The two faces of video

It's misleading to lump everything from consumer movie-making to enterprise collaboration together under the "video" label.

Gordon Haff
Gordon Haff is Red Hat's cloud evangelist although the opinions expressed here are strictly his own. He's focused on enterprise IT, especially cloud computing. However, Gordon writes about a wide range of topics whether they relate to the way too many hours he spends traveling or his longtime interest in photography.
Gordon Haff
2 min read

As it does at just about every opportunity, Cisco used its Cisco Live 09 conference as an occasion to promote the use of video in all its myriad forms.

It's no mystery why Cisco is so enamored with video. Streaming and otherwise transferring video media involves transferring lots of bits. Cisco makes much of the networking gear that those bits traverse. More bits, more networking gear.

The most visible evidence of that strategy may have been Cisco's acquisition of the maker of the Flip Video camcorders in March 2009. However, Cisco is at least equally focused on making video an imperative for enterprise IT. Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior phased it thus in her Live 09 keynote: "Video and collaboration will change where work gets done." A strong statement.

However, I'm leery about lumping all video into a single bucket and calling it a "killer app" as Cisco CEO John Chambers has.

Video-making by consumers has clearly arrived in a huge way. Low-priced cameras, editing software, and Web sites make video production something that just about anyone can do. And video that at least approaches professional levels is now possible at a cost that is incredibly low by historical standards. As much as digital technology has changed still photography, it has affected amateur movies much more.

At the same time, I'm far less convinced that video will transform collaboration and communications to the same degree and to the same extent.

Hampus Jakobsson notes one big reason in this post by fellow CNET blogger Matt Asay: video "requires full attention--the scarcest of all resources."

We may indeed value experiences that are more immersive and have higher and higher fidelity--thus the trend towards ever more powerful graphics controllers and alternative input devices from the Wii Motion Plus to Microsoft Natal. At the same time, however, there are countervailing trends like mobility and multitasking. It's all about the context of the particular activity.

And the evidence of history suggests that, when it comes to communicating, multitasking trumps immersion more often than not. It's not that technology didn't give us good enough video in the past. It's that we often don't want video of any fidelity. So the Webcams sit unused and we can check our e-mail or surf the Web through the interminable status updates at the weekly project meeting.