tried to eat the safe banana (thefourthvine) wrote,
tried to eat the safe banana

The Vid Polls: The Big Honking Summary, Discussion, and Endless Blithering About Weasels

Long ago, when the world was young (okay, about two years ago, but in fandom time that's like 37 generations), I developed the Urge to Rec Vids. (This was associated with, but not a direct result of, my attempts to learn how to watch vids. But that, my friends, is a meta of a different color, and that color would likely be beige enough to cause ennui-related brain damage.) But I was aware, from my hesitant proddings at the fringes of the vid world, that linking to or recommending vids was a different deal than recommending fan fiction.

(Note: This might have been true then. It's definitely not true now. Sorry; I just had to throw that in there. It's very hard to stay in a chronological first-person narrative without a lot of lapsing into "Ah, but had I known!" and "This is where I made my first mistake" and "In retrospect, that's when I should've started taking the malaria pills." God only knows how fictional narrators manage.)

So I looked around and found some discussion of this - as I recall, one post, with comments, about somebody linking to the poster's vid without permission, one essay, and one "Where Did My Vids Go and Why Aren't They Coming Back?" type statement on a website. The conclusions I drew from these sources:
  1. Vidders did not necessarily relish having their vids linked to or recommended, and really did not relish this happening outside the vidding community. (Actually, I kind of concluded that vidders did not much like non-vidders, period. But I'm now very aware that this was wrong, and also it was kind of stupid of me to believe it in the first place, so we will pretend that I never did, okay?)

  2. If anyone, but especially a non-vidder, wanted to link to a vid, it was absolutely mandatory to obtain permission first.
This was a problem for me. See, for me, there's fannish interaction - leaving comments, sending feedback, writing email, asking permission - and then there's fannish activity - writing, recommending, etc. I am fully functional when it comes to fannish activity. Interaction, though, not so much.

(Side note: You might think recommending would count as fannish interaction. But you would be wrong. As I've said to several people already, sending feedback is striking up a conversation with the smartest, wittiest, most attractive stranger in the room. Recommending is standing on the street corner shouting to myself about weasels. And I, as it happens, am much more comfortable in crazy-bag-lady mode. I mean, you all are invited, even encouraged, to stop, listen, and comment ("No, no. Everyone knows that ferrets are superior to weasels! And also, they are far sleeker!" Or, as it is known to those who, in a freaky timeline inversion thing, even now carry the scars: WeaselWank 2011.), and I'm delighted when you do (although I understand that 2011's going to be a tough year for comments), but I'm not expecting you to and I don't feel bad if you don't. Also, when I'm recommending, I don't feel like I have to be smart or impress anyone - random weasel-related blithering is perfectly fine. Whereas with feedback, I feel this horrible weight, this need to be as articulate and clever and all-around nifty as the person I am sending feedback to, which is obviously never going to happen. It makes me tense.)

So. Time progressed. I conquered a number of vid-related fears (accessophobia - fear of asking for vid site passwords, clickophobia - fear of sending feedback, oculomoronophobia - fear of looking like an idiot, divxphobia - fear of new codecs, etc.). I recommended some vids every now and again. And all was well.

Then, somewhere along the line, I discovered anime music videos, and oh my god the joy. Not only were they pretty and shiny and wondrous to behold, because live-action vids are that, too, but they were pretty much designed for people who didn't want to talk to other people. I didn't need to ask permission to rec. (And I actually couldn't send feedback to the creators, what with my intelligence not being up to the task of giving AMV opinions, which are in themselves quite the fine and demanding art.)

It was heaven. I recommended many anime vids and the occasional live-action vid, and there was happiness in the house of TFV.

And then one day quite recently I was talking with cupidsbow about the Issue of Recommending Vids. And she said (and I'm paraphrasing so severely that I might very well fuck up her point, so if you don't like it, that's probably my fault) that she'd never asked for permission when she recommended vids, and she didn't want to start, as she highly values the free flow of ideas and discussion and thinks permission requirements might inhibit that.

And I thought: Huh. (Yes, precisely like that. You see why I fear situations that require feats of linguistic virtuosity?) Because the thing is, I'd seen vidders link to other people's vids in a casual way. I'd seen recs swarm across my friends list even when I knew the vidder was unavailable to grant permission to rec. And I started wondering - is it different because I'm not a vidder? Is it different because I am a recommender? Or, hey, is it different? Do I actually need permission at all?

On LJ, my motto is: when in doubt, poll.

