broadband friendly countries in the world (Courtesy Akamai) it would have been a much better Reader.

13. One of the observations which I had culled from stating couple of workshops to understand about community radio networks while I had gone there to give my expertise of FOSS. What I realized it takes lot of technical competance as well as some expensive gear to make good sounds although one can use slightly inexpensive chinese gear. There is just no thought given to the amount of time which is devoted to making a video (even a rough survey would have given some ideas.)

14. This is an addition to point E and L . Apart from technical competence and high-end machines there is also no mention of bandwidth concerns. In many countries that would be a bigger stumbling block.

15. One of the premises on which the reader is built is that the videos would remain in youtube for eternity. Many a time this is not the case due to flagging or some other reason. For e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xpV8p9ppY or/and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgL-5uJzPNK . Both these videos are controversial as from the reader they show. Alabianian women sexually assaulted by Greek policemen . This is in ‘Making violent practices public’ by Nelli Kambouri and Pavlos Hatzopoulos . (page 128 of the reader) . Even accounts such as Daskalogiannis which is given on the same page are suspended so any idea and responses to such videos are gone 😦

16. There is also no talk/discussion of broadcasting of live events. For e.g. Youtube tried to show this year’s DLF IPL 2010 a 20-20 cricketing event. While the event itself was a mega success, the Youtube experiment failed during the crucial times primarily due to bandwidth constraints.
This is something that would happen more and more in the near future, something like the planned Mars Science Laboratory scheduled to fly by November 2011. These are things which doesn’t take much imagination to see will happen more in the future. A discussion on using a centralized network tool like youtube reinforcing old media habits and what it means? Would it complement broadcasters or compete with them? This would have been an interesting discussion.

17. I have also seen sites such as shufflr which is a new online video aggregator. While there are many more and for long time there is no mention of them as how they ride on top of youtube or how they change the behavior of youtube (if they do.) That would also have made for interesting analysis/reading.

18. There has been simply no discussion about how open standards would have been or is a better bet for online video. This should also have made a theme in the reader.

19. I liked Alexandra Juhaz’s “Why not (To) teach on Youtube . The paper/article is about a Professor’s attempts to use/supplement work using youtube as an educational platform. I was particularly interested in the following statements.

Body/Digital
Teaching and learning depend upon bodily presence: the forceful, dynamic, inspiring performance of the teacher, the alert attention and participation of the student. While in a typical classroom this may not function in the ideal sense – the professor can be uninspiring or
uninspired and the students may be there in body but not in mind – the YouTube classroom diminishes this further, evaporating the powers of eye contact and professorial censure (notice the role of discipline again), as well as the expressions of boredom or enthusiasm writ
apparent on the bodies of students. When we attempted on-line classes through YouTube, they simply fizzled and died. Outside the paltry offerings of the site for real-time interaction, there is something in the lived shared exchange that creates an atmosphere for education
that is not possible on this site.

While I truly enjoyed the experience I would have loved if she had expanded in greater detail her expectations from Youtube as a platform as a real-time interaction site and how it actually failed her? Her failture to articulate the same or what she would have liked to see/happen would have been more constructive.

20. In Youtube Magic : Videos on the Net (page 169) Vera Tollmann shares Paul Virilio’s sharing of an alternative video-sharing site transmission but doesn’t elaborate about it.

In a very short excerpt from a video interview to be found on YouTube, Paul Virilio recently explained that he has noted that the optically correct is becoming increasingly important on the Internet. The platform offering the scarcely one-minute snatch of Virilio himself is an example precisely what he means. Is he referring to the legal statutes of the largest video database? All the rights in the video are assigned to whoever runs the website as soon as a video is made public there. The line of argument put forward on the transmission 1 network’s website makes sense, for it explains that the legal situation concerning proprietary rights on YouTube argues against publishing videos there. YouTube can re-sell or censor users’ clips,
as well as monitoring their tracks in the digital universe. In discussion at meetings regularly organised by transmission, operators of alternative video platforms curse YouTube as ‘corporate digital vacuum cleaners’.

Now while the above is good and one comes to know about an alternative sharing site wouldn’t it have served the needs of the reader better if she had explored whether :-

a. transmission.cc evolved as a response to the totalitarian/authoritarian side/regime as Youtube is shown? From what little bit of research I did it seems shiftspace.cc thought about the transmission standard around the same time that Youtube was launched.

b. Also who are the users of the transmission platform ? Are these users different in anyways to those who are on Youtube ? Or are they artists who use Youtube and then push viewers to transmission.cc to have a wider dialogue? Are they more activists who do it.

