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May 06, 2008

A video says more than a thousand pictures

While it's still not entirely sure how the YouTube phenomenon is changing our view of the world, changed it has. Initially we thought YouTube and its many competitors were simply repositories for stuff people recorded off TV, but that has changed. These days, if anything happens anywhere, whether it's important or not, it'll be on YouTube in a moment.

However, the YouTube phenomenon has also led to entirely more serious changes in how things are being portrayed to the world. Specifically, video is being used to show what products can do. But that's not new, you might say. No, the idea of using video to highlight a product is not new, but the way video is being used now is. In the olden days, videos were mostly polished commercials, the kind we watch on TV (unless we have TiVo). YouTube gave video sort of an underground flavor. It's not glitzy footage created by Madison Avenue types, but clips done by us, the people.

Last fall, for example, we thought it might be fun to do an underwater video of one of the products we reviewed. It was by no means professional quality; we just used a little Casio digital camera with a YouTube mode. Then we set up a tripod in a pool, I donned my scuba gear and, bingo, video of a handheld computer being used underwater. This went up on YouTube with a rather innocuous title, "Trimble Nomad computer goes diving." Amazingly, even with this non-provocative title and very utilitarian keywords (trimble, tds, rugged, scuba, waterproof), the video has been viewed over 4,000 times in the few months since. Another one we did a bit later, of the Juniper Systems Archer Field PC, has also been viewed almost 2,500 times. Hmmm....

Turns out, an increasing number of entrepreneurial companies are taking advantage of the YouTube phenomenon by rolling their own underground videos. One of our sponsors, MobileDemand, has been playing a leading role by creating a number of videos that demonstrate the toughness and ruggedness of their xTablet slate computer. The result is a series of increasingly better and more outrageous videos that are both funny and compelling. While I never warmed up to Panasonic's omnipresent "Legally we can't say..." commercials/videos/billboards/print ads, MobileDemand makes their point much more convincingly (and at infinitely lower cost). And while the origins of the idea are clearly based on the YouTube syndrome, MobileDemand is running its videos on Blip.tv which has much better video quality.

If you haven't seen one of the MobileDemand videos you can do so right here by running the clips embeded in this paragraph. You see their flagship product being tossed around, thrown off a hill, and strapped to the top of a car and taken through a car wash. In a loose adaptation of the MIL-STD-810F "drop test" (officially called MIL-STD-810F Method 516.5, Procedure IV -- Transit Drop), you see the xTablet being dropped, rapid-fire, 26 times. To drive the point home they use the computer to pound a nail into a wooden board. All the while, video is running on the computer's screen so you can see that it still works and never skips a beat. That's pretty clever. Oh, and knowing that outdoor footage of a screen that is not outdoor-viewable isn't exactly compelling, the MobileDemand folks smake sure it's abundantly clear that theirs IS outdoor-viewable. It's all done in a fun, "YouTube" way. To demonstrate that their tablet's display, usually the most vulnerable part of a rugged computer, can take a direct hit, they drop a full beer can onto it. And then, to make sure folks realize that a beer can dropped from a few feet packs a punch, they drop one onto a guy's midsection. Ouch!

A video can clearly say more than a thousand pictures. That's because we've all become jaded with mere images. We all know how easily they can be edited, modified and faked. Video, that's another story. It's hard to fake a video of a guy hammering a big nail with his computer. Which means, for now, demonstrating products on funky videos is a great idea. It certainly doesn't replace images or the printed word as video is a serial medium that you pretty much have to watch from start to end as opposed to glossing over "random access" print.

Posted by conradb212 at May 6, 2008 07:59 PM

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