So I ran a poll asking vidders about vid permission and a poll asking vid watchers about vids in general. And what I learned was - well. Let's discuss.

First, as of this writing, 108 vidders have taken the vidder poll. Only 7% of them said it was necessary to ask permission before linking to a vid announcement. Even more significant, though, is that 51% of them - half! - had never even heard of this weird alien ritual of asking permission to link to a vid announcement. And 93 of the vidders - or just over 86% of them - gave blanket permission to rec or link to their vid announcements (provided people respected basic fannish manners - no hotlinking, no stealing, proper credit given, etc.).

So, no matter what was true two years ago (or what I thought was true two years ago, and such is the tragic nature of time and observers and all that physics whatnot that we will never know for sure which), what's true today is: a vid is a fanwork like any other fanwork, and you follow the same rules when recommending it as you would for recommending a story or a piece of art or whatever. With one major exception, that is: with stories, generally we link directly to the file. With vids, we link to the announcement page.

And that is really all there is to it. You, my friends, have the freedom to rec vids. In particular, you have the freedom to rec the vids of the 93 vidders who gave blanket permission. In general, you have the freedom to link any public vid announcement that doesn't say that you can't; in other words, permission to link is implied by the act of publicly announcing a vid, unless or until permission is specifically withdrawn, as long as you are linking within the general fannish community.

But some of you are probably wondering about the vidders who do think permission is necessary and didn't give blanket permission. You're in luck! I'm going to talk about them now. You folks who only wanted to know the general gist of the results should feel free to leave (and go rec something), but if you're curious about the Deeper Issues, stick around. There's poll analysis and thinkiness and potentially incorrect theories. Fun for the whole family except the sane members, is my point there.

First, for the vidders who prefer people to get permission, here's the good news: Almost everyone understands that what a specific person says trumps a general rule. So all you need to do is state your linking and recommending preferences clearly on your vid announcements, your site entry page, and your vid pages. (I suggest the judicious use of the full range of HTML tags to emphasize the key parts of the announcement.) You can say, "Please don't link to this announcement." Or you can say, "Please only link to this announcement - not the vid site itself." Say what you want to happen, and odds are good that that mostly is what will happen. Of course, some people will still be jerks, but, well, you've been in fandom long enough to know that jerks are inevitable but in the minority. And most of you have pages with passwords and enough control to block most kinds of basic assholeishness.

Second, for anyone up for some random useless speculation: Was I always wrong? Or was it really much more important to get permission two years ago than it is today?

My own opinion is - well, part of the answer is that my talent for making things difficult came shining through. But another part of the answer is in the way vidding has changed. Most of the vidders in the sample - just over 53% - had been vidding for less than three years. But the majority of people who password-protected their vids, who thought permission was necessary, and who didn't grant the blanket permission in the last question had been vidding for 3+ years. In fact, half the people with protected vids had been vidding for 6+ years.

And that's not surprising. The live-action vidding pioneers started in a different kind of fandom than the one we have now. Vids were distributed primarily through the mail and at cons, and vidders stayed safe from TBTP by flying under the radar. That meant keeping things secret, secured, protected - and it also meant things were more personal, more controllable. Some long-time vidders still aren't comfortable with internet distribution, with handing their work over to someone they know only as an IP number. (Passwords are, in part, an effort to keep robots out. But I think they also give vidders the feeling that they know, at least a little bit, who is downloading their vids.)

And, of course, people who have been vidding a long time have had plenty of time to encounter jerks and be fucked over by them. That doesn't help, either.

People who started live-action vidding recently, though, have the safety of numbers. (That doesn't, of course, mean that an RIAA/MPAA/other smackdown can't happen to these vidders. But it is much less likely to happen to any given individual, just because there are so many more targets than before.) They've begun vidding in a world where almost everyone's a bit of a copyright infringer.

Newer vidders also have the problem of numbers: how do you find an audience, a beta, a vidding community to be part of when there are so many newbies? And since most security steps also decrease audience and community access, newer vidders have more motivation to be less secure.

But at its core, the permission question highlights the difference between vidders who focus on control and caution v. those who focus on marketing and openness. Every vidder needs both those things, of course, and every vidders finds her own balance between those two points, but overall the vidding community seems to have swung heavily to the side of openness. (Within the fan community, that is. Any time you take a fanwork outside a fan context, you are dealing with a whole different set of issues.)

And that swing works for the vid watchers. Audiences are, overall, used to LJ-based interaction these days, and things like emailing for a password or writing off for a DVD set are - well, difficult.