The above discussion could have also lead the reader into a more interesting direction.

21. In “The Work of Art in the age of ubiquitous narrowcasting?” (page 173) Sarah Cook shares :-

Preface/Acknowledgments: This paper is adapted from a talk given at Video Vortex in Amsterdam and the research which resulted in the international group exhibition Broadcast Yourself,
co-curated by myself and Kathy Rae Huffman for AV Festival 08: Broadcast, at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Cornerhouse, Manchester (2008). Information on the exhibition
is available from http://www.broadcastyourself.net. The original abstract for the talk at Video Vortex read: It’s all to easy to be swept into the hype of centralised social networking sites and content distribution platforms such as YouTube and forget that so-called ‘Web2.0’ is the marketer’s answer to the truly open file-sharing potential of the Internet. It is worth remembering what artists did in response to the emergence of increasingly commercial television channels and how they
first used the web for ‘broadcasting themselves’. Tied to these experiments is the key question of the role of the curator in supporting and sustaining independent practices within an increasingly
homogenized media landscape. How are these 2.0 platforms being used to market and distribute information about art projects, and does it work? This paper considers what other open models of practice are available to curators for preserving independent practice, discussing wiki-enabled voluntary programming of moving-image based organisations such as the Star and Shadow Cinema (Newcastle).

I am particularly interested in “It is worth remembering what artists did in response to the emergence of increasingly commercial television channels and how they first used the web for ‘broadcasting themselves’. ”

While Sarah Cook does go on and describe some of the artist-led interventions she does this only in an American context. Hyperlinks to specific artists who did some interesting work would have been better. For e.g. Dieter Daniels,John Procter and Doug Hall and their Bay Area Art Collective, Anna Ridley to say a few.

While it may be true that America may have had the longest experience with private media broadcasters it seems to me that Europe couldn’t have been far behind. Whatever little art movies (specifically French and Italian cinema I have seen leads me to believe this ). For countries and cities which have been using cinema as a medium of individual expression would have taken on the beast as well.

Also a link about Star and Shadow Cinema would have been good.

22. I really liked ‘Chauvinist and Elitist obstacles around Youtube and Porntube’ A case of home made porn defended ‘Video art’ by Ana Peracia (page 189) .

The fourth paragraph caught my attention :-

The public was uninformed of the medium, but gradually it was evident that a video has educated the nation technically; at the first; the number of downloads was nearly the same as the number of citizens (rarely someone knew how to save and store the video offline); TV has reported gypsies made a great enterprise selling blank DVDs labelled with singer’s name (rarely, someone could understand the medium does not contain the video); the singer has asked ‘all copies to be returned to her’ (retaining a very materialistic and inappropriate notion of this digital medium). The event has shown – Croats were passing a phase of learning the new media but also a kind of sexual revolution. Finally they were interested in seeing more
than sports…

For those who do not know the article talks about a stolen and widely porn home video made by Croatian pop singer Severina Vu kovi. It seemed to have been made/done in 2004 and from the reader a rage in the subsequent period.

The article/paper/thesis made me remember the infamous DPS MMS scandal which rocked the nation coincidentally in 2004 as well. One of the off-shoots were many other scandals which happened as well over period of time. For those who came in late the scandal was that in 2004, a boy of class 12 of DPS shot his intimate sex relations with his girl friend using a mobile camera and circulated it among his friends. This was supposedly done within the DPS campus/compound. One thing led to the other and it got leaked to the Net as well as the informal porn video selling market in the country. The Net result being both the students were expelled from the school. While the girl was sent abroad by her family and the boy got admission in another school after getting bail in the case.

