It’s all in the language

I’ve learned a lot from Doc Searls about language and the way we use metaphor as a path to understanding. It is with that in mind, that I’m sitting here this morning pondering a changing understanding of the web that will become increasingly evident, I believe, in the years ahead. As crazy as it sounds, I’ve been thinking about my predictions for 2007. The December deadline looms in late summer when you write this kind of stuff.

I’ve already written about how it’s going to be a very rough year for broadcasters, but here’s something you can count on regarding the web. Growth will be on the video “side” of the web, and that, I think, will be good news for smart broadcasters who’ve heretofore been getting table scraps from a web that’s dominated by the print culture.

So let’s do a little review here this morning. Even the most basic language of the early web embraced a print paradigm. Why do we call URLs web “pages?” Because the early web was all about text, and text is the lifeblood of printed communications. Bandwidth was the issue back then, and text was the only way it could be viewed. We use “fonts.” That wasn’t an everyday word before the web, so who used it regularly? Print people, that’s who. Where do “banners” and other display ad types come from? Right, our brethren in the print industry. “Page views” is a decidedly print term, and look at the strategies employed by sites to get people to view more. Where does the “turn to page two” link come from anyway?

Look at a typical web “page,” and you’ll see the printed communications industry. But is the web really a print medium? And if not, what is it and how can those of us in the television industry bring our model to the forefront? Isn’t it time that broadcasters stopped wrapping in print terms what is “our” paradigm?

Print ads surround content. Broadcast ads interrupt content. Can the web truly be a broadcast medium?

I remember a discussion a few years ago with a broadcast digital VP type who said, “Video doesn’t drive the web — text does.” His point was that it was an issue of time, that I can read a headline and make a decision about digging further a whole lot faster than watching a video of somebody with the same information. There was buffering. There was connection speed. It was hard to argue that point.

But is that the case today and, more importantly, will it be the case tomorrow (which is where we need to be pointing our guns)?

Viacom cable properties like MTV and The Comedy Channel have created broadband “channels” for users. Even the use of that term is refreshing, because it doesn’t force what we do into the print model. With broadband “channels,” the expectations are different, and we are free to work within our core competencies.

This is not to even remotely suggest that broadband channels means the resurrection of the 30-second spot. That formula — with its insulting waste of time for viewers — is dead, may it rest in peace. But that doesn’t mean people won’t stand for brief disruptions of “their” streams, and in an unbundled paradigm, the opportunities for sponsorship are limitless.

I’ll write much more about this down-the-road, but I wanted to share where I’m headed. 2007 will be a watershed, make-it-or-break-it year for the industry, and if we are truly to experience a renaissance via the web, we’re going to have to start using our own language, and not that forced upon us by the print industry.

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