Most people won't send away for vids that are only available by mail - about 75% of the vid watchers who answered my poll wouldn't. I have to think, though, that those vidders who only make their vids available that way are only interested in reaching the small core audience of die-hard vid fans, and those people will do whatever it takes to get their fix. So this distribution method probably does exactly what it's supposed to. (The big obstacle of DVDs for die-hards is finances, particularly for fans who don't live in the US; even when vidders will ship internationally, the cost of mailing plus exchange may be prohibitive for even the most ardent vid fans.)

Passwords, though, do have the potential to create a mismatch between the audience the vidder hopes to reach and the audience the vidder does reach. Approximately 40% of the people who took the vid-watcher poll won't email vidders for passwords (though they will use passwords that can be figured out through other means, or that are given out with the vid announcement). I've heard the word "entitlement" a lot in connection with that, but I really don't think that's what's happening in most cases. (Some, sure, yeah. But not most.) There are two things at work there, I think:
  1. There are many more casual vid watchers than there used to be. In the pre-internet days, you really had to make an effort to get vids, or you saw them only at cons, so of course there were fewer watchers but they were more committed to seeing vids - the die-hards who will send away for DVDs now were likely most of the vid audience back then.

    Now, people who don't typically watch vids can be spurred to do so by a rec or a link. But since they really aren't sure they'll like it, and they're hesitant about it, it's like any other impulse try at something: if there are steps that take time, people mostly give up. (Or lose their opportunity to download, for people who have only intermittent access to broadband.) In the old days, this audience probably just wouldn't have bothered with vids at all.

  2. Fandom is different than it used to be, and so fans are different, too. For most people who started in fandom on LJ, LJ is where we do our fannish things, and emailing and snail mailing are very personal interactions: things you do with close friends, not just random fans. So emailing someone out of the blue feels way too personal for some fans. They feel like they're bothering the vidder, assuming there's a personal relationship where there isn't one, things like that - and because it's a mostly subconscious belief, reassurances typically don't help much.

    And LJ fans in general tend to be more introverted and uncomfortable with direct personal interaction anyway; I mean, fandom as it is right now is perfect for people who prefer controlled, limited interaction. Extraverts are at risk of feeling like failures or isolates in fandom, from what I've seen, because often they just can't get the level of personal interaction they need here.

    And I said before that sending feedback, to me, feels like striking up a conversation with the smartest, prettiest, coolest person in the room. From the outside, vidders especially tend to look like that to some fans - like the smart, cool people who have all these awesome talents. Well, I mean, they are smart, cool people with awesome talent, but they're also approachable. Just, mostly people don't see that last part.

    And that's where a lot of those 40% who won't email for passwords are coming from; they're afraid, afraid of initiating a very personal kind of interaction with a vidder, a scary member of a scary in crowd.
So does that mean I think vidders should stop using passwords? No, not at all.

I'd be sad if all vids lived behind passwords, because I'm a recommender by name and by nature - I want everyone to love what I love, and I know that it's very tough to convince some people (I would've said more like 50%, so I'm very happy to hear that it's only 40%) to get passwords. So my urge to spread the love would be mostly unsatisfied.

But vidders don't make vids so that I can rec them. And what I really want is for each vidder to do what she's comfortable doing - whatever makes her happiest with the whole vidding gig.

If there are vidders who are unhappy with the situation, though, here are some ideas I've gathered from various sources - ways to meet some of the needs of passwords without requiring email requests:
  1. wistfuljane suggested doing the same thing, but moving it to LJ - letting people ask for passwords in comments on vid announcements, or on a sticky post at the vidder's LJ. (Replies would be screened, of course.)

  2. barkley uses a password, but makes it easily guessable; according to my poll, 96% of vid watchers are comfortable with that.

  3. barkley also posts her password in her vid announcements. This strategy could be used with a non-guessable password so that random visitors to the website couldn't get the password, but anyone who had seen the vid announcement - and thus was moving within fannish circles - could. Again, that would work for 96% of watchers.

  4. Some sites have auto-responders, and a lot of people who are uncomfortable emailing other people are okay with emailing robots.

  5. It might also work to combine passwords and free hosts. In other words, you could offer a time-limited download link through a free host when the vid is first posted and a permanent download link on your password-protected website.

  6. You could share passwords. I got over my password fear by getting the one for; since it's a consortium of vidders, emailing seemed much less personal. Once I did that, emailing for others was easier.
Other ideas welcome in the comments, by the way.

