In 2000, in the month in which I started vogging, I made a vog that I called "Wednesday Bergen" which formed the basis of my vogma manifesto. The intention here was, I think, quite straightforward. At the time I appeared to be the only person trying to make, do, and create a video blog, and with my strong theoretical interests and background I was also wanting whatever a video blog might be, or become, to be engaged with the network in deeply material, formal manner.
blogs and blogging
The rationale for this was, I think, very simple. I recognised that a blog was a network specific writing and publishing practice. They have a high level of granularity, where they are made up of relatively autonomous small parts - posts - that make perfectly good sense on their own. Their granularity is preserved through the creation of the permalink, providing each part with a permanent URL and so allowing the specific linking common to blogging, and also the development of the protocols associated with pinging and trackback. They have a changing front screen, where they are ordered in the now default reverse chronological order with older material 'slipping off' the front screen to one of a number of archive pages - usually a date based archive, a category based archive, and in some cases a tag based archive. In addition they have a blogroll, which is a specific list of links of sites deemed relevant or related to the individual blog. In terms of a writing practice they have encouraged and nurtured a polyvocal writing practice where it is common for a blog to consist of posts of varying length, temper, tone and content. The lived experience of a blogger is evident in a blog, in its history, and as posts wander between the personal and the professional, and the informal and the formal. Quite simply, a blog exists within, and arose upon, the network not merely as a place of publication or distribution but as a site of practice, of making. You write online, or near online, embed links, and undertake a writing that weaves itself amongst other posts and blogs. If you publish a blog as a book it is no longer a blog, its key qualities and attributes as a blog are removed and broken and this, for me, is simple but powerful evidence of the network specific nature of blogging.
In addition, with the rise of the blog demonstrating the importance of individuals being able to make and sure online, and the ways in which this could lead to new forms and models, the time appeared ripe for a network specific video practice to emerge in the same manner. This was a time when bandwidth was, outside of some major institutions and first world urban centres, still relatively constrained, when video as a part of the internet was largely restricted to promotional film trailers and the live streaming of events, and the compression and publishing of video online required a significant degree of network and technical literacy to achieve - there were certainly no video hosting sites or services, no real standard formats or codecs (and the best that were available were expensive to use) and absolutely no model or experience of video as a basic, everyday part of the Web.
The vogma manifesto arises out of trying to think about how video online could be blog like. This extends from the form and content of the video segments themselves, but also includes the formal qualities or properties of video as a networked object. In other words the vog project, and in turn the vogma manifesto, from the beginning has attempted to think of a video blog as being more or greater than just video within a blog but has wanted to apply the same qualities that makes a blog a blog to the video in itself. The manifesto was the first effort at defining this.
The manifesto was first published via my then vog on December 6, 2000. It consisted of nine points or principles, with a tenth added on... They are iterative in that they are intended to be read as "a vog..." and "a vog..." and "a vog..." and so are not a logical or causal argument progressing from each point to a major claim, but simply a flat list outlining a field of propositions that can be realised tacitly through the practice of vogging. I have often presented the manifesto, or referred to in lectures, presentations and my writing, however I have never written to, or expanded upon, the manifesto itself. This is problematic, as it has meant that a great deal of the theoretical ideas that inform the manifesto, and for that matter the extent to which vogging may be an alternative vision for video blogging, have been either missed, misunderstood, or marginalised. They may not be useful, they certainly are not representative of how video blogging has evolved, but the form is mature enough in 2010, and the community broad and robust enough, to be able to sustain academic conversations that can contribute to a broader palette of personal online video than what has become the institutionalised, naturalised and ideological form of video blogging which remains besotted with cinema and television.
1. a vog respects bandwidth
A key social facet of the vogma manifesto was to think of video blogging as an everyday practice, and not as something that could only exist within the privileged confines of first world universities or global media companies. This is obviously one reason for the success of blogging, as they are primarily text based and so bandwidth friendly which makes it easy to create content (you are just pushing text up to the server) and disseminate (you are just distributing text to users) and dramatically lessens the technological threshold in relation to participation that bandwidth represents. Therefore, it was important that video blogging began from the same premise and that it was not about delivering full screen, full resolution video to users but video that would work on existing bandwidth and hardware to real users. This did mean small video sizes in terms of pixel dimensions (the first vogs where often no larger than 196 x 144 pixels), and often low bit rates so that they could, more or less on demand, be played over 56kb dialup internet connections. Technically, this was about the data rate of the compressed video, and not the total file size (which is a function of their data rate times how long the video is) that was used in vogs, and vogs continue to be conservative in terms of their bandwidth demands in relation to video blogging more broadly. Similarly, the duration of the majority of vogs are quite short, rarely do any exceed two minutes in length, and those that do are often experimental works that utilise the hypertext like structure of child movies where additional video content is only downloaded on demand, and even in these cases it uses low data rates and so requires low bandwidth to play.
