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 They’re always making improvements to their site, so this post may very well be outdated relatively soon.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 😀 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. 😀 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

Do NOT Tamper With Your Comments!

I told my ex-girlfriend not to lie to me… I mean, she was still my girlfriend at the time, and now she isn’t. The reason I told her that was that I was catching her in small, seemingly insignificant lies. VERY VERY small lies… Not even worth telling, to be sure. I explained to her that the most important thing you have in a relationship is trust. Without TRUST, you have nothing at all, because any communication you have with anyone will be tainted… untrustworthy… disbelieved. Lying to me about small things is WORSE than lying to me about important things, because it’s not necessary. If your character can’t stand up to the smallest criticism and you feel the pressure and need to LIE, then you CERTAINLY don’t have the stomach to tell me the truth when it REALLY counts.

WHAT does this have to do with “Technology”, you ask?… Because the same holds true in many situations, *including* posting on the internet. The way a lot of blogs are set up, including this one that I’m posting to right now, after the main entry, there’s a section for comments. This is the place for viewers/readers to weigh in and let you know if they agree OR disagree with what you said, and why.

The benefit of having comments is taking a post from being a soliloquy to being the beginning of a conversation. It’s like having a lecture and then at the end, opening up the floor to any questions your audience might have. *YOU* are just as responsible for and will be held accountable for what happens in your comment section as you will be held accountable for what you post in the main entry. Just like I told my ex… (paraphrasing, hahaha) the way you carry yourself in dealing with comments can make or break your credibility in EVERYTHING ELSE that’s MORE IMPORTANT than your comments section…..

Let’s take a very simple example that everyone should be able to follow:

Let’s say you have a company that sells widgets. Let’s say your business blog is “widgetblog”, and is a blog about widgets. Let’s say you also author “personalblog”, and what you post there has NOTHING to do with widgets, and only to do with your personal life. Unfortunately for you, you can not separate these three things if people know that you’re connected to all of them. Similar to a chain, your credibility is only as strong as the *WEAKEST* link.

Now, let’s say you post that “the sky is blue”. Let’s say that several people post “I agree, the sky IS blue!” and those comments are not tampered with. What do you do when someone posts “the sky is actually grey”? This person has now added their personal opinion to the discussion that you started. Do you leave this dissenting opinion on your site so that people can see the HONEST, TRANSPARENT format of how the discussion actually unfolded?…. OR…. Do you log in as “admin” and CHANGE THAT POST so it now reads “the sky is blue”?

Let’s say you get five more “blues” and two more “greys” and even a “red”… What now? Do you log in AGAIN, and tamper with your comments AGAIN? When someone comes to your post the next day, will EVERYONE be in agreement with your position? Is that fair? Is that HONEST? Is that *transparent*?

Now, in most cases, you can get away with this underhanded behavior. There’s only one thing you have to do to maintain your credibility and look like people agree with you….. Be. Faster. Than. Everyone. Else. That. Reads. Your. Blog!

If you come to your blog, and the dissenting posts have been sitting there for an hour, consider the possibility that SEVERAL PEOPLE may have ALREADY READ THEM and will see you for who you really are and what you’re really doing if you tamper with your comments. :/

What’s the problem if you get caught tampering with your comments?…. “Trickle Up”! 😀

If you get caught tampering with comments on PERSONAL posts, your credibility is *SHOT*. You can NOT be trusted. If you can’t be trusted with the comments on your personal post, you can’t be trusted in what you POSTED either. Why tell the truth, when you could make up a convenient lie to make yourself look good? Now, your entire personalblog is tainted. Meanwhile, you’re the same person that writes and moderates widgetblog. Why should we believe that you’re willing to risk your business by allowing people to have opinions contrary to YOUR best interests? Now, the posts AND comments on widgetblog are tainted.

Meanwhile, you’re the owner of the widget company. Why should your character in doing business with someone face to face, shaking their hand and looking them in the eye be any stronger than when you’re posting a business or personal blog? So, unfortunately “this person is a liar” trickles UP to where you don’t want it because you didn’t have the stomach to leave your comments alone and perhaps POST A REBUTTAL? Stand up for your own statements? Explain to the dissenting commenter why you think you’re right and they’re wrong? Seriously. :/

Assuming you feel you’re prone to resort to underhanded tactics to make yourself look good in the future by tampering with people’s comments today… Here are some things you can do that will still make you look like you have something to hide, but there’s no PROOF, like when a statement that was “X” for 45 minutes, suddenly becomes “Y” merely by clicking ‘refresh’ in your browser. :/

Turn Off Comments – Your word is law and that’s it. Anybody who comes to personalblog or widgetblog will get what YOU have to say about things, and that’s it. Nobody else has any say.

