Tom Critchlow
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Intermodal Media

...or why Buzzfeed is dominating Facebook with silent square videos

January 21, 2016

The shipping container revolutionized global trade and modern capitalism. Why? Because it standardized infrastructure. This is called intermodalism:

Intermodal freight transport involves the transportation of freight in an intermodal container or vehicle, using multiple modes of transportation (rail, ship, and truck), without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes.

With the advent of Facebook Instant Pages1 and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages2 we’re entering an age of intermodal media.

John Herrman writes the best new media cricism anywhere on the web in his series the content wars. In not an article he writes:

“Now that Instant Articles are more fully rolled out, and everyone can see them for themselves, I wonder if their formal dimensions will start to seem odd to people. Or… strained? In the run-up, Facebook explained Instant Articles as a way to solve a particular problem: articles, which came from websites, were widely shared and read but loaded slowly. This was a tech issue, simply solved, with some additional obvious consequences: Facebook assuming control over layout; Facebook either influencing or participating with publishers’ advertising and revenue plans in a direct way”

He goes on, arguing that we’re on the verge of codifying the notion of the article as the atomic unit. He argues that this might not be exactly what people want but because of the infrastructure (read: platforms) we won’t see so much innovation beyond that:

“So, a thought experiment! Now, tapping an Instant Article sends you to a separate full-screen page. This is what everyone asked for; this is what we got. But imagine an “article” that just expands in the feed, vertically. What would that look like? What is the feed analog to a post or an article? If it had a headline, would it remotely resemble the types we put on current article pages? The curiosity gap wouldn’t make sense here, for example. But what would? Would the article just start? Would it assume the native Facebook language of the Personal Update? Or would it demand a more thorough kind of preview—a pre-article that could be scanned and either expanded or not?”

Why? Because of intermodal media. It’s not about what’s best - it’s about what is easiest, most transportable and interchangeable across media platforms. There’s a reason, in my mind, why Twitter markup3 and Facebook markup4 are almost identical (but not quite!). We’re on the edge of a standardization - not through shared agreement, but through the domination of media by a small handful of platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Google) each caught in a fight to the bottom.

The same thing is happening for video - though perhaps less obviously so. The existential question is between the horizontal format of YouTube and Netflix and the vertical format of Snapchat and Facebook.

In an interview with Jonah Peretti of Buzzfeed there is discussion around Tasty, a new food destination for Facebook video:

“do people know Tasty by BuzzFeed? It was launched in [summer 2015]. And it has 1.2 billion views on Facebook in October”

A cursory scan of Tasty’s most recent videos reveals a staggering domination of the platform. The most recent 10 videos have an average view count of of 24mm views.

This video posted three hours ago has over 5mm views:

Matcha Green Tea Swiss Roll

Posted by Tasty on Thursday, January 21, 2016

Of course Buzzfeed is designing these videos for maximum exposure - and cross platform exposure too. They’re designing intermodal media and you can see that here; these videos are square and silent.

Square - because people watch these videos on a range of devices, landscape, portrait, desktop, mobile.

Silent - because these videos auto-play in your feed, and so they are annotated to be engaging and consumable without the hassle of pulling out headphones or turning on audio.

Intermodal Media - designed to be embedded, cross-posted, facebooked, twittered, snapchatted, consumed on the go, shared, re-shared, blogged, re-blogged and watched at work and in bed.

  1. https://instantarticles.fb.com/ 

  2. https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2015/10/introducing-accelerated-mobile-pages.html 

  3. https://dev.twitter.com/cards/markup 

  4. https://developers.facebook.com/docs/sharing/webmasters 

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