The decision to recognise bandwidth as a technological constraint also has political and aesthetic consequences. Politically, it is premised on the recognition that bandwidth is a finite, and expensive, resource and that for the internet, and more specifically video blogging, to be a sustainable practice it must recognise this. In the current Australian context, for example, capped bandwidth plans remain common and so it is literally not viable to download large video files all the time. However, even in commercial contexts where this may be the case (for example in the United States where the finite nature of bandwidth has been lost amongst the politicisation of what became known as 'internet neutrality' which is in essence that individuals are entitled to download as much as they like) I remain bemused, and confused, that some technological slippage has occurred where the abstraction and non material nature of data has become synonymous with bandwidth as a similarly virtual and non material thing. It isn't, and the attitude that things like file size, data rate and, at the end of the day, bandwidth does not need to be considered as a serious material constraint is, in my view, a continuation of the first world's self indulgence with its own self justificatory regimes of gross consumption. (I mean this quite literally, and really do not understand the view that thinks that there is an automatic entitlement to be able to download as much data as you like. This is the view we once held about water, natural resources, our forests, we know that this is not the case, so how is bandwidth somehow excluded so that absolute consumption is regarded as a sovereign right?)
Aesthetically within the vogs this approach to bandwidth is recognised as a formal property of online video, which means that, much like the traditional rectangular frame as a key formal element in shot composition in film and television, it is deliberately and explicitly addressed within individual works. Hence works may be deliberately highly compressed, with the compression artefacts that result being utilised aesthetically as a form of abstraction. For example in Bergen Clouds (2002) the same video sequence has been compressed four times, with increasingly heavy compression, and the work lets the user load these progressively more compressed versions of the sequence as they click a particular button. The footage is of a flag pole with a flag and some clouds in a soft evening light. The most heavily compressed version is, in many ways, I think the most interesting, and attractive. Here the work approaches the sort of abstraction I associate with Turner's late landscapes of the Thames and the play of colour, slow movement and the almost ethereal clouds in the vog shift from being just a flag pole and sunset in western Norway to a brief essay about pixelation, compression and colour. Similarly many works drop frame rates dramatically as a way to minimise bandwidth, while also treating frame rate as, in itself, another formal property of online video that is subject to manipulation, exploitation and experimentation. This shifts the works towards an awareness and consideration of their own mechanics of making and materialities, which are not then pushed aside in the service of cinema and televisions naive realism of reflection.
2. a vog is not streaming video (this is not the reinvention of television)
Technically speaking there are two main ways to deliver video online - HTTP and RTSP. HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the generic protocol used for the World Wide Web and so this means video is being sent to the requester in the same way that HTML pages, jpeg images and any other page elements are delivered. It is simple to do as it is using standard web server to deliver data, and with the development of new video architectures in the late 1990s that supported things like 'fast start' formats, video was able to be displayed before all of the data had arrived, allowing a 'near' to video on demand experience for users. (This is a major issue for video, as prior to fast start videos if you're video was an hour long then it could only play once all of the data had been transferred - this did mean in some cases you would wait literally hours for the video file to download to be able to view it.) Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) on the other hand, requires a RTSP server and is specifically designed for on demand online video. This is used for live events, and in the very early days of online video was the main solution through the then dominance of Real Media and their dedicated player (to view content) and servers (for streaming).
The differences between these two architectures are significant. RTSP is only needed for live broadcasting, and unlike HTTP, which has error correction and will resend lost packets of data, RTSP will send data for the thirty minutes of a thirty minute video, and that's it. If there's fifty percent data loss, there is fifty percent data loss. HTTP on the other hand might spend forty five minutes sending the data for a thirty minute video, but it will send it all, and so once it is played by the user all data will have arrived. Using HTTP means that how you have created your work in terms of bit rate and compression is how your users will experience it, while with RTSP you are largely subject to traffic, demand, bandwidth (yours and your users) and hardware. However, RTSP does provide bit serving, which means it is possible to begin sending video data from any point within a video file, whereas in HTTP if I there was a ten minute video and, for whatever reason, I only deliver the last thirty seconds to a user, the server would still need to send all the prior data even though it will not be viewed or used.
For vogging, HTTP is appropriate, largely because the material is not live, but also because the aesthetic experience of the video that the user receives, particularly around the visual qualities of the video, is something that I am interested in exploring and so controlling rather than being subject to the vagaries of the network. In other words if there are compression artefacts I want the user to understand that there are meant to be compression artefacts, and that this isn't an 'accident' of bandwidth.
