On not getting it, or YMMV

There’s a five-minute YouTube video that’s all the rage with libloggers over the past couple of days. It’s so hot, it’s scorching–and no, it has nothing to do with ninjas, StarWars fanflicks, music videos, any of that.

This one’s serious, apparently. Heck, it’s by a professor. It’s about “Web 2.0.” I think.

And it’s so meaningful and important that people are suggesting it should be used to open meetings…

I’m not linking to it. If you read any range of liblogs, you’ve already seen it or will when yet others link to it and praise its wonderfulness.

I’m not linking to it for the same reason I’m not going to criticize it.

I. Just. Don’t. Get. It.

I tried. I watched it twice.

To me, criticizing it would be like punching a big mound of mud: Not harmful but not terribly enlightening either.

I’m certainly not willing to assert that all of those who think this is hot stuff are wrong; some of those links come from people I admire. (Admittedly, the list of “people I admire” is long and growing, but still…) (And yes, people I admire can be wrong. I’m planning a post on “being wrong”–when I have the evening/weekend time that isn’t spent writing and reading. Any day now.)

So if they’re not wrong, then it must be me. Maybe I’m insufficiently visually literate.

Yep, that must be it. (I don’t get Jackson Pollock either. And I’ve tried.)

I won’t say “we all have our limits.” That’s a generalization, and likely to be false. I’ll just say I have my limits (“Well, duh,” I hear those of you who know me saying). And this video didn’t expand them–which is also something I try to do fairly frequently.

As always, your mileage may vary. If you really believe said video is hot stuff, don’t let me discourage you. Just don’t ask me to watch it a third time. I do have my limits.

Update: Quite apart from the fascinating and informative discussion in the comments, here’s a video that’s stunning in its clarity and production values. (via Betsy Bird, thus the indirect link)

22 Responses to “On not getting it, or YMMV”

  1. Steve Lawson says:

    So if you don’t get it, and you don’t want to talk about it, and you don’t even want to link to it, why post at all? To let others who “don’t get it” know that they aren’t alone?

  2. walt says:

    Could be. Or maybe it’s to see what comments I would get, such as ones asking why I wrote the post. Do remember the name of this blog…

  3. Okay, I hadn’t bothered to watch this until you snarked all over it, Walt. Now I’ve watched it.

    Its problem is that it’s two lectures, mashed-up. It’s an XML lecture, and it’s a social-software lecture. The two are not related to each other at all well, as presented.

    The XML portion of the lecture is… not very well-researched. (I’ve GIVEN this XML lecture, thank you very much, and earned spontaneous applause therefor. I was using XML practically before it existed as such. I know this stuff.) What he says about the origin of HTML is frankly wrong: it wasn’t “designed for web pages,” because nobody knew there would be a web! It was designed — very badly, I might add; TBL is not a typesetter, or he’d have known better — for research preprints.

    And what the presentation says about the separation of form and content — well, “form” is the wrong word. “Formatting” is more like it, and he completely fails to explain why the separation came about, and why it is so powerful. I can explain this, given forty-five minutes or so and a whiteboard. But then, I worked in publishing and I LIVED it.

    The social-software stuff didn’t impress me much; there’s nothing there that hasn’t been said elsewhere. The whole presentation is very slick, but I question what someone who isn’t already familiar with the issues in it — say, a brand-new library school student — would actually learn from it.

  4. Steve Lawson says:

    Gotcha. I really was curious by the way, not trying to hide hostility behind a veil of “misunderstanding.”

    As one of the people who linked to it enthusiastically, I think I was responding to the look of the words constantly writing and re-writing and the idea that the web is getting more interesting as the data behind the web becomes more useful and not just static. I do think that what is happening on the web should make us rethink a lot of things (maybe not “love,” but many of the other things he mentions). I called it “great” in my post, which is probably typical bloggy overstatement. I meant “nifty.”

    This assumes that we are talking about this video and not, say, this one. Tough to tell with these blind posts, dontcha know.

