Asynchronous Video Threading

Asynchronous Video Threading

I spent the day on Seesmic yesterday and had a 90-post conversation involving several of the members. I'll say first of all that Seesmic has made TONS of improvements since Andrew Lipson gave me an invite 3 months ago. They're always making improvements to their site, so this post may very well be outdated relatively soon. :)

If you don't know what Seesmic is, it's basically like having a conversation with people on a bunch of stickies. In a way, it's like Twitter, except it's video and audio instead of text. You get to record a video which goes into the "public" timeline, and other people can watch it just about as soon as you post it. People who see your video can record their own video and make it a reply to your video if they so choose.

They relatively recently implemented threading as a one-dimensional, reverse chronological timeline. This was way better than no threading AT ALL :D but having held a several-hour-long conversation on it that was about actual intellectual concepts, not "what to name a dog" or "who's going on a date tonight", I got to experience the downsides of asynchronous video threading in Seesmic's current format.

The reason I make a point of it being asynchronous is that it's not a real-time conversation. It's more like twitter or an email group than it is like Yahoo Live where several people speak to each other simultaneously, or even chat rooms, where everyone's there at the same time and can jump in with their opinions if they feel like it.

Liz Burr made some excellent points that I hadn't paid attention to as I was absorbing so many other things during a full day's use of the app. Someone had made the point that because you record your own video and decide when to stop it, you get to say what you want in its entirety without being interrupted. Liz mentioned that since it's asynchronous, you can be turned OFF at ANY point, or not listened to at all, as your screen name and icon are attached to your video in the thread. This means you have more of a chance of not.being.heard.at.all. if someone decides that what you have to say isn't worth listening to based on your behaviors and what you had to say in previous videos. I "knew" this, but I hadn't processed it until she mentioned it to me. I was already employing that behavior, for example, after listening to a post from someone that I determined was garbage, I would skip anything with their face on it after that.

At this point, I should mention how Seesmic is set up for people to become aware of people's posts. It's important to understand this to understand why one-dimensional threading is NOT optimal for an application like this. There's a "public" timeline that catches everyone's videos. This is world-wide, but you can set it to only pick up posts in your language. That's still A LOT of people, and it's not even open to the public yet. Your next option is a "friends" timeline. You get to choose to "follow" people, and only their videos will show up in this timeline. This is another way you can elect to bypass people whom you've determined have nothing valid or intelligent to say... don't "follow" them. They'll still show up if you're looking at a thread that they've contributed videos to, but then you resort to visual parsing and skip them as usual.

These abilities to select people to follow and people to "allow to speak" by clicking on their videos and watching them all the way to the end absolutely alters each person's perception of a thread they arrive to. Seesmic member Otir read a perfect analogy of the situation, telling the story of a bunch of blind people whom were all offered different sections of an elephant to feel and then to give their opinion of what an elephant is like. Each of them had their own perception of "an elephant", and that perception colored what they had to say about elephants.

First of all, if you're following certain people, their posts come up in your "friends" timeline. If you click on the member's icon, you go straight to their opinion. That's a good thing. However, you're jumping in in the middle of the thread. You can click "conversation" and see the entire list of posts in that thread. This is where your personal bias comes into play. If you don't have any respect for the people earlier in the timeline, you might skip their videos entirely, bypassing much of the context of the situation. If there are a whole lot of videos before the person you're following, you might not be inclined to watch an hour's worth of posts before you enjoy what you really came here to see... thus, bypassing much of the context of the situation. If you've determined that the person you're following is more credible than others in the thread, you may be inclined to reply along the lines of that personal bias. This is where we get the blind people approaching the elephant from different sides and angles.

Another "problem" with this layout is that what you're looking at is NOT actually linear other than chronologically. The posts are laid out by the TIME that they were posted to the site, but they are not differentiated by the TANGENT of the thread that that particular post followed. This leads to a circular, "telephone game" situation, because people show up to a thread hours after it started, read something a "friend" of theirs posted, which was dealt with hours ago, and respond to that person's post without watching all of the surrounding material.