The point of this brief technical history is to help contextualise this principle in the manifesto. In 2000 it really was not yet clear what form video would take online, and many industry players believed that RTSP was the future as it was going to be WebTV, Video on Demand, and so on. Most of these models imagined schedules, libraries of videos that were cued to be available at specific times (most RTSP servers offer this), and dedicated clients because we really did just want the sit back television experience on our internet enabled multimedia computer. I was firmly of the view that RTSP was irrelevant and a bad idea for video online, and for video blogging and vogging specifically. This was a sit forward experience, in general the internet demonstrated that the ability to do, whether to make things yourself (blogs, simple HTML in the early days), read others and follow the links they provided, or to leave the odd comment here or there, is what actually mattered - after all email was the first major internet service and all that has succeeded subsequently has followed its basic principals of peer to peer, one to group, group to group, and of addressability (granularity). RTSP offered none of this, just a comparatively low bit rate version of TV.
Therefore a vog is not TV as it does not want to use RTSP as a protocol. First of all because it provides no guarantee over the amount of data that will arrive at the client, and so means you are forfeiting control over one of the things that matters most to you as a video maker - the video. Secondly, because a lot of the clever things RTSP manages on your behalf (bandwidth load, the ability to have playlists so that material can be scheduled) shifts the relation to your material from one where the user chooses what they may view, when, back to a broadcast model when the producer/creator determines these things. Remembering that my intent is to think of video as blog like, a reader can read any published blog post, whenever they like, in whatever order they like, so maintaining this lack of hierarchy is important for video online.
However, the desire to step aside from television also developed a much stronger import than something derived from a now redundant debate about protocols. There is also a strong intent for vogging to step well away from the values of broadcast television as a rationale for conceiving what vogging is, or could be, and for it to develop its own vernaculars and history alongside of (how could making work like this not look towards cinema and television) existing media but not as an ersatz version that wants to become a back door to the 'real' media world of cinema and television. To this extent the manifesto recognises that the cost of access to the resources for making video have largely approached zero, and with the rise of the web and the ability to embed video within a blog context the ability to publish and distribute video was also pretty much nothing. As a consequence of this there is no imperative, at all, in vogging to have to mirror the values (professional, commercial, genre, and so on) of television and cinema as these media have to, by virtue of their enormous costs, maximise audiences to generate a return on their costs. Therefore they rely upon genre, stars, advertising, and in general need to make material that is able to be relevant to reasonably large (from a blogging point of view, enormous) audiences. Blogging, and vogging, on the other hand, has none of these commercial pressures and so finds itself without a rationale for having to adopt any of these requirements. This begs the question of what vogging should then do, and of course this manifesto is a response to that question.
3. a vog uses performative video and/or audio
A vog should be video that is understood to contain links, and in a more sophisticated sense, for these links to be more than merely instrumental. This is the heart of what makes blogging blogging, and while there are numerous links that are merely instrumental or quantitative - for instance permalinks from the variety of archive layouts in a blog to individual posts, the links to collections of posts based on categories and tags, the links contained with a blogroll and so on - there is a richer set of qualitative links used within the writing that actually constitutes blogging as a practice and a medium. These qualitative links can be literal, associative, contradictory, or affirming. They are qualitative because in joining or connecting otherwise separate things new contexts and relations are established between them, which changes their meaning, how they can be and are understood, and what sort of thing they are. This porousness to other things, principally in blogs to other blog posts, means that any post is always subject to being placed within new sets of relations to other commentary and posts and is always being recontextualised in highly active ways. Such linking, both from a blog out and from other blogs in, weave patterns of relations between parts which forms the key structural, hypertextual and disciplinary feature of blogging, and is why blogging is not merely a form of online personal commentary or reflection but a deeply networked practice. Such links, unlike the relatively simple instrumental ones that constitute basic navigation, effect a qualitative change in the sort of writing and discursive object a blog is, precisely because they are now radically subject to shifting recontextualisations and patterns through the relations that links enable between parts. Such relations produce qualitative change simply because they allow otherwise disparate things to be joined - in exactly the same way that a film edit does (Miles, 1999). Within video this principal is arguing for the presence of such qualitative links within video, where the link is not just instrumental and literal - the video equivalent of a home button, but something that changes the possible relations a video may find itself within in terms of itself and other videos online. To be clear in what seems to be unnecessarily complicated, just as a text post can contain multiple links to multiple destinations, and I can follow these without having to read the entire post, so too should video be able to connect to other videos from within its own smaller units or parts. In other words these links need a high level of granularity - that you should be able to link from part of a video image, for a nominated duration - just as you can link from a word, a phrase, an image, or a paragraph in HTML, and that by making connections between videos in this manner a different sort of video object, and experience becomes possible.
