How to use a video sidebar, lesson #1

Introducing a new buzz term: video sidebar. At least that’s the most obvious term I can think to call a great use of embedded video I’m seeing more and more. I am crediting YouTube with making the concept of embedded video (in simple terms, the little boxes on a webpage where video is displayed) easy to understand — and do. As I’m told often by the rexblog director of hackology, YouTube didn’t create embedded video, they just made it simple and easy for people like me to do it.

For someone with a print editorial background, seeing a text story wrap around a box in which someone can view a related story or graphic is a very easy concept to grasp: It’s a sidebar. However — despite the predictions of futurists for the past couple of decades — in print, we’ve never been able to publish a video sidebar.

More and more, in blogs and big-media sites, I’m beginning to see great examples of video sidebars. For example, there’s a great one in the online version of this New York Times article today on new approaches to the design of acoustic stringed instruments. While you can click off the page to view the video, scroll down and you’ll see the embedded video sidebar: a 3:30 minute overview of how sound is created on a guitar (and more). In this case, the video sidebar is a slowly paced NPR-ish story in which the reporter and “expert” are jamming in a workshop. The production values are excellent (perhaps better than necessary for the web), but the reporter seems a bit uncomfortable with the medium — which, frankly, adds to its believability. He comes off as someone who is passionately interested in his story and genuinely excited about sharing what he’s learned with the reader/viewer. As the story is about sound and music and design, the video displays concepts that are impossible to convey in text only.

While I’ve only been noticing video sidebars for the past few months, here are some early observations on how they are best used:

1. Use a video sidebar to enhance, rather than re-tell the main story.

2. Use a video sidebar when sound and movement are central to the story. (A sports highlight, for example, or, as even I’ve tried, a software feature).

3. Use a video sidebar when a short “how-to” will help the reader comprehend what you are trying to explain.

4. As a video sidebar merely enhances the main story, it is different than a video-blog post. On a video-blog (or other video-centric web space), the main story is told with video. [On a video-blog, the sidebar is text (i.e., links mentioned in the video) or graphics like maps, or even a transcript of the video.]

5. If you make the reader go to another page to view the video, it’s not a video sidebar. (If your boss’s metric-of-choice is page views, a video sidebar will make your reader happy, but maybe not the boss.)

6. You should allow the reader/viewer to start the video. It shouldn’t startup just because someone has landed on that page. In fact, you are a bad, bad person if you do that.

In a coming post, I’ll review some tools for creating and adding a video sidebar to an article or blog post.

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