Dissertation Topic Detailed

As discussed in my November 25th post on Dissertation Topic – Online Video Conversations, I have focused down the topic and am moving forward. Here is an informal proposal detailing the direction I am going. As my die-hard follower(s) might notice, some of this was a portion of the ATTW proposal – that is a portion of my intended dissertation research.


Online video has been around for quite some time. However, there are ways that it is currently employed that are notably different than the ways it has been used over the past 15+ years. One can still download or view streaming videos of various events, but online video is now commonly used also as a communication tool due to its conversational, immediate nature. While it is certainly possible to note similarities between this and other communication forms, this situation is unlike communication via phone, face-to-face, or traditional online methods.

There are available many online video tools that offer free membership, each of which offers a slightly different feature and therefore serves a different purpose for the member. YouTube, the most popular and renowned online video site, provides virtually anything, including clips from old or contemporary shows, music videos, Jackass-style idiocy, academic videos, etc. Such videos can seem conversational, but the sort of videos that might fit this description consist of the orator speaking to the masses without an opportunity of response. In this way, they are not conversational, but are rather more of a lecture style. Additionally, the many other genres and styles presented on these sites give the tool an overall feeling that it serves less of a conversational purpose and it instead serves as more of a storage repository for any type of prerecorded video. There are many such repository-type sites.

Seesmic offers immediate, ongoing conversations on any topic. With its purely “talking head” communicative videos, it offers users a more immediate, ongoing conversation. While such recordings are archived and searchable, this tool implants in the user a feeling that the recorded conversations have, perhaps, more of an ephemeral element not unlike a live conversation in that the discussions are ongoing, include many people, and seem to always be moving forward, progressing. Ustream is an online video site that offers live, streaming video. In this way, the two-way conversational aspect is non-existent, as it is really a one-to-many stream.

Viddler, another member-based site, also has its unique features. It seems, initially, unlike many other tools, offering a repository for videos that can be uploaded or recorded directly to the Viddler site. Like virtually all other tools, it offers an embedding option in which users can copy a string of code to paste into a blog or Web site, thus embedding the video in the chosen blog or Web site. Viddler also provides a feature that allows members (and non-member viewers) to leave a textual, hypertextual, or video comment on the presented video. In other words, while a recorded video is playing, a viewer can click at any given spot on the timeline to add a comment in either textual or video form. This ability to embed textual, hypertextual, and–more important to my study–video comments in recorded videos creates a recorded conversation that can be seen as a markedly unique rhetorical situation. Such an embedded audio-visual discussion ceases to be linear and is clearly not synchronous. However, it transcends the asynchronous situation, simulating a more synchronous environment with the interactive, communicative, human elements of its delivery.

This ability to embed someone’s entire video on another person’s blog and to add comments to a recorded video raises immediate questions as to the nature of intellectual property, authorship, and ownership; however, I will touch upon this point only briefly, since it is beyond the scope of this project. Rather, this study focuses on the social media form and genre of online video conversation. It will consider the power of online video conversation tools, focusing specifically on the use of Viddler and Seesmic, as a means to communicate at a distance through this conversational media that incorporates all interactive forms including video, audio, and text in a way that simulates face-to-face communication while retaining the asynchronous benefit of recollection, backlooping, and portability. The study also examines the way that this technology can bridge certain communicative gaps existent in online discussions, such as the difficulty in accurately expressing and detecting emotion and intent.

This communication method provides a fitting response to a specific rhetorical situation. The unique situation is born, in part, of the need for people to communicate at a distance via methods that do not fully remove the human aspect as do most text-based communication methods. The human voice and physical persona are exceedingly more authentic than is a text, which is translated by the reader’s internal voice, no matter the quality of the author. Online video conversations are rarely rehearsed, since they are immediate and direct. Creators present their real emotions, opinions, and attitude naturally, in virtually the same way as they would in a live, face-to-face setting.

When we discuss primary orality examples, the situations generally consist of more than a one:many setting. Even with the ancient Greek public speaker (a commonly referenced example), the setting often became a discussion, not merely a one-sided speech/lecture. Moving into Walter J. Ong’s concept of secondary orality, the situation of the radio and television is not communicative; it is a rehearsed one-direction broadcast. In this way, the online video conversation draws on more primary elements of orality than did secondary orality or the now commonly-used concept of “tertiary orality.”

Based on Ong’s established theories of orality, the study looks beyond secondary and electronic orality and places the application of this technology in a realm of “digital orality,” a concept that looks at the interaction of text and orality in a slightly new way. In this frame, the study considers the rhetorical situation and epistemic setting of the online audio-visual conversation (including the embedded discussion) and the effect they may have on our current understanding of online communication.

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