  5. walt says:

    Now this is getting interesting: Dorothea (one of those I respect and admire) says I’ve snarked all over something even though I didn’t identify it. And, actually, Dorothea explains pretty well why I didn’t get it. (Heck, Dorothea, we could probably discuss the separation between content and format for some time, without even bringing XML into it…)

    Steve, I didn’t assume hostility; I assumed curiosity, and responded in kind. Now that you’ve added the link–which is fine with me, I just didn’t feel the desire to do it up front (thus adding link love)–it’s not all that blind an item. “Nifty” doesn’t trouble me; it doesn’t float my boat, but there’s no reason it should. (SL doesn’t float my boat, but you won’t hear me arguing with those who think it’s nifty either–I trust “SL” for Second Life isn’t too blind.) It just didn’t…say…anything to me. (Actually, “great” doesn’t trouble me either. You’re also in that “respect and admire” list, which doesn’t mean that I need to agree with you, or vice versa. The topic of another set of posts that might someday get written or appear as a Perspective.)

    As to the second video: I couldn’t even watch that once.

    Vaguely related to which, I used to have an album by the person who did “write the song,” Bruce Johnston (sometimes of the Beach Boys). (No, not Mandy…). Probably this album. Somehow, I never got the CD version, if there is one. And I see the nearest library copy is down at UCSD.

    Tea’s cooling. Break’s over. Back to work.

  6. Eric Hines says:

    I agree that the video is not terribly interesting or informative. My wife is a librarian and she and her colleagues are all in a tizzy about how awesome this video is. I started watching it, thought it wasn’t terribly exciting, and stopped. Then she sent me the link, told me how awesome it was, and I decided to watch it all the way through. I think that my initial reaction was correct.

    I understand what the video is trying to tell its audience, but I don’t see why the way it does it is any better than other explanations that I have seen. As a social scientist, the only thing that I find interesting about it is the story behind the video. The professor who made it was attempting to demonstrate the concept of a viral videoto his anthropology students.

    Someone should could write a pretty good paper on why a significant portion of the library world (and the rest of the tech universe too) reacted so positively to this video.

  7. Steve Lawson says:

    Walt, I think you usually read me pretty well, so I didn’t think you would think I was being hostile. But when we are having these oh-so-two-point-oh conversations in public, I didn’t want others to think I was giving you an overly hard time. It seems that when someone starts a comment “I’m confused,” it usually means “I think you are full of @#$%.”

    We have to rethink snark^H^H^H^H^H respect^H^H^H^H^H^H^H passive-aggression^H^H … you get the idea…

    Anyway, I’m willing to believe the video is more style than substance. One might hope that someone would see it, think “this is interesting,” and then learn more about the details behind what he’s trying to get at–to prime someone for Dorothea’s pair of lectures, perhaps (which I’d love to hear. I’ve got a good handle on the format/content separation thing, but could stand to deepen my understanding of XML).

  8. walt says:

    Yes, I do get the idea. That has something to do with one post/group of posts/essay that might or might not get written.

    Meanwhile, this lunchtime randomness sure has developed an interesting and informative life of its own, thanks to comments. I love it when the comments are so much better than the post!

  9. Hi Walt-

    I felt pretty strongly that the video was preaching the choir, and I agree with Dorothy that it isn’t a great teaching tool, but I really enjoyed its presentation. I just thought it was loads of fun to watch.

    That aside, I hope you’re not saying you have a problem with the posting of fun silliness like jedi or ninja librarians.

  10. The reason so many people are raving over it is because its presents the cultish aspects of current hot topics in a language that’s appealing to a certain mindset.

    “The Machine Is Us” – bleh.

    I understand, if it’s the first time you see this stuff, it can sound really cool. And there *is* cool stuff going on. But I see too much of the huckerism in the web hivemindedness to be impressed with this video.

  11. walt says:

    David–Perish the thought! I think silliness is great. Consider this post (at least before all these interesting comments). I hadn’t looked at the two ninja videos (which I really enjoyed) and enjoyed the Jedi one as well, even if it was a little on the long side (and the way Google Video opened the window, it was way too artifactey, but…).

