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« links for 2009-01-13 | Main | links for 2009-01-12 »

Why Text Remains King of the Web

My friend Robert Scoble has a problem. He produces terrific videos on technology companies for Fast Company. They're a little long sometimes, but they're almost always interesting.

So what's Scoble's problem? Well a lot. The videos don't generate a lot of in-bound links from bloggers, conversations on Twitter or mentions on aggregators like Techmeme. "None of my 1,000+ videos has ever made it to Techmeme," Scoble said

He's right. A quick analysis reveals some get no links, others get a couple. However, when he surrounds them with text, it's a different story. Why? Text! It provides context and I suspect for many it's a proxy for the video.

I am starting to believe that despite all the hype around online video, text remains King of the Web. Why text? There are at least five reasons...

  • It's scannable - according to Jakob Nielsen users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average site visit and 20% is more likely

  • Three letters: SEO - For all that Google Universal Search has done to elevate video, search results are still largely made up of text and everyone wants better SEO

  • The workplace - It's much easier for cube-based workers to read text on the screen and get away with it vs. watching long videos. Watching videos (even work related vids) screams "slacker"  

  • Mobile Devices - Yes, of course you can put a video on an iPhone. But it's work and requires planning. Text is easier to pull up in a nanosecond  

  • Distribution - Nothing flies like text. It's so easy to cut and paste it and send it somewhere or to clip and re-syndicate it via email, RSS or social networks

I don't know about you but I love text. Now I have always been a reader. Today I am a scanner. So for me it comes natural.

Still, think about just how much of what you consume and share online remains text-based. Twitter - it's all text. Friendfeed - mostly text, but augmented by images. Facebook - a mix but certainly a ton of text. Even what makes YouTube hot is the metadata and commentary around the vids. So I don't see any big threat to King Text. 

So what does this mean? Well, if you're creating video you better pay attention to the text you put around it. Without text, you're dead. You won't be found. Further, if you want to influence you must have a command of the English language and know how to write for the web in sound bites. More on that in a subsequent post. I believe marketers and PR pros are well positioned to succeed.

What's your view?

Reader Comments (77)

I agree completely that text is still king, but video content is a very powerful way to communicate online as well. I think the problem is that Scoble has a better brand as a blogger than he does videographer. I'm sure Garyvee would not have built such an incredible media empire and business if he had limited himself to text. In the end content is king, but content needs to be given the appropriate media depending on what you are communicating. If you're trying to get personality and passion across, nothing beats video, if you're creating news that needs to travel fast across the web then text is it.

January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKarl Long
If you think about it, even old fashioned TV shows have text around them. Think TV Guide or even the TV Guide Channel. Movies are marketed with text - reviews, posters, adverts, etc. No matter what context, text is almost always the prelude to someone finding a new show to watch. I don't know why anyone would think it's different for the web. With that said, if you are producing video for the web, you better surround it with descriptive text if you want people to find it.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris Condayan
I agree wholeheartedly. I am much, much more likely to read (and therefore link to) a text post than a video. With text it's also easier to quote just a portion, to tweet, to use in other works, etc.

Of course, this may change as the web and TV become more integrated. The Apple TV, as an example ... it shows YouTube but not web pages, simply because when people are sitting down to watch TV they don't really care about reading. So if the browser becomes the TV, video becomes king.

There will always be room for both, but for now, yes, text rules the web. Great post, Steve.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLeo
I don't watch much video online. Partly bandwidth concerns (broadband is lagging behind in NZ) but partly I can scan text much faster. So if it's just a head spouting information at me, for goodness sake give it to me in text. If I watch a video I need it to be hypersaturated in information: sound and images both need to be telling me things simultaneously.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Fitchett
I agree, and great post, I have always wondered why I have always preferred text over any other, the scan ablity is a big factor, and also the fact that you can read while listening to something else.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Childs
Well, it's interesting, isn't it?

Thoughts about your points:

1. So, we're saying that reading maybe 20% of something is more valuable than watching a video addressing the same issue? What makes us assume that? Reading 20% of something is likely to have very little impact, so, counting that event as a positive is pretty suspect.

2. How long do we think it will be before someone cracks a video SEO strategy? Even if it's a couple of years away, clicking "Video" on the search results gives the serious user a whole other set of options.

3. Yup, slackers will always be slackers, taking the lowest road to responsibilities. Anyone who wants these people working in your company, raise your hand. Fact is, telling people to get jazzed by whatever it is that jazzes them is the winning culture strategy today. Tell 'em to watch whatever they want—encourage them—as long as they deliver what want them to deliver.

4. Yup. See point #2.

5. No doubt about it.

Your last paragraph nails it for me. Text isn't "dead." It's just that we're coming into an age in which sound and image become as important as words and numbers were in the last age. Developing a mastery of all four is the trick for individuals and companies.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTom
Deborah video is linear. It's almost analog even though it's digital. Textneed not be thanks to scanning and search.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Rubel
A very well-stated case. Video producers, like Robert Scoble, do a lot of planning, spend a lot of time traveling to locations, setting up, checking the lighting, and then recording. They will then usually do some editing and finally post. Meanwhile, writers think, write, and think some more and rewrite.