My thread was 90 posts long. Even if each person took only one minute to say what they had to say (and I've seen videos that were 5 minutes long, so if there's a time limit on individual videos, it's NOT shorter than that), that means that to absorb the entire thread, you'd have to sit there as long as a feature film. People aren't going to wait that long to reply. As a matter of fact, people started showing up and making NEW threads asking for someone to summarize my thread because they didn't want to go back and read it all. This is another way that posts get "lost in the sauce". People show up and want to be involved, but don't want to put in the work to go back and experience each post.

Another reason it becomes circular is let's say you have three tangents in a thread. As the original thread participants scramble "left and right" (since it's all appearing as a one-dimensional timeline) to deal with tangents, 20 posts down the line, someone reads something from a tangent that was already resolved, hits "reply" and now, your 21st post is actually a response to your 5th post. :/ Then, THEIR "friends" see what THEY posted and continue the previously resolved tangent, causing the original thread participants to scramble over there and put out THAT fire... AGAIN. :/ Meanwhile, the thread splinters more and more and is misinterpreted more and more but LOOKS like a single, chronologically-ordered discussion. The snowball rolls further downhill when someone shows up to post #60, which is really only three posts removed from post #5 and doesn't want to read the rest of the material, so they assume that all 60 posts have been along the same tangent.

Like I said, this only comes into play if you're trying to have an intelligent conversation. If you're just socializing via video, you don't need to worry about tangents and following thoughts and concepts. You just throw up a "me too" post and you're good... you feel like you're a part of the conversation, whether people are "following" you or not.

Jan McLaughlin mentioned an addition that I think would work very well in these situations... the ability for the originator to moderate their thread. I suppose the ability to assign mods would be useful as well. A couple of days ago, I left a 32-post thread of mine for a few hours and when I returned, it was around 60. Thinking that there was much interesting material to sift through, I clicked on it, only to realize that two people had started online dating in my thread. :/ Instead of taking their chances in the "public" timeline, the best way to try to get each other's attention was to click "reply" so that it would show up in their "replies" folder (an alternative timeline to "public" or "friends". The unfortunate side-effect of this was that as they kept "reply"ing to each other, their posts were being added to my thread.

It would be lovely to have a way to separate irrelevant posts from your thread. It would be lovely to be able to remove videos posted to your thread by people that just showed up to act dumb. Not *delete* them, just remove them from YOUR thread so that new people arriving after the fact wouldn't bail on your 70-post thread because there are 30 posts worth of online dating inside it that's completely indistinguishable from on-point conversation in a one-dimensional reverse chronological timeline.

Seesmic's making tons of improvements, so I'm sure features are coming down the line that will facilitate intelligent conversation, such as GROUPS. The ability to have a discussion only amongst the people that *you* choose would be a major development. There's no need to block others from reading it. Just stop them from diluting the content and making the originators waste time running around putting out fires. Like I said, they've progressed in leaps and bounds in the three months that I've been on the service.

Personally, I'm a fan of synchronous interaction, whether we're talking live video or text chat. Even IRL, I enjoy holding arguments against 5 people at a time. :D The upside of asynchronous conversation is that you only have to make your point ONCE, and everyone hears it and we can all move forward and explore greater depths of the conversation. The downside is that you have to actually BE THERE at the time it's happening to be a part of it. If you show up hours later, all you can do is watch the archive, if there is one.

The upside of asynchronous conversation is that you can join in on work breaks, when you get out of class, whenever it's convenient for you, you can add something to an ongoing discussion. The downside is that depending on how much time has elapsed between the beginning of the conversation and your arrival, you might not be willing to put in the work to absorb the entirety of the conversation anyway.

Bill Cammack • Cammack Media Group, LLC

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