Such links are described as performative because, as with Austin's speech act theory, links in this manner are not true or false, or right or wrong (Austin's constative utterances) but felicitious or infelicitious. A constative utterance is a statement that declares something to be the case that can then be subjected to evaluation as to whether or not it is true or false. On the other hand performative utterances, with a promise being the canonical example, are realised and done - their discursive force is achieved - in the very act of uttering the utterance. In other words, when I say "I promise" I am in fact promising, the saying is the doing. From this Austin demonstrated that such utterances are not true or false, but felicitous or infelicitous, which just means the promise is either kept, or it isn't. As a consequence you can't have an untrue performative, an untrue promise, in the constative sense of something being true or false ("water is dry" is, for example, false, whereas a promise that is not kept it just that, it is still a promise even where it is not kept).
Now, it is a short step to realise that hypertext links are, in fact performative in this sense. A link is only realised in the very act of following it, in its performance. It is constituted and realised in the activity of clicking upon the hyperlink and it this act that is the link. This might appear counter intuitive, disciplined as we have been by the visible presence through typographic cues of links on a web page, but the presence of these, even where they may be visible is not the same thing as actually enacting a link. One way to understand this is to use the example of more complex forms of link based hypertext that are not just reliant on the HTML hyperlink specification. These hypertexts (the fiction and non fiction work created in something like Storyspace is a useful example) routinely include links that operate from the level of the node, not a text string, and are, for the reader, not visible at all and so for the reader are only constituted in the act of reading. Furthermore, such links can be highly 'fuzzy' where they can be rule governed and so their presence, and what they link to, can vary based on what is known as state information - what the reader has viewed and clicked on during their individual reading. In this example the presence of links means little for both the realised structure of the work (what links are realised in the concrete act of a reading), and the reader, as they only have import to the extent that they are realised, or performed, through the activity of reading. Similarly, we can easily consider search requests, whether within a blog or to a search engine such as Google, as links that are only realised in the act of their undertaking, of performing, them. Google, obviously, does not need to store a Borgesian library of all possible search requests, it simply needs to be able to allow individual search requests to be made. Each of these is a link, with the search terms appended. For example a Google search for the phrase 'hypertext links' generates a URL a bit like:
which you can, if you wish, embed as a link within a HTML anchor attribute (as I've done). From this point of view a link is that which is realised in its performance. What it links to, what is at the destination of such a link (its veracity to the search terms if you like) does not affect this.
(As an aside we can see that as a consequence of this a link is not true or false, merely felicitous or infelicitous, It either goes where it says it does (it keeps its promise of relevance) or it doesn't. In either case it is still a link (which is why the World Wide Web can so easily survive things like "404 - Page Not Found", destinations), even those links that we call broken are links, they are, if you like, promises that have not been honoured.)
Which brings us to the principle of 'performative video'. As we have seen links are realised in their moment of enaction, as such they are sites of possibility - for obviously there are numerous links that are not followed, search requests never made, particular link trails never realised by a reader. This is the deep architecture of the Web, that the link works as a moment of promise between the anchor, its destination, and its context of use is what makes its fluid, multilinear, flat, broken, never whole architecture possible. To transcribe this to video and audio and, in essence, to conceive of video as similarly made up of linked parts requires us to think of a video that is addressable and linkable within the deep architecture of the web, and so video is no longer the closed, atomistic and singular units that it has been historically and which is still the predominant model of video online today. It proposes a video form that allows for links that, if performed by users, do things beyond merely linking to individual URLs but allow for qualitative change through the new sets of relations that are enabled between videos, even within the same video.
4. a vog is personal
In 2000 video on the web was argued for, and considered to be, the preserve of the large broadcasters. The hardware and infrastructure costs to stream were high, and much of the industry commentary at the time centred on things like WebTV and how the internet would become a platform for existing television networks and players. Similarly the technical hurdles to getting video online, while low, were certainly much higher than what was required to write and publish a blog (remembering that 2000 was when blogs were on the cusp of moving from a minor web genre to a major, even dominant, new medium) and required a reasonable level of expertise in video compression, the use of the embed tag to place video within the browser window, the use of FTP to upload video to a server, and more than a passing familiarity with HTML to bring it all together. In addition, the dominant (and best) codec at this time was Sorenson Pro, which while producing what were historically high quality, low bit rate videos, cost approximately three hundred dollars for a licence, which tended to discourage the production of high quality web ready video by individuals.
Hence, when I started video blogging there was a general sentiment that video on the web was both a bit to hard to do, and also that the content that would be distributed online would be the same content that was broadcast - essentially television. This is the background to the fourth point of the manifesto. At its heart was the belief, and argument, that just as blogs were demonstrating, viable and relevant audiences can gather around material that is both personal, fragmentary, and small scale. That the shift to being able to write and publish to the web, at virtually zero cost, meant that there was no obligation on behalf of the content creator to maximise their audience simply to recoup the capital costs of production, and this changed economy fundamentally shifted the logics and ecology of the practice. In relation to video, I could shoot video on my domestic video camera, capture it via FireWire to my laptop, edit it using software that came bundled with the computer, compress it using Sorenson, and then embed it within a blog using my HTML skills. I did not need a studio, high end hardware or software, or an expensive streaming server to be able to make web specific video, precisely because it was intended to be small and only ever viewed within a web browser, or possibly the QuickTime Player.
