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Lights, camera, vlog: new video craze hits Internet

Posted by inet - 2005-12-20

From the Internet counter-culture which spawned blogs and podcasts comes the newest thing in new media: vlogging.
In short video diaries and homemade reality shows, vloggers are using the power of cheap online technology to invite strangers into their lives.

Topics range from in-depth discussions on the meaning of the universe to crude and jerky snapshots of everyday life.

In new vlogs uploaded this week, you could take a spin through teeming Mumbai in an auto-rickshaw, drop in on the life of young Filipina vlogger Karen Avila or watch a woman simply tending a kettle in her New York apartment.

Vlogs are an offshoot of "blogs", or weblogs -- diaries posted on the Internet which sparked a new wave of "citizen journalism" -- and their audio equivalent, podcasting.

Vlogging's time has come thanks to a new generation of cheap cameras, editing programs and simple software -- plus fast broadband connections needed to download content.

It draws on the utopian dreams of pioneers who envisage a network of citizen journalists across the globe, liberated from the "we know what's best for you" patronage of established media firms.

"People are interested in seeing more of real people -- they are kind of getting sick of the very flashy content and want something more down to Earth," said Amanda Congdon, co-writer and anchor of "Rocketboom", a wildly successful New York-based vlog.

In one recent edition of another vlog, "The Carol and Steve Show", producer Steve Garfield strolled through Boston's snowy streets, discussing nascent vlog culture with his wife.

"Sometimes writers say video blogs are boring because they are not like TV shows," Garfield mused as he filmed the couple with a camera held at arm's length.

"But they are not trying to be TV shows; they are just capturing fleeting moments of people's lives."

The vlogging craze hints at the coming convergence of the Internet and television, and the soon-to-dawn day when programs will be offered a la carte as Web downloads rather than when a media firm chooses to broadcast them.

It comes as established media companies -- newspapers as well as broadcast giants -- are starting to post podcasts, videocasts and video news reports alongside written content.

Apple's unveiling in October of its new video iPod was a giant leap for vlogging -- as short, basic downloads are ideal for the device's small screen.

Some vloggers glimpsed the true potential of the medium after last December's Asian tsunami disaster, when home videos, many made by tourists, were all over mainstream television stations and many were uploaded to the Web.

"They had their moment in the tsunami coverage, when the BBC and other (established media) opened their websites to them," said Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet and American Life Project in Washington.

Amateur video reporters were also out in force when Hurricane Katrina smashed the US Gulf Coast with a murderous flood surge on August 29.

Vloggers have also posted online travelogues -- one man even recorded traffic through the Panama Canal for an entire week, then speeded it up and posted it on the Web.

No reliable estimate is available on how many people are vlogging, but one vlog map program shows sites blossoming in the United States, Canada, Western Europe and Australia. Some are also cropping up in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Rocketboom is the darling of the new vlogging frontier -- a sassy digest of quirky news, Web gossip and entertainment five days a week from New York.

The site, which debuted in 2004, now has 100,000 downloads a day and is alerting advertisers to the potential of vlog entrepreneurs.

Those 100,000 pairs of eyes from the United States, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and even Tanzania and Nigeria bring Rocketboom within shouting distance of some of the lower-rated US cable talk shows.

An operation like Rocketboom, with its basic set of a table and a map, does not need millions of dollars to go on the air -- unlike TV stations.

"The costs are incredibly lower. It's a mistake to judge distributed media on the same terms as big old media," said Jeff Jarvis, a new media analyst, critic and blogger on BuzzMachine.com.

"Rocketboom needs the advertising revenue, but it doesn't take much to make it profitable. Now the definition of 'big enough' to make it worthwhile has changed."

The site is currently completely free, but Congdon, who operates it along with Web designer and independent filmmaker Andrew Baron, said Rocketboom may soon introduce a subscription package for premium content.

Other possible marketing models for vloggers include advertising, merchandising and licensing.

TiVo said this month that it had a deal with Rocketboom which will enable users to download the vlog on the popular digitial video recorder.

Sceptics of vlogging, and of blogging and podcasting before it, will argue that while the video weblogs are a pleasant diversion, they will never be able to offer the heft, resources and analytic weight of established media.

Vlog devotees say that is exactly the point.

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