(From a writer who used to be a videographer.)
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nocera
Hi, Steve -

Your comment about scanability meshes well with my experience. I'll happily stream video if I can quickly scan a review or description of it first to make sure it's worth my time to sit through it. And if I'm on my iPhone in a non-3G area (most of my state, NH), that goes double. Until technology can catalogue audio as it can text, I'll always look for the visual cues that help me make good decisions about my time.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTammy Lenski
Tammy, I think it's actually more than a scanning, search and cataloguingissue - it's about sharing too. YouTube is making this easier. You can nowlink to a specific part of a video. Still, text is king.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Rubel
Yes I would agree, text is still king. I include video on my site, it's a regular feature, but 70 of what I do is text, 20 is photos and 10% is video. My readers don't want to stay around for a long video unless its is outstanding, and there simply is not enough of that around.

January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNick Grimshawe
Here's another reason: I can read text and absorb the content a whole lot faster than I can video. The recent trend with startup sites that do their "what you can do with the site" FAQs with video is driving me crazy. I don't want to watch it; I want to do it. I can read text about 5 times faster than I can watch a video. I have no patience for video, and especially video that's an interview with a static shot on the interviewer and interviewee.

Love music videos; love entertainment clips, love live video discussions. But that's about the extent of it.

(Oh, my real name is Open ID was done with my former pseudonym.)
I completely agree with you. I'd much rather read text than watch a video - unless I have TONS of recommendations for the video - that it is funny, exciting or in some way noteworthy. Even when I'm on popular news sites like CNN, I avoid the video links as much as I can. It takes me being really interested in something to watch a video. I think the two reasons that you list that are most relevant are Scannable and The Workplace.

The only thing I wonder is if the more acclimated we become to online video, will that begin to become more prominent? I mean it is ingrained in us to read for knowledge, but will watching video for knowledge become more prevalent?

January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Gryp
Text is the main course. Video is dessert. And if you're going to invite people over for dinner, the meal is what matters most, as sweet and effectual as dessert can be.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle LaPorte
Now you know why I invested more than 3,000 hours last year on Twitter and friendfeed and why I'm getting back into facebook and blogging more this year. Those are the real winners.

But without video I wouldn't have nearly the brand I have. I've been standing next to Mike Arrington of techcrunch when people come up to me and say hi and have no clue who he is. That's because of video.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Scoble
For me, it's quite simple: looking at video requires a high level of investment, so my threshold of expected return on it is much higher than for text. Also, for most of the content I'm interested in, text is simply a more efficient delivery medium.

If someone wants me to look at video, they need to lure me in with text. Which actually fits in neatly with the SEO story. Use an efficient, human and computer consumable description to lure in search engines and readers. Then up-sell them to invest the time in watching video.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Tunkelang
Test to see if my photo comes up now on comments. So complicated to comment on people's blogs nowadays! :-) (Yes, that was my comment above Daniel's).
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Scoble
As others have noted, video is a huge investment, both on the creation side and the consumption side. It takes a lot of time.

I tend to use video (as a consumer) for entertainment, training or diversion. It's a low-yield medium, though. I can usually pick up just as much pure information through text in 1/10 of the time.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim Windsor
100% agreed. I shy away from videos, because I just do not want to invest the time in them. Most are too full of BS. If they could be done more as PowerPoint presentations, with a bam, bam, bam approach, with only relevant points, then maybe I would watch more ... as it is, there is too much dead space and empty talk in them.

Text is scannable and therefore wins in this "attention crashed" world.

Good post.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Keener
Robert, I think you built your brand with your blog. To me, the videos are a lot like the work you did for Channel 9: A day job that isn't why I still follow you.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Sholin
Great points Steve. Text is still more versatile/flexible, and faster to get through and glean the main points. I rarely have time to sit and watch videos unless it's something I really need to watch but I can always scan text to get some quick points, sort of info grazing. That may change one day--or maybe not. Despite all the hoopla about video, I think text will be with us a long time.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermark ivey
"Linear" brings different things to my mind than you meant. The way you meant it, I think you're right.

The things it brings to my mind -- I read 'linear' as me getting a single stream of information, as opposed to getting multiple streams of information simultaneously, or a stream of information in multiple ways simultaneously. So in this sense, if it's a single stream of information, it bores me. But I'll probably like it if I'm getting multiple streams, or a stream in multiple ways. Sound and images reinforcing each other (or clashing with each other -- at this point I start thinking in literary terms rather than information-providing terms, which is a whole different ballgame).
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Fitchett
SteveTake a look at this article on video blogs and Cisco

If your audience is mostly internal (read: no one cares about SEO), your audience already knows you and will come and listen to what you have to say no matter what), then video is quicker, less expensive and more "brand" ready.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMukund Mohan
Great point - I don't want to sit through even 30 seconds waiting for the 'good bits', and that's what a video or podcast makes you do...wait!

An RSS reader lets you scan hundreds of posts a day - imagine trying to sit through that many videos or sound recordings!!
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKen Burgin
Now text's King of the web due to real web's infrastructure:gadgets,broadband etc.Real informational King's video+sound information but it's the future: we need 5 - 10 years.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIgor Poltavskiy

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