This begged the question of what should the content of such works be? After all, if the intent of a vog is to be blog like then it needed to participate within and support the informal, multi or polyvocal writing model that blogging was defining. Where entries could be made up of a mix of posts of different and varying subjects and tones, ranging from the academic to wry observations about family life, and all that might fall between. In this model writing could be off the cuff, a thinking through writing as much as a presenting of the already thought about, a process orientated writing that was excellent for documentation as well as, well, a sort of writing sketch book that was more public than the private journal or notepad, but less formal than the essay or article. And this provided the model for the sorts of content that vogging should explore and include. It is not for the sorts of fictional works that populate television, whether the serialised short form, the immense serial long form that has recently developed in television (eg "The Sopranos", "The Wire", and so on), and neither is it the model offered by the feature or even the short film. Like a blog posts stand alone, but the density and texture of a good blog emerges through its serialised form, the variety and relation between the posts, as well as its deep engagement in and from the life world of its maker. They are not merely reportage, they do not exclude the personal, social, developing a sort of everyday patois.
5. a vog uses available technology
Like many of the points in the manifesto this one has, in many ways, dated poorly. However, the intent here is quite simple. Around 2000 I saw, attended, and read numerous things that heralded an imaginary golden age of video on the Web, once the missing technical ingredient or hurdle was mounted. This was, and remains, a magic bullet approach to video online that continually invests in a techno-romantic imaginary where some sort of plenitude is there, right round the corner, and once this lack is removed then online video will be viable, bright, and the future of televisual distribution and entertainment.
At various times this lack has been limits on CPUs so that video was constrained to relatively small dimensions. This of course presumed that we would only possibly want to watch video if it was full screen, full motion. Then it became bandwidth - since to get full screen full motion video a lot of data has to be moved around the place. Then it became a problem of standards and formats (QuickTime versus Real versus Windows versus Flash) because users get confused and can't deal with different file formats.
Alternatively this issue has also been expressed in terms of software, where many systems or solutions have been offered for interactive video but these have tended to be one off, high end, laboratory or gallery based projects. They are installations, not systems and processes that anyone outside of the lab can use to make their own material. This is the difference between being able to visit a free blog host, such as wordpress.com, to host and publish a complex publishing format with a Content Management System (CMS) that manages all the complexity for you, versus having to code and write the entire CMS from scratch. The former allows us all to blog, the latter remains a rarefied and specialised practice.
In these contexts the desire to use available technology was to insist that video blogging should be based on using existing, readily available formats and tools. This included the use of blog software, file formats, codecs, but also extended to recognising the real material constraints of bandwidth and CPU power outside of my first world, subsidised university infrastructure. A vog is a real world system and practice, it is not imaginary, it is not premised and what we might do, if only, but on what we can do, now, with simple, off the shelf tools.
This extended to the manifesto's vision of a more hypertextual networked video practice where links could be present within videos. Such links might point to other content via URLs, but they could also load other video or audio material (from within the vog, or potentially outside), but that such technologies and video artefacts should, again, be using existing, available technologies that were readily available. To this extent my own vogging practice has relied upon the use of QuickTime as a media format as, from the beginning, I was aware that it supported multiple track types (for instance text, sprite, image and multiple video tracks) as well as programmatic functions allowing for a variety of interactions. To access this interactivity I used LiveStage Pro, software that specifically allowed for the authoring of interactive QuickTime files. This software, while not cheap (though it was pretty much the same price as Adobe's Photoshop or Flash), was cross platform, had a robust user community, and easily allowed for the embedding of links and more complex programmatic elements within QuickTime - basically it was an off the shelf solution for web based interactive video that produced content that any QuickTime enabled computer (Mac or PC) was capable of playing. This kept the practice within the realm of the possible for anyone sufficiently interested, and out of the high end abstractions of the university or industry based media lab which while often producing extraordinary work are within labs for a reason. Vogging is, if you like, an effort to make an experimental networked video practice part of the everyday experience of making video specifically for the web where this experimentation extends outwards from content towards the form itself.
