December 17, 2019

Video Footnotesone-way video as hackable interactive medium

I’ve noticed a pattern among some YouTube producers: flashing a full screen of detailed text, often further expanding on a spoken point, for well less than second.

The text works a bit like a footnote. If you want to read more, you can pause the video, scrub back to the frames, and read them out.

This is clever on many levels.

First, it interrupts the usual flow of watching the video as little as possible. Like the tiny footnote1 markers2 in an academic text, you know there’s something more there, but it’s easy enough to skip right by it. If you’re just browsing, or watching in the background, you may never know it was there.

Second, it turns what is fundamentally a one-way transmission—recorded video—into a subtly interactive medium. The video controls become part of how viewers experience the work. But only for those most engaged with the material, who earn a feeling of insider camaraderie by repurposing those controls to dig in deeper than the average reader.

This is profoundly seductive.

We’ve seen little steps to interactivity on YouTube before, from links in video descriptions to Choose Your Own Adventure-style videos via clickable annotations. But those approaches merely embraced mechanisms provided by the platform for their intended uses. “Video footnotes” hijack more basic mechanisms, intended for well known and well understood functionality, for entirely new effect, with profoundly different social overtones.

  1. Nothing here. 

  2. Nope. Gotcha. 

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