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Video bloggers ready to incite 'media revolution'

This weekend's Vloggercon will be a rallying point for enthusiasts to plot their ragtag online uprising against commercial TV.

As Jordan Nealy blows out four candles on her birthday cake in South Carolina, Irina Slutsky interviews a technology executive in Texas, and Helene Cardona recites a poem from a train platform in Los Angeles.

What's the common thread between these seemingly unrelated acts? They're all early April entries on three different video blogs, and together they illustrate the diversity emerging from the flourishing world of video blogging, which will take center stage this weekend in San Francisco at the Vloggercon conference.

Jordan, 4, is one of the stars of Erin Nealy's "Mom's Brag Vlog." Slutsky is the anchor for "Geek Entertainment TV," a somewhat snarky video news blog about Web 2.0. And Cardona is one of many featured subjects filmed by Gena Haskett on her socially conscious "Out on the Stoop" video blog.

Despite their varying demographics, technical skills, artistic styles and purpose, these video bloggers, or "vloggers"--along with more than 300 other participants at the sold out conference--share an enthusiasm for the format they use to tell their stories.

Some of the participants and video blogging pioneers feel they're a part of a "media revolution"--one that could finally give people "a viable alternative to commercial TV," says video blogger Josh Wolf. "People don't have to sit back and listen to whatever the media is feeding them."

Vloggercon organizer Schlomo Rabinowitz adds, "I can seek out work that's meaningful to me."

The vlog difference
The conference is also about the exchange of ideas and information: Discussion topics range from how the popular and quirky Rocketboom launched to its current viewership of 50,000 per day, to how to "pimp out" a video blog.

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Video: Video bloggers of all stripes
Tom Green is a vlogger?

Some participants also see the weekend as a sort of family reunion and an opportunity to network and share resources.

"It's about connecting with old friends I met a year ago online," says Markus Sandy, a longtime software developer who runs workshops about video blogging.

Nealy, a stay-at-home mom who happened on video blogging while looking for a place to host video of her kids, adds that she's most looking forward to meeting people she's gotten to know online. "I've yet to meet a video blogger in person," she says.

Video blogs, "vlogs," are just like regular blogs in almost every way. They're interactive online diaries, archived in chronological order with the most recent entry on top. The difference is that in place of text, or in addition to it, video blogs consistently offer original video clips, which can range from short feature films to news reports to raw footage of everyday life.

Vlogging, as a medium, is only a couple years old. When Mefeedia, an online directory of video bloggers, started tracking numbers in December 2004, it listed only a few dozen vlogs. And one year ago, in June 2005, there were only about 100 video bloggers, according to Mefeedia founder and video blogging pioneer Peter Van Dijck.

Today, however, Van Dijck estimates that there are between 5,000 and 10,000 active video bloggers. Mefeedia has 7,315 video blogs in its directory and also has about 25,000 subscribers, said Van Dijck, a New York City resident who envisions a day soon when video blogs can be accessed alongside regular TV channels.

Even the Vloggercon numbers are indicative of the growing video blogging movement. The first Vloggercon, which took place in New York in January 2005, was attended by about 80 people. This year's event, which runs from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, will host more than 300 people. While there are no more tickets available, sessions will be streamed on the Web and there are also outside events and parties to attend.

The growing numbers have been fueled of late by improvements in broadband, software and hardware. Another major factor was the release last October of the first video iPod and the subsequent hosting of video podcasts on Apple Computer's iTunes online store.

And consumers have become increasingly comfortable with watching video online, in part because of the exploding number of video-hosting sites such as YouTube, which now lets users set up their own profiles and network with one another based on similar interests.

In video blogging, however, viewers aren't tied to a hosting site. And while the lines between posting on YouTube, vodcasting and vlogging can be blurry, vloggers distinguish their format by noting the regularity of content and the consistent interactive community following built via Really Simple Syndication (RSS).

For now anyway, video bloggers aren't making money on their work, though that could be changing. Rocketboom made blog history early this year by producing an ad spot that it auctioned off for $40,000 on eBay to ATM sales company TRM, according to several news accounts.

Others, like Geek Entertainment TV co-founder Eddie Codel, said that while he doesn't envision direct monetization for video blog content, the blog has led him to other paid work that helps pay the bills.

Sandy, 51, emphasized that what video bloggers hope to do with their blogs varies as much as the vloggers themselves. What they have in common, however, is a passion for a medium in which anyone can be his or her own publisher.

"I've never gotten less sleep in my life and been happy about it," said Sandy, describing life since he started video blogging a year ago.