6. a vog experiments with writerly video and audio
This principle looks specifically to my theoretical history in hypertext studies, where Barthes has had considerable influence in providing a theoretical frame and language for conceptualising hypertext from a humanities and high theory perspective. The advantages of this for hypertext were considerable, as he provided a very robust episteme by which to frame the significance of hypertext, while simultaneously helping to legitimate the place of hypertext as a humanities academic practice by virtue of Barthes status as a canonical poststructuralist writer. Clearly, while Barthes and hypertext are dealing with text and writing and reading, his work is easily transferable to other domains and sits very easily upon cinema as a similarly structured set of institutions and practices to literature and the literary.
Barthes, in the introduction to S/Z, as well as the short essay "From Work to Text" makes a political and theoretical distinction between what is know as the 'work' and the 'text', and in turn the readerly and writerly. Rather than paraphrase a work that has an enormous literature of its own (simply read the first dozen or so pages of S/Z, as well as "From Work to Text"), or hypertext's specific use of it (however, if interested see Bolter, and Landow) the salient points that the vogma manifesto wants to appropriate derive from the concept of the writerly.
The writerly is defined amorphously, playfully, and productively by Barthes. While it often appears to be constituted by what it is not this not a reactive definition but simply a consequence of the ways in which what it is opposed to or the mirror of, the readerly, is grounded in the rational, the plain, and is a sort of common sense understanding of what writing and reading is. The readerly is a practice that is located with an economy of return, of the mirage of an equitable exchange between labour and consumption (whether the labour of writing or the labour of reading does not matter). As readers it relies upon modes of address, genres, media and cultural forms that provide us with simple pleasures in return for our interest. Pleasures that are domestic, that don't threaten or challenge us, that allow us to experience, conceive of, and leave the world as just so. In this the autonomy and authority of the author is preserved, as is some sort of romantic ideal of their creativity and control of language and story. A distance between reader and author is presumed, and preserved, and here the works, and their making, look only to representation, to their rendering invisible all of their own material histories and practices. Such works are hermeneutically and narratively closed, they offer closure (of themselves and of our relationships to them) and coherence.
The writerly, in contrast, is deeply ludic, it plays with its own processes and materialities, whether this be language, genre, meaning, or coherence. It is not about representation, and narrating the known, but is an effort to let writing and reading, or making and understanding, approach a degree zero where each happens together, intertwingled so that the author is now closer to a facilitator, a mediator between the radical play of language, meaning, form and the constraint that any act of work requires and produces. In this context to read is less about interpretation, certainly interpretation under any aegis of a final, correct or right reading, than it is about to participate in the liminal construction (or dissolving) of the self and identity via language and the text.
In vogging this is achieved through its performative activity, where the user through their actions is routinely given some element of agency to realise the work - where the video must be played with to be played. It is also realised through the generally non narrative content of the works, which at best are descriptive, indicators of a place and a time, but do not offer whole (and often not even part) stories. They are less episodic than fragments which, taken together, constitute a whole different to its parts, and where some general sentiment or manner is realised simply through the repetition of the practice and the aggregation of the works. Patterns, connections, gestalts emerge through use, but never really settle into any particular thing. So, apart from a range of experimental, abstract, yet always quotidian views, the vogs attempt to invite our participation and through this, in concert with their form and content, ask questions of what sort of thing video is, and could be, on the network with computers. They are prompts and probes much more than answers, notes not essays. On a good day, possibly aphoristic.
7. a vog lies between writing and the televisual
What does it mean for video to become as cheap and available as writing? In the history of writing it is only relatively recently that writing has been an informal, everyday, activity. An act of noting and recording that is taken for granted simply because, certainly in the first world, there is a very high degree of functional literacy, and the cost of writing has come very close to zero. It is useful to remember this, for the two lessons it teaches us in relation to video - that as the cost of making and distributing approaches zero the financial and technical impediments to participation (making, sharing, viewing, collaborating) disappear, and in conjunction with this what might be thought of as informal, everyday writing practices develop. Postit notes, comments, observations and asides kept in small journals, shopping lists, letters. These are all possible because I don't have to know how to make paper, make the paper, purchase ink, sharpen a quill, prepare vellum, and so on.
So with vogging there is a belief (still to be fully realised) that as video becomes a quotidian everyday practice - where the costs of production are as good as zero, editing software costs as much as you wish to pay, and distribution ditto - that new forms of video practice will arise. The video equivalent of the epigram, the aphorism, a haiku. But also the shopping list, love letter, journal note book and diary. In 2010 we can see that much of this has happened, particularly in the direct address diary form (generally a particularly horrid practice that lacks the same grace and writerly detail of the traditional diary), though we can also see that as a form it is still struggling to identify alternatives to both direct address and the formats provided by television whether it be serial drama, hosted shows, skits or even the sort of material that was traditionally collected in those "Funniest Home Video" compilations.