Turn On Moderation – Make it so that NOBODY’S comments make it to personalblog or widgetblog unless YOU approve them. That way, when everything ends up positive, you just look like you spun the situation by only letting the comments through that you liked. This is DIFFERENT from changing people’s posts because there’s never anything negative for people to see in the first place, AND dissenting comments don’t become agreeing comments with the same person’s name on the top, posted at the exact same time.

Delete Dissenting Comments – MUCH, MUCH better than changing what people had to say from “X” to “Y” is deleting their comments altogether. That way, you look like someone who can’t handle the truth instead of someone actively cheating to make it look like everyone’s on your side in this situation.

Don’t Blog At All – Really, I don’t understand why some people post things on the net in the form of a blog with comments, when they don’t REALLY want to hear what people honestly think about what they’re saying or doing.

Maybe two years ago, I read something I thought was interesting on someone’s blog. I thought it was very interesting….. as well as COMPLETELY WRONG! 😀 I explained to her very professinally and clinically WHY she was wrong by posting a comment on her blog. Eventually, I got an email from her saying that she was going to erase my comment, and suggested (to her credit, because I hadn’t saved my post anywhere) that I copy it and post it on my own blog and link to hers.

I wrote back to her, thanked her for not deleting my post FIRST, and explained to her (in not so flowery terms) that I thought she was lame for having a web site where all she wanted on it was her opinions and people that agreed with her position. She was doing a disservice to her readers, because with all of them commiserating and rallying around the flag, it was the blind leading the blind, and they were never going to get to the solution to their problem, because they had the question wrong in the first place.

Since then, I’ve come to realize that many people post NOT to START a conversation, but to appear as if they’re an authority in something. They think that as long as they post something and nobody disagrees, they look intelligent or wise. I now realize that a lot of people use the internet to make themselves feel better or to doctor the results so as to convince themselves that they’re in the right and someone else was in the wrong.

That’s all well and good, however, if that’s the type of person you are, don’t think that people aren’t figuring you out. Don’t think that you’re getting away with tampering with comments or juking stats scot-free. Your credibility’s taking a hit, and you may find out down the line when nobody wants to buy your widgets that it’s because more people than you know saw you tampering with comments on some seemingly insignificant post and decided that your credibility as a businessperson has been seriously undermined by your personal character.

Bill Cammack • Cammack Media Group, LLC

EMS Episode 96: Stacy Morrison @ BlogHerBiz ‘07

Click here for Quicktime Version & Embed Codes

Redbook Magazine editor-in-chief Stacy Morrison discusses progressive approaches to advertising.

Closing Keynote: Is the Ethos of the Social Media World Changing How We Conduct Business Online and Offline?

Lisa Stone moderates this discussion about whether corporate leaders are seeing and leveraging more ideas generated from the outside in and from the bottom up as they lead their household brands into the future. Lisa is joined by iVillage President, Debi Fine, Google VP of Search Products and User Experience Marissa Mayer, Redbook Magazine editor-in-chief Stacy Morrison and WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive CEO Caroline Little for the discussion.

billcammack reelsolidtv blogherbiz blogher videobloggingweek2007

EMS Episode 95: Marissa Mayer @ BlogHerBiz ‘07

Google VP of Search Products and User Experience Marissa Mayer discusses being reactive vs being innovative, and ROI on Google’s “20 percent time”.

Closing Keynote: Is the Ethos of the Social Media World Changing How We Conduct Business Online and Offline?

Lisa Stone moderates this discussion about whether corporate leaders are seeing and leveraging more ideas generated from the outside in and from the bottom up as they lead their household brands into the future. Lisa is joined by iVillage President, Debi Fine, Google VP of Search Products and User Experience Marissa Mayer, Redbook Magazine editor-in-chief Stacy Morrison and WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive CEO Caroline Little for the discussion.

billcammack reelsolidtv blogherbiz blogher videobloggingweek2007

EMS Episode 94: Debi Fine @ BlogHerBiz ‘07

iVillage President, Debi Fine discusses the value of assembing a hybrid team.

Closing Keynote: Is the Ethos of the Social Media World Changing How We Conduct Business Online and Offline?

Lisa Stone moderates this discussion about whether corporate leaders are seeing and leveraging more ideas generated from the outside in and from the bottom up as they lead their household brands into the future. Lisa is joined by iVillage President, Debi Fine, Google VP of Search Products and User Experience Marissa Mayer, Redbook Magazine editor-in-chief Stacy Morrison and WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive CEO Caroline Little for the discussion.

billcammack reelsolidtv blogherbiz blogher videobloggingweek2007