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Videoblogging Comes Of Age

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Monday, November 21 2011

It’s almost eight o’clock on a Thursday night at City Hall Plaza in New York City. The air is still buzzing with the background static of a crowd, restless after Occupy Wall Street’s day of action.

Someone is broadcasting the scene online, and the camera rests on a man in the crowd. The narrator asks him why he’s there. He’s holding a sign that says: “Healthcare, Not Wealthcare.”

The man tells his interlocutor that he’s a doctor who works at Bellevue Hospital. He mentions his disgust with the healthcare system, and how he’s there to protest the state of the system as it is in the United States. He urges viewers to visit, the web site for Physicians For A National Health Program for more information. PNHP is an organization of doctors in the United States that advocates for a universal single-payer national health program.

The narrator breaks away, sweeps across the crowd and tells his audience of 31,000 live viewers that New York Police Department estimates put the number of protestors who took part in the day’s protests at around 32,000.

Captured in a brief moment, the interview managed to shine the spotlight on someone who broke with the stereotype about the kind of person who is typically taking part in the Occupy movement. The protestor wasn’t an unemployed twenty-something with a nose ring; he was a doctor, deeply upset about a core issue affecting American society, offering not just a policy solution but a website with more information about his idea.

That unexpected moment was one of many in activist Tim Pool’s epic ongoing live stream of the Occupy Wall Street protest in Manhattan. The stream is called “The Other 99,” as in, "We Are the Other 99 percent," and it has become a widely-used window into the Occupy movement's Manhattan birthplace.

Using his Samsung Galaxy S2 cell phone, a 4G network, a free Ustream account, and Twitter and Facebook to alert viewers to new broadcasts, the 25-year-old Pool is demonstrating what could be the future of broadcast, networked citizen journalism, where interaction with viewers is real-time, and where anything can happen.

To long-time video-blogging pioneers, Pool’s livestreams from the Occupy Wall Street protests in Manhattan prove that the long-held promise of video-blogging has come of age.

“To me, [Pool,] he was just aware. He understood that there were thousands of people watching him, and he actually held the camera steady, and he was telling people what was happening the entire time,” noted Jay Dedman, a television and advocacy video producer, and long-time videoblogger. “We were watching his broadcast for about two hours, and none of it was that dull because he was just aware of what was going on.”

“And that’s what the big development is: People are making these political videos actually have skill. They actually have talent. That’s something we haven’t seen until recently, I think.”

Dedman was among one of the first to see the potential of how powerful live streaming video and collaboration on the web could be, once it reached the hands of everyday, ordinary people. He has shared that insight with the wider community by organizing conferences in 2005 and 2006 on the subject, authoring a how-to book on the subject matter and co-founding a discussion group on the web about "vlogging."

The other big difference he sees between vlogging projects such as Pool's and his own initial efforts is simple accessibility to the tools.

"In the early days, it was all about the technology, solving technical problems. Nowadays, there are no technical problems. There are all these free services, and it all connects to a phone," he said.

Dedman lives in rural Virginia two hours outside of Washington, D.C. He said he watched the Occupy Wall Street protests last Thursday on TheOther99's stream on his big-screen TV.

“My wife and I were eating dinner in front of the TV that had the live stream playing full-screen, with audio playing through our loud Bose speakers,” he said. “Rather than being like our parents watching the heavily edited, thirty minutes of world news at 6 o'clock, we were watching a live event that had no real start or stop time. The stream was something we entered and left whenever we wanted. We were reading tweets, following new people, sharing info we were learning...while watching and listening to thousands of people marching. [It was] the modern version of a be-in.”

“There’s just an excitement from something like that kind of feedback loop you don’t get from live television,” Dedman said.

It’s not a stretch to say that hundreds of thousands of people tuned in over the past week to both watch and interact with Pool as he narrated events as they unfolded in real-time.

Pool claims that on Thursday, he had a total of 750,000 unique viewers visit his channel. His M.O. is that he finds out about planned events, sends out notification tweets at "TheOther99"
an account run by himself and a few other Occupiers, and "IWillOccupy," his individual account, before he starts broadcasting. He attends the events with the goal of documenting them in a neutral, journalistic style. Watching the broadcasts is like watching a documentary, except that it’s live, and there are people chatting next to the stream, interacting with Pool on his journey through the Occupy movement.

Collectively, the two Twitter accounts have 26,910 followers: 19,302 accounts follow TheOther99, and 7,608 follow IWillOccupy.

While it’s unclear what, if anything of substance, will emerge from the protestors’ occupation, Dedman sees efforts like those of Pool’s as the successful development of another tool in the activist’s toolkit.

“I'm realizing that the OWS movement doesnt really need to have demands because it's more about the community building,” he said. “I feel all these actions are really just practice so when something needs to be done, there will be a global community ready to take specific action. The live stream is just one way to connect people.”

Update: This article has been corrected. An earlier version incorrectly stated the peak number of simultaneous viewers for Tim Pool's live stream on Thursday. There were 31,000.