In vogging there is a deliberate approach to video making where video as a medium and practice is treated in the same way that we treat our notebooks and biros. Because the cost of writing is zero we do not feel obligated to make every word, sentence or paragraph count. (Of course many will say you might not, but I do, but that is to stay within the concept of writing as literature, even writers who like to imagine themselves as authors with a capital 'A' write shopping lists, make notes that are always aides-memoires or thinking outs. The point here is to recognise the deep pluralism and embeddedness of writing outside of its canonised high art fetishes.) So it is now with video. If we can make video for nothing, and share it with others who may be interested for nothing, then we can make things that would otherwise be considered minor, incidental, trivial. A colloquial video, or as Sherman has described it, a vernacular video.
However, while we know the scale of things online is such that what may appear minor for one is highly affective for another, more importantly just as writing has developed all sorts of what might be characterised as subsidiary or minor forms and practices - whether they are made with care and time (a haiku, various forms of writing under constraint) or whether an aspect of their constrained conditions is precisely their informal, rapid and sketch like qualities (the history of how some poems and songs have been written, some forms of haiku, performance poetry, procedural textual works and so on), we cannot imagine a literature without its patina of small forms, both formal and informal - so we know have the opportunity to develop a similar set of rich traditions, practices, contexts and forms for online video. This ought to extend beyond just content, what we choose to film, but also needs to consider the formal qualities of the medium.
This is what is meant by the idea of vogging lying between writing and the televisual. Vogging can appropriate those informal modes of writing that writing, as a general literacy (that is a practice of doing that is deeply part of our everyday life world) is constituted by, and bring them to a video making practice. Vogs can be informal, sketch like, with their as good zero cost of production and distribution they do not need to be made for a general audience precisely because they do not have to generate a financial return on their cost of production. This liberates vogging from the ambit claims of 'broadcast quality' and its attendant production values and costs. It can utilise and develop upon the language of television, a small screen relatively intimate mode of address and consumption, precisely because vogs are to be viewed privately, on my computer screen, leaning forward, and it can be informal, quick, and realised in the making. For just as some sorts of writing require careful revision and work, others are based on more immediate forms of reflection, documentation and application. Finally, television, in spite of its lack of mobility - after all it has historically been limited to being a rather large box in the corner of the lounge room - has successfully wended its way into our everyday life world. It has achieved this by virtue of its location within the most social room in the home, its scheduling model that mirrors the diurnal cycles of the contemporary industrial family, and through its larger cyclic forms. This is also something that vogging, through a combination of practice, form, and consumption, can aspire to. Hence, just as I write every day, I can shoot video. Just as I write a memo, write a few hundred words of an essay, jot notes to myself and outline a poem, I can also make all, or part of a video, that might be simply documenting, observational, commentary, poetic (and they may only matter to me), and as the network increasingly follows us, and shifts from the desktop to networked appliances, the moments of watching is able to retain the almost intimacy of television within its small screens and our distributed acts of media consumption.
[include distinction between sit forward and sit back media]
8. a vog explores the proximate distance of words and moving media
A vog is imagined as a network specific video practice, but it is not a video specific form. A vog is embedded within a blog or blog like content management system, and so text, writing, is not a semiotic form that falls outside of vogging. This point is important for several reasons. The first, and perhaps simplest, is the often naive view that because we can shoot video, or that it is simply video, that there is a more authentic connection between the material and the world (or its maker), and so this is implicitly 'better'. Video is different to text, it has different affordances which simply means it does different things. For example, a vog of some boys playing soccer is just that. Let's propose it is a ten second wide shot. It could well take tens of thousands of words to describe all that can see in those ten seconds of video - all the individual movements, the ball, the trees blowing in the wind, the grass, fence, plants, colours of the shirts, boots, socks, and so on. However, this ten seconds cannot do a very good job of communicating or telling us what a particular is thinking, or feeling. Nor can it do a very good job of simply offering a negation, of being able to say 'these boys are playing soccer because they do not like basketball". On the other hand negating, saying "no" or "not" in words is absurdly easy, and helps make possible the very possibility for rational argument that, well, that reason is premised upon. Pictures have a different logic, radically different, and it is naive to think or argue that one is better than the othe. They're simply different.
However, this difference is deeply interesting, precisely because of its distance. Hence, in vogging, we actively seek the miscegenation of words and moving image, videos contain text, there is text that surrounds the video, and the two are there to complement, interrogate and reverberate against each other. As these two major semiotic economies are bought closer together new possibilities emerge, where rather than one merely illustrating or offering commentary in relation to the other each can do what each does best, but together. This, as I write it in 2010, appears perhaps obvious it was not in 2000 when there was view that what was then still largely thought of as 'multimedia' was about the digital's ability to dissolve the difference and distance between all media. Within this rhetoric the specificity of each form was lost in the cornucopia of combinations that seemed just around the corner. A sort of melting pot of media. However, vogging wants words to be words and video to be video, and uses both, and by bringing them together, for example through the use of text tracks, the embedding of video within blog posts, and the use of language inside video to perform more than mere commentary about the 'what can be seen', makes visible the distance between both. The ambition is that in making this distance manifest we, as networked video practitioners, can (again) begin to imagine new forms that think of multimedia as something more pluralistic and even carnivalesque than has been the case. Historically it is like people have come to these media forms as either writers or video practitioners, with a dominant set of skills and understandings, even prejudices, which then leads to work where one is subsidary or secondary to the other. Videos where text is merely commentary, text where videos become illustrations (Daniel Liss is a very relevant exception).
