By Heather Green
Following in the footsteps of text blogs, video blogs are starting to take off on the Internet. This new form of grassroots digital media is being shepherded along by groups of film makers and video buffs who started pooling publishing tips and linking to each other in earnest this year.
The results are astonishing, downright funny, and sometimes puzzling. However you describe it, the new video blogs, or what some call vlogs, are compelling in the creativity they're unleashing and the changes they could bring to the media status quo (see BW Online, 12/29/04, "Online Video: The Sequel").
In Boston, Steve Garfield is practicing his own brand of citizen journalism. His video reports at stevegarfield.blogs.com/videoblog are as local as they come, ranging from coverage of this summer's Democratic National Convention to a video of a downed power line on his street. At human-dog.com, run by Chris Weagel, a St. Clair Shores (Mich.) video producer, visitors can watch a spare, silent film showing an anonymous person removing a John Kerry yard sign from its metal posts after the Presidential election and taping an upside-down flag in its place.
Ryan Hodson, a 25-year-old film editor, specializes in videos that mingle the absurd with oddly touching insights. In one clip, she tours her house. In the kitchen, the camera focuses on a pot on a stove as Hodson describes the night her roommate tried to cook Dinty Moore Stew without -- as the camera pans up to recreate -- pouring the food out of the can. In another video, she created split-screen montages of her brother racing bicycles, showing him crashing, and then out ahead of the pack.
The trio are among the pioneers spearheading a fast-evolving grassroots movement. It's an amazing process to watch as creative pockets begin to interact around the country. Garfield, Hodson, and Weagel are all part of a Yahoo! community group dedicated to video blogging that was formed in June by Jay Dedman, a New Yorker who works at a public-access TV station.
In turn, that Yahoo group began working in late summer with Ourmedia, a new site backed by a who's who of bloggers and grassroots media advocates. Intended to be a showplace for digital content, Ourmedia is being given free storage space by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library backed by the entrepreneur Brewster Kahle.
Ourmedia is also tapping into the publishing and copyright licensing tools developed by Creative Commons, another grassroots nonprofit founded by Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford Law School professor and one of America's best known commentators on intellectual-property issues.
The links among the various groups don't stop there. Yahoo (YHOO ), which unveiled a video search service earlier this month, is working with Ourmedia, Creative Commons, and commercial sites such as indie-film service AtomFilms to develop a video version of Really Simple Syndication, or RSS.
Using RSS, Web surfers would choose the types of videos they want to see and have them sent automatically to their computers. The technology also allows independent video makers to submit their films to Yahoo's search engine automatically. Separately, startup Kontiki, which has helped the likes of CNET (CNET ) set up online video services, is also creating a free service that plans to aggregate online videos together using RSS.
So what does this virtual frenzy add up to? There are hints of what the renewed interest in online video, spurred by vlogging, could mean for aspiring directors. By taking advantage of the technology popularized by video bloggers, more indie filmmakers will likely reach a wider audience.
Creating such an audience will likely spawn new business models. The biggest impact could be the creation of on-demand services, a sort of alternative TiVo (TIVO ) online. If video RSS takes off, it would present just one more diversion from the established media. And like text blogs, it would be a diversion that evolves outside of the control of big media.
Other outgrowths, including video blogs that make money through selling ads or DVDs, are likely in time. Some isolated examples already exist of homegrown works that were initially shown online before being turned into commercial DVDs. The most famous example is Broken Saints, a 24-part animated fantasy series that attracted a cult-like following during its run online from 2001 to 2003.
Artists may end up getting enough of a following to allow them to get on TV. Already, an alternative show called ZeD that airs at 11:30 p.m. on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. often features videos submitted through its Web site.
Though the movement is in its early stages, it's easy to imagine that video blogs could have as big an impact as text blogs. Indeed, they're already doing what has been the real strength of traditional blogging -- promoting one another's work. And even if the vast majority of the videos remain a novelty, the explosion of experimentation is a welcome sight.
Green is BusinessWeek's Internet editor in New York
Edited by Jim Kerstetter