    I didn’t see people saying this video was fun; they seemed to be saying it was Important. I didn’t find it to be either, but that’s just me. As for fun: Always OK by me. Do note the next most recent post…not exactly a serious concern!

    Seth: Yeah, well…it sure did get a lot of views. A whole lot more than I’ll ever get–but that’s OK. (Actually, I just got an overall update on the old C&I site–that is, “old” as of Volume 3; I’ll probably never know what kind of readership I had for the first two volumes, on ATT.net. Anyway: The top numbers are impressive. 6:2 (Library 2.0) has had more than 11,500 PDF downloads and 12,500 HTML downloads–that’s more than 24,000 altogether. Maybe even more impressive: The CIPA Special, way back in 2003, has more than 10,500 PDF downloads–and I know at least one other site mirrored the whole issue, so I don’t have the full count. And, for that matter, the “Great Middle” essay’s over the 6,000 mark–not bad for a niche item.)

  12. Blake says:

    It’s my wedding video, isn’t it?

  13. I agree with Dorothea that it is two lectures mashed together, which isn’t so clever, but I do admit to being one of the “wow”-ers. Here’s my thinking, in case you were curious about why….

    It did actually help me to “get” XML and what all the fuss is about it. I’d been reading about it for the last 6 months, but the Wonder Video clarified it for me. I think it would be help someone with a very basic understanding of web formatting to understand its development.

    I found the “rethinking” questions spot on and thought provoking – I haven’t seen them listed so clearly before.

    Just a thought, Walt, not a criticism….are you a very visual learner? I don’t mean visually literate, I mean the way you prefer to learn things. I am extremely visual. Half way through my first viewing, I thought – “this is great if you love reading and looking..I wonder how people who learn in other ways find it”? I think Second Life is similar – great if you are a visual thinker, not so good if you learn in other ways – I think it would frustrate the heck out of a kinesthetic learner.

    Nooow..my dirty little secret confession…..the iPod. Nope. Just.Don’t.Get.It – true. I know it works for more people than will ever visit Second Life, but it’s just too distracting and, well, superfluous to what I need for a calm world. So..hello to the “Don’t get that viral video” Camp from the “Why would you want an iPod, anyhow?” Camp.

  14. Meredith says:

    I’ve been crazy busy this week, so I finally had a chance to watch it last night. I guess what I’d say is that I didn’t find the content of the video very useful or exciting, but I really liked the technique. It was definitely eye-catching and engaging and I could see it being used to explain other things (though in a more coherent way — I don’t think that would have been very useful for people with no exposure to RSS and Web 2.0). So yeah, if the hubbub is about the content, I don’t get it either. But if it’s about the “film & editing technique” as a way to present information, then I totally get it.

  15. walt says:

    Blake: My three-meter stick (for not touching lines like that) has once again gone missing.

    Kathryn: I don’t take that as a criticism. (And I don’t mind criticism, particularly if it’s of my ideas or writing.) I don’t know that I think that video speaks to those (like me) who learn through reading; it’s a visual lecture, not a coherent text. I’m not much of a lecture learner, and I’m not much of a pretty-picture learner. I certainly learn through reading (and sometimes doing, of course). But I can learn through visual means–I just didn’t get this video.

    [I got a reminder yesterday. I was trying to get more details about Lulu’s publish-on-demand details. They have a visual walkthrough, Flash, with narration and all. I picked up a few things. Then I went to the FAQs and picked up a whole lot more, much faster. For me, the visual walkthrough was essentially a waste of time.]

    I’m not an iPod person either, for reasons discussed elsewhere–mostly that, when I listen to music, I tend to listen to music, and don’t much care for it as pure background. I think of the iPod as a smaller, more convenient, higher-capacity to a whole string of devices that either began with the Walkman or, maybe, portable radios. Great for many people, not great for others.

