Videos are Retarding

Reading is a much faster way of absorbing information then listening. In fact, a video is one of the slowest ways of presenting information to someone. Think twice before making an informational video — you may be wasting your viewer’s time. Text with images — even short video clips if necessary — can be consumed measurably faster then a movie.

Narration in a video or audiobook crawls along at 150-160 WPM [1].

However, “the average adult reading speed for English prose text in the United States seems to be around 250 to 300 words per minute.”[2]

What this means is the average adult can read the transcript of a video at least 1.5x to 2x faster then they can watch the video. This is very much a lower bound. Videos generally include credits, transitions, and other devices that take up time, but convey no pertinent information to the viewer. A reader can set their own pace, glancing quickly at some figures, while carefully studying others. But movies set the viewer’s pace. Generally they choose a slower-then-average pace, so as not to leave anyone behind. Clearly this slows most viewers down even more.

Text has many advantages over video. Perhaps the greatest is that it’s easy to search. Text can be syndicated, aggregated, and automatically translated. Text is small, easy to store, and is readable on any system. Videos are large, require special codecs, and don’t play everywhere.

listening to someone is waste of my time and bandwidth when I could read them instead. This is why I don’t listen to spoken podcasts; and dread having to sit through video-blogs. This isn’t to say I don’t watch videos, or listen to music. Comedy is about delivery, not just the words in the joke, which is why a comedian has to be watched. But outside of entertainment, videos have limited use for educating.

Of course many phenomenon are best described through video, or need to be seen in motion. If something has to be shown with video, then show it with video. But do not discuss it with video, unless there is a good reason to.

Video is attractive, because it is now so easy to do. Just talk to a camera, then throw it on the web. Unfortunately you get out what you put in.
An inferior presentation results from not taking the time to write-up and edit a transcript; use still images when video is unnecessary; and carefully winnow the footage down to only what is indispensable. Text may be old fashioned, but it’s still the fastest medium.


Here are some very interesting tech talks on the web that would be much easier to digest, and keep for reference, if they were magazine articles. Watch one with subtitles, and see if you can read them faster then the presenter can speak. Pay attention to every “um”, stutter, and mistake that could be easily edited out of the transcript.

[1]. Guidelines for the use of multimedia in instruction , Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 42nd Annual Meeting, 1447-1451.


Explore posts in the same categories: Bugs, Design, Usability

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