Using video on the history web – part two

So, yesterday I was discussing the use of videos on the history web. I left you with two examples and asked what you thought. It is okay that no one commented! Just trying to be encouraging. Moving on!

Here’s what I think.

Unfortunately, or perhaps not, if you are an organisation – a recognised entity that means something to people – your videos need to be professional. This doesn’t mean expensive or made outside the organisation (if you can, all the better) but it does mean that it has to represent the organisation properly. Imagine giving people a brochure that you knocked up on Publisher (shudder) and printed on a black and white inkjet. Or printing out a page from Wikipedia as a label for an item in a museum (I’ve actually seen this, by the way). Can an organisation successfully promote itself as a worthwhile, serious, useful place with these sorts of approaches?

The other major reason one was a decent video and the other not so much was length. Be truthful – did you watch all of the first one? I didn’t the first time – I think I got about 1min in – but then thought I should before I talk about it here and wow that was a long 9mins 48secs. Keep it short. 2mins is pushing it. Somewhere between 1 and 2mins is great.

There is one more reason why I liked the second one better and that was focus. It was about one thing – citizen archivists and how to engage with the archives as a member of the public. It stuck to that message. The video didn’t try to tell us about their services or other programs I’m sure they run or why the archives are important. It just told us about that one program using two people as examples. Great approach. The NSW State Archives video was about family history research. And it was kind of about readers’ tickets and the address of the archives and microfilm. It was also about shipping records, convict records, maps, court records and advice about how to do family history research. They could make a series of videos covering each of these, in exactly the same format (with perhaps a rethink on the music), and they would be much more successful.

Videos can be great ways to engage visitors to a website but that’s all they are. They don’t work as instructional (generally) and they can’t capture detailed information. They work best when there is a story used as an example of what can be achieved or experienced – people like hearing about other people. They don’t have to have talking heads, although people like talking heads too. They don’t have to be moving film but there should be some close relation between the visual and the verbal.

I’m going to finish with another example. This one has money behind it, obviously. But public-private partnerships can result in great things. And if there is anyone doing this well it is the people trying to make a profit.

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