What was more interesting than the sex tape itself was the huge outcry by the right-wing intellectual middle class sensibility with mainstream media crying hoarse about :-

a. How could such an event take palce in an esteemed institution such as DPS

b. There were also questions raised about parents ability to keep an eye on their yound ones and not giving enough attention. While the girls parents were blamed for not controlling the daughter the boy’s parents were less or more exonarated from such scrutiny and questioning.

c. The feminists in the country were also considerably mute as the incident was between minors and therafter went with the public sentiment.

d. The mainstream press while it took pleasure in the scandal itself and made discussions didn’t come out with any useful ideas. The idea of not giving mobiles/cell phones with cameras in them was put up (which were expensive at that point of time) and more attention that should be put by parents. Also an idea being propounded at that point in time was that the school was also partly responsible not just because it happened in its campus but also it failed to incultate ethics in the students.

e. There were discussions about how school should take more of the parenting job and the parents inability to be there as they have competitive careers and houses to look after.

f. As shared above, there were also many such scandals which happened over time as it became commercially a viable activity to do such things.

g. There were also lot of fake videos which one can see of the same.

h. One of the more interesting off-shoots were the same incidents were cinematically produced, both in Dipankar Banerjee’s low-cost experimental movie ‘Love Sex and Dhoka’ as well as Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D. What was interesting to see that both of them were critically acclaimed as well as commercially a success as well. LSD a bit more, maybe due to the boldish title.

i. What is laughable in one sense is the hullabaloo raised when India is the second most popouous country in the world and on the road to become the most populous country.

j. There is an actual/dramatized court scene which got played out in some of the books where the girl reportedly lambasted the opposition lawyer and the judge for being hypocritical. While I cannot say whether this happened or not, it is true though that the mainstream press was strangely silent/mute during the judicial proceedings. This is very unlike the other high-profile cases such as the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case and other such cases of similar nature.

23. The two chapters ‘The future of Festivals An interview with Arjon Dunnewind’ and ‘Far from Impact’ written by Stefan Decostere tells about art.cinema,sound and video installations/mixtures and experiences. While the chapters did give some idea they left me with a craving to be at the festivals. As I have said before perhaps, having a DVD-blue ray disc with these installations/videos would have made the experience lot more intimate as well as real. Many of the ideas and experiences remain abstracted as they are not felt, just thought about 😦

23. I enjoyed ‘Programmatic Statements For a Facetted Videography’ by Adrian Miles (page 223) . I really enjoyed his observation :-

These are the wholes that film deals with, and this attribute of wholeness is external to the shot precisely because the shot can be subdivided. If this were an internal quality then cutting the shot would qualitatively change it, but as is well documented the most significant way in which the shot can be fundamentally altered is by the relations it is placed within – where and how it is placed within a sequence. This provides evidence of the external relations that are a necessary attribute of the shot, as the meaning or value attributed to the shot is highly contextually determined by these sequences. What that image of a woman’s face is understood to mean (apart from its simple and possibly trivial denotation as a particular woman’s face) is determined by the shots it finds itself surrounded by.

I just wish he had given some examples/references of the same. I have seen the same method being used in traditional cinema. Specifically over the last 5 years, it has been more prominent. Just to cite an example, in Hindi one movie which comes to mind ‘Dus Kahaniyaan‘ captures this same idea. See the story ‘Strangers in the night’ where a shot of Neha Dupia kissing a man’s fist is shown which leads the audience to believe something while later it becomes something else. The Hollywood movie Deja Vu also used the same technique. In effect, its all about referencing as shared by Adrian.

Going further, I also loved Adrian’s take on linear and non-linear video editing practices. As a blogger, I enjoyed it completely as the same can be applied to blogging and user-generated wiki practices as well which share the same features. An end-user doesn’t come to know as to how many drafts or revisions (in wikipedia speak) went to make an article/post more readable. In wikipedia this is transparently known, in blog posts no such procedure to know till date. This would have been fun to explore a bit more.

24. Throughout the whole book most of the authors rave about the point that once a video is uploaded, if subsequently its banned due to any issues (as an e.g. they have shared the Keanu Reaves Scientology interview) I have seen the same/similar thing on rapidshare as well. Whether its videos or files, many a times they get reposted with changing a letter here or there. I have been observing this phenomenon for the last 6-7 years if not more. I don’t really get the point as they don’t say anywhere that Youtube was the first network service to actually be bombarded by files which had been banned for one reason or the other. Hence from what I see people/activists just used the same behavior they were doing other places similarly here. Also what may be shameful to one culture would not be to another for sure.

The review is wholly incomplete at this point but some point to ponder for sure.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] the book “Video Vortex Reader: Responses to Youtube” which I had been in the process of reviewing since last month. The Chapter ‘Why not (to) teach on Youtube by Alexandra Juhasz (page 133) […]

    Pingback by Mini Debian Conference – Day 1 « Experiences in the community — August 11, 2010 @ 8:57 pm | Reply


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