But I want to emphasize: I want vidders to keep vidding, and to be happy vidding. If passwords are what make you happy, password away. Those ideas are only for people who want some security but aren't happy with using a password, either.

Other areas where vidders can lose a small but still significant fraction of watchers:
  • Summary information and graphics. A lot of people look for clues to vid quality if they don't know the vidder. Viewers are turned off by poor teaser images/graphics, badly written summaries, a lack of adequate summary information, and disparaging or clueless disclaimers.

    "This totally sucks, but download it anyway" is a disparaging disclaimer (look: if you tell me it sucks, I'm going to believe you, since you've seen it and I haven't). "This took me like 4 hours OMG!!! So comment 4 sure lol!!!" is a clueless one - so clueless, in fact, that it may make your more sensitive readers weep helplessly for all vidkind.

    I would love to see someone else do a poll about summary information, since I've about exhausted my readers' patience with vid polls and I didn't go into a lot of detail on the topic. But judging from comments and text box entries, viewers want, at minimum, fandom, song, and artist information in the summary, as well as the vid's length and the file format and size. (When I say "minimum," I mean that these are the things people expect, so if you're not including them, you should probably say why not.) A lot of them also wanted to know pairing or character focus and genre (angst, humor, trailer, etc.). A single-line text teaser ("John can run, but he can't hide") may also be useful.

  • Clicks. Yeah, I know, this one surprised me, too. But the deal is - some vid announcements are like mazes. You find the post on vidding, but the download information is under the cut. So you click on the cut tag, which takes you to the full post in vidding, which gives you a link to a post in the vidder's LJ. That post contains a link to a website, and the website has a link to the vid page, and the vid page has a download link (or, worst-case scenario, a link to a free host service). This is more of a problem if some of the links are images (people scan for link text and then go back and hover over images looking for image links), or some of the links are really hard to find.

    In general, if it requires more than four clicks to get to the vid, it starts to feel like either a) the vidder is trying to shake you or b) you're on a scavenger hunt. I like scavenger hunts, myself, and vidders have to work a lot harder than that to get rid of me, so I don't have click issues myself, but some people (especially those on dial-up, who have to wait for each page to load - a long while, if the page contains images) hate this. Almost 20% of viewers said they wouldn’t download if it required too many clicks to get to the download link.

  • File size and file format. laurashapiro ran a fascinating poll (and thanks, dzurlady, for linking me to it) on this topic that is more detailed than mine was, particularly in the file format arena. (I can only tell you that some viewers really hate some file formats; that poll actually says which kinds.) But in the 18 months since she ran that poll - and I'd love to see it run again - things have changed (pretty much as she predicted): viewers want even larger vids.

    A solution here is to offer multiple sizes. Judging by the poll data, I'd say that if you're going to offer files in three sizes, the smallest should be around 10 MB, the medium one should be 20 - 40 MB, and the largest should be 50+ MB. (As long as you offer at least one smaller file, there's no real limit on how big the largest file should be; a solid 50% of watchers will download the largest size no matter how big it is, even unto 200 MB for a ten minute vid.)

    If you're going to offer two sizes, probably the smaller one should be 10 - 15 MB and the larger one 35+. (Again, if you offer the smaller one, the main thing is to make sure that the largest file is not too small; there doesn't seem to be an upper limit on size.)

    And if you can only offer one, 20 - 35 MB seems to be the safest range.

  • Alternative downloading means. The traditional route - right-click, save-as - is still the most popular with vidders and viewers, but almost 30% of vidders are using free file hosts like YSI or Sendspace, and 12% are using YouTube or a similar streaming host.

    Almost everyone will use some free file hosts, but 11% won't use at least one of the hosts. I didn't ask which, but MegaUpload (my own personal nemesis - vidders seem to love it, but I can't use it) got mentioned a fair amount as one to avoid. The ones viewers liked most included YouSendIt and SendSpace.

    Because I'm stupid, I forgot to include YouTube on the list of barriers to watching, but it had a lot of write-in votes. It also had fans - very casual vid watchers tend to prefer YouTube, for example.

    The best solution when using alternative hosting methods seems to be variety; any single provider will have detractors, but if you offer 3 alternative file hosts, most people will be happy.
And that's it. For this post, anyway. One more and then we're done with the vid meta for another year. (Yes, you can cheer. Hell, if you made it this far, feel free to cavort.)
Tags: [meta], [miscellaneous], [poll], vids
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