So I survived my video-panel at ASIST on Monday. But only barely, and only with much audience participation. As I was standing up at the front of the room I did a rough count of the audience: I’d say that at a very rough estimate, there were 100-120 people in the room. That’s a big audience to wipe out in front of.

Speaking of audience participation, I owe several people big, big favors. I owe Gary so big-time: he filled brilliantly while I was futzing with the technology. When I was flailing around trying to set up the connection with Chris Borgman, Peter Jörgensen leapt up, asked if Chris had a Mac, and proceeded to join me on stage and set up a connection using iChat. If he hadn’t done that, I suspect the connection with Chris would not have happened. Then when Peter & I couldn’t get the video & Chris’ Powerpoint slides to display at the same time, Fred and Terrell suggested running the video from one machine & the audio from the other. Genius. (I should have thought of that, but, well, I was a little preoccupied.) So we had slides with a voice-over. Peter was receiving video from Chris, but no one in the audience could see it. Plus Peter then had to point his video camera at the screen where I was running the slides, so Chris would have that feedback. What a hack!

The Beatles said it first: I get by with a little help from my friends.

Lessons learned:

  1. Videoconferencing on the desktop is not yet ready for prime time.
  2. If you have to do a videoconference on the desktop, use a Mac.
  3. Always have a techie standing by. Even under the best of circumstances, it takes a minute or two to switch from one feed to another. And this was far from the best of circumstances.
  4. Video adds little to a presentation. If you have other content (say, Powerpoint slides) and a voice-over, that’s sufficient. Paul has said this many times; clearly I need to listen to him more.

So, a question: why does video add so little to a presentation? Humans are a visual species, we get some huge percentage of our data input by vision (I remember reading a figure for that once, but I no longer remember where or what the percentage was). So why, in this context, is having video so useless? Basically it’s a talking head, not really any different from any PBS documentary. Are talking heads in documentaries equally useless? Would an expert’s voice-over over a video of whatever the expert is talking about be equally or more useful in a documentary? Has this ever been studied, in film studies perhaps, or whatever field documentary filmmaking is under? Journalism maybe?

Note that I can’t just fail gracefully, I have to turn it into an opportunity to ask a research question. Oy.

Anyway, I will never, never do that again. Or at least not for 10 years, until videoconference technology matures.