    If I traveled enough, though, I would probably get some equivalent, because there are times during traveling when really listening to music is my favorite way to spend time–I have a cheapo portable CD player (and dozens of CD-Rs mixed from my ripped CDs) that I use now and then, (OK, it’s also true that Steve Jobs annoys me enough that I’d probably get some other player if I did get one, but mostly I’m unlikely to get any of them at this point: the likely use wouldn’t justify the price.)

  16. Steve Lawson says:

    I think the fact that you are annoyed by Steve Jobs and the video in question is not a coincidence.

  17. walt says:

    Steve, I don’t see the connection, but that’s nothing new.

  18. Steve Lawson says:

    Walt, the connection I see is hype.

    While I can’t be sure about your personal reaction, it seems that many people don’t like Steve Jobs because they think he is a master of hype, of style over substance (cf. reality distortion field), and that he preaches to a choir of Mac fanboys.

    Likewise, many people seem to not like the Wesch video because they feel he is capitalizing on buzzwords and employing a flashy visual style without really understanding what he is talking about (“Most early websites were written in HTML”; as opposed to what?) while preaching to a chorus of Web 2.0 cultists.

    People have different tolerances for hype. Some find it immediately off-putting, while others just chalk it up to “showmanship.”

    But maybe you just don’t like dark turtlenecks or something.

  19. walt says:

    Hmm. I stand informed corrected. For me, it’s both hypocrisy and hyperbole in Jobs’ case (his hypocrisy on DRM and, ahem, closed solutions is nothing short of world-class).

    Update: I changed “informed” to “corrected” in this case, although either could work. After all, I’m thinking of posts about willingness to admit you’re wrong…and maybe, just maybe, I should walk the walk.

    [Between the time I posted the original post and now, I’ve seen at least a dozen more instances show I’m decidedly in the minority among libloggers on this one… So it goes.]

  20. By the way, note how much the video look like a commercial – the same techniques. Simple words, focus on the feeling to be associated with the product, warm-n-fuzzy stroking of the audience’s vanity, etc.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if there was some marketing firm in the background of its creation.

  21. Mark says:

    Walt, I most certainly do NOT get it either. Neither the bad content, nor the bad form, nor the hype. What is up with the overly fast jerky style? Maybe I should watch more commercials and do more multitasking so I could actually focus on what isn’t there in the first place.

    You are certainly not alone, and if it’s a minority count me glad to be in it. I could say more but I’ll try to keep the negativity to my own blog. Thanks for saying this, though. It needed to be said.

  22. walt says:

    A note to anyone who gets here via a link from See Also… (and who happens to scroll down): I’m a little surprised to have three individual words taken from three different comments–not the post, mind you, but the comments–and turned into a seeming attack on people who enjoyed the video in question. Who appear to be in the vast majority of those saying anything about it (and maybe now I know one reason why), so they’re hardly an embattled minority.

    I thought there was a thing going around about charitable reading, frankness, not being too polite, and not watching every single word we say lest it be taken out of context. Maybe I misunderstood. Or maybe some people–or some “sides”–are supposed to be treated more charitably than others?

    Sigh. I need to think about this. I had a post in mind (re Windows Vista), but right now I just want to turn off the computer and participate in First Life. It’s been a long day that suddenly feels a lot longer.

    Update Friday, February 9: Things got out of hand yesterday, partly because of intemperate language in some of the comments here (or language that could be interpreted as intemperate–there’s that charitable reading thing!), partly because some of us must have had unusually bad days. I think there may be some lessons about the antisocial aspects of “social” software, and I might explore those lessons at some point. Meanwhile, today is another day (cue Tara’s Theme). I’ll stand by the note that people who are willing to say anything critical about the video in question are a distinct minority, as the “awesome brigade” of link love grows ever larger–and that, for me at least, that doesn’t mean those who like the video are wrong, any more than those who like music that strikes me as noise or TV shows I can’t sit through are wrong. As Willie Nelson would say…nope, that’s too many obvious cultural references for one comment update.

    I’m not turning off comments for this post, but I think the conversation came unglued enough to let well enough alone past this point.