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Streams of Thought: Passing It On: Recording (and Consuming) Our Hobbies and Habits

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Several sites have sprung up recently that feature consumer-generated, how-to video content, a trend that carries with it deeper social meaning than initially meets the eye. Each of these sites—ViewDo.com, VideoJug.com, and ExpertVillage—have several social drivers in common.

First, the content is targeted toward learners, whether those who are just curious about general topics as diverse as dancing and cooking or those who have a very specific and timely need, such as tying a Windsor knot. The learner-as-consumer trend, of course, is not new: The self-help and do-it-yourself (DIY) industries are firmly established. What is new, however, is that learners learn from other consumers rather than sanctioned "experts."

Second, the mode of learning is shifting. Passing on knowledge has often relied on oral tradition or demonstrations; while written documents are helpful in many instances, many learners fare better by hearing or seeing rather than reading. Even those who primarily learn from reading fare better with audio or visual reinforcement.

The problem with oral tradition and demonstrations, however, is that they are subject to change and are not easily replicable. But this trend of DIY video clips addresses replicability. Even though there are several demonstrations of how to tie a tie across the various sites, each individual recording remains constant and has the potential to be passed on to the next generation or just the next-door neighbor.

Third, the location of learning is changing, allowing the general public to learn at either the point of interest or the point of need. Before these sites emerged, with their content in bite-size portable packages (all have iPod-compatible video versions of their most popular content), a consumer with an interest in a topic had to either watch TV, purchase or rent DVDs, join a class, or—in times of crisis—hire an expert.

Fourth, knowledge is beginning to be hoarded. As the trend of moving this information into a portable video form, allowing for a single viewing or multiple reviews, begins to gather steam, consumers will feel compelled to create their own personal knowledge libraries. This trend will probably be driven by parents who want to introduce their children to particular topics at particular times, and the elderly whose caregivers want to provide a reference point for those who might be on the verge of losing memories of basic skills. This trend will be antithetical to some of the sites’ business models but will continue unabated, causing a rethinking of some of those initial models.

Finally, the trend is taking a page from an old playbook and a page from a new one. The old playbook, akin to the photo assignments given to members of the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), is to create a list of needed content and set aside funds to pay for it. ExpertVillage recently budgeted $2 million to generate several thousand videos on a wide variety of topics. This assumes that an amateur or semi-pro with an interest in a topic will accept a lower rate to capture content in a templated format (the company has budgeted about $300 per video). Funding the capture of content, even at a nominal rate, clearly identifies ownership and can be used as leverage to guarantee ExpertVillage a certain level of quality and consistency in the videos that are captured.

The new playbook assumes that consumers are willing to capture and upload content on topics of personal interest for little or no compensation. This model means that content quality will vary widely but will be generated on a scale rivaling sites such as YouTube and Google Video.

A third and fourth model may emerge over time. The third would look for sponsors to fund content creation, although that may be a bit suspect in consumers’ eyes if it promotes the sponsor’s brand. The fourth would be a concerted public effort that allows captured content to remain free and in the public domain. This also hearkens back to the CCC photographers of old: not only were they given assignments that provided them with meaningful satisfaction and a steady income, but they also provided the government with a chronicle of the Depression that has endured as a reminder of what people went through in 1930s America.

So why should you care? In a nutshell, these DIY video sites are harbingers of a shift in the usage of streaming media toward highly specialized sites that are also highly trafficked (and potentially highly profitable). We’ve seen the power that a general video-centric site such as YouTube can generate, but the trends presented here may potentially lead to sites that see 12–15 times the daily traffic of today’s most visited video sites. After all, why retain knowledge of how to make wasabi when you can always reach for the video cookbook that creates it in real time alongside you?

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