9. a vog is dziga vertov with a mac and a modem
The language here is telling, after all who in 2010 would describe the hardware for connecting to the 'net as a modem? This aside, the intent for this manifesto principle is simple. Dziga Vertov, the celebrated Russian documentary film maker, largely imagined a media system where film makers would be distributed throughout Russia, making short documentary works that would be rapidly distributed (via train) throughout the country. (Indeed, his writing on these ideas is very easily transcribed to the sort of network that CNN realised sixty years later.) The key ideas that I want to pick up from this for vogging are the importance of documentary, the distributed making and sharing, and of course the revolutionary potential of the works. Vogging, in the terms of the manifesto, is seeking a revolution in practice, for the rise of an informed (not naive) making that is deliberately small scale, a part of the everyday. Where work is made quickly, simply but is also revolutionary in terms of the new, personal narrative fragments that are being created that fall outside of the narrative teleologies of dominant televisual forms. And, finally, it is revolutionary as new video objects, novel formal qualities, for a network specific video practice are realised.
The first point, which emphasises the rise of video making and distribution to an ordinary, everyday (and so informal and affordable) practice is, to some extent, partly irrelevant in 2010 where you can own an iPhone that shoots, edits and sends video straight to the cloud. Though this is, precisely, on facet of practice that the manifesto was arguing for as a working methodology. Flat, sketch like, observational. However, what this leaves unstated, but open for consideration, is what should then be observed and shared, and why. Unlike television, which in spite of the efforts to create new content has largely always already answered the question of content (its strength is precisely its formulaic nature) the key things for vogging are what blogging has taught us. Here writing is, as outlined above, polyvocal, but as importantly a strong sense of the writers life world is present in a good blog, and so it should be for vogging. It is not journalism, nor is it the sort of 'voice of god' documentary beloved of much public broadcasting. It is essayist, reflective and personal, which simply means that what what is filmed is what interests the vogger, and if they do this well, then it is good and some form of audience will form. I leave aside the particular problem of what 'good' means at this point, but it should be apparent it is not technical excellence or quality, nor even possibly something highly cinematically creative, but like blogging it resides strongly, at the end of the day, in a sense of authenticity and engagement with someone who says something worth saying in a way that makes it worth saying. Nothing more complicated than this. Or, if you prefer, with the rapidity and ease of recording and making and distributing, with the near to hand of the network and our videographic tool set, what can we make precisely because video is now as accessible and cost free as writing?
The second point, about rethinking the sort of object or artefact that online video is, reflects Vertov's formal experiments around sound and film and montage. He was didactic, after all he was participating within a political revolution where film was understood to be a major vehicle for the creation of revolutionary knowledge, fervour and action, and saw film as offering ways of viewing and understanding the world that
Take from this the rapidity of production, the intent to change the world, and the accessibility of our tools of making and the now nearness of the network. With all of these, what would we make? What should we make? Why? This is not only a question for content but for form as well, and from the perspective 2010 offers, both require more creativity and care than has been exhibited to date.
[perhaps observation that effort has gone into systems for publishing and aggregation, but not for making or sharing]
[think about video blog examples for each point?]
Miles, Adrian. "Vogma Manifesto".
Miles, Adrian. "Wednesday Bergen". Vogs, (A Beta Videoblog). December 6, 2000. http://vogmae.net.au/vog/archive/2000/WednesdayBergen.html
Miles, Adrian. "Bergen Clouds." Vogs, (A Beta Videoblog). September 12, 2002. http://vogmae.net.au/vog/archive/2002/BergenClouds.html
Austin, J.L., How To Do Things With Words (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962).
Miles, Adrian, ‘Cinematic paradigms for hypertext’, Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 13 (1999), 217-226.
Bolter, Jay David, Michael Joyce, John B. Smith, and Mark Bernstein, Storyspace (Watertown: Eastgate Systems Inc). http://www.eastgate.com/storyspace/
Barthes, Roland, S/Z (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974).
Barthes, Roland, ‘From Work to Text’, in Image–Music–Text (London: Flamingo, 1977), pp. 155–64.
Bolter, Jay David, Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing (Hillsdale (N.J.): Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991).
Landow, George P., Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2006).
sherman vernacular video