I guess we have to do both

Siggy has a very good essay up about a subject I care about: Blogs vs. YouTube.

Blogging has been declining. I don’t have much evidence, aside from Google trends, but it’s fairly obvious from personal experience. For example, atheist blogs used to be a huge cultural force, with big celebrities and countless indie blogs, and now it’s sort of a backwater with a few networks of marginal relevance, and a mostly dead indie space. And no other blogosphere has replaced what atheist blogging once was.

Maybe his just has to do with my personal circles? As a reality check I tried looking up the question. I learned, according to Google, that blogging is bigger than ever, and is still a great way to make money by advertising your product! Okay, so I should specify that I’m not interested in all blogs, because marketing blogs can go die in a fire. I’m talking about personal blogs, and more specifically essay blogs. Essay blogs are declining, that’s what I meant.

Essays aren’t dead though, because it is now popular to present essays in video format. The video essay is a booming genre, and I for one think it’s great, for the same reason essay blogs are great. But there are also some significant differences.

They make a lot of good points, but I’d add that the barriers to entry for video essays are much higher. Sure, you can do some of it on the cheap, witness all the cell phone camera videos, but the big timers have production skills and are deploying good lighting and even sets. There are also new presentation skills you have to know — being able to speak quickly and smoothly is not a universal ability. I know I’m more comfortable taking an hour or two to write than just getting in front of a camera and talking for 10 minutes. I also don’t have to put on makeup to write something over coffee (not that I put on makeup for any of my videos).

I’ll also disagree with Siggy on one thing: drama is not more difficult on YouTube. In some ways it’s worse. Take some right-winger who is good at just spewing noise and doesn’t bother to actually research what they say (say, Sargon, or Steven Crowder, who make gobs of money on noise), and they can generate lots of drama, much of it consisting of guys yelling at each other. Tim Pool and Alex Jones are nothing but masturbatory auto-generated drama! I manage to avoid much of it by the simple expedient of favoring videos that are under a half hour long. While there are some people who are really good at long format, in-depth conversations, the most successful people on YouTube seem to be cheesy motormouths who can yammer for hours, usually about gossipy trash-talk, or squeaking as they play video games. If you aren’t putting in more time to research what you’re going to say than in saying it, you probably aren’t worth listening to.

Also, one thing the two approaches have in common is they’ve both been saddled with the most hideous names. Blog? Vlog? Bletch.

One of the reasons for the decline of blogs, I’d argue, is the efforts of the big services to concentrate control in their hands. When blogs were big, we were using RSS readers and news feeds, which were distributed mechanisms for customizing and personalizing access. Now everybody is at the mercy of The Algorithm, whatever that is, and goes to a centralized site like YouTube that uses their software to guess what you’d like to see, and often guesses wrong.


  1. ORigel says

    I prefer reading to watching a video. When I’m watching a video on Youtube, I’m constantly looking at the progress bar to see how much longer I have to bear the video.

  2. says

    Yeah, I can read faster than even the most demented chipmunk of a speaker can talk, so they better be entertaining otherwise.

  3. says

    With regard to drama, I was talking about the more specific category of video essays. I think Sargon and the others can easily engage in high drama because they’re not in the video essay genre, not at all. But you’re right that all of these things coexist in the same youtube environment.

  4. says

    Youtube is owned by abusive corporate evil. They hoover-up as much personal info as possible and sell it, violating people’s privacy. (Sadly, I must even block the many spyware trackers infesting freethought blogs) And they can ban or obscure anything they like. Also, they facilitate the theft and dissemination of others’ copyright material. I choose to visit freethought blogs (especially pharyngula) because it strives for honesty and provides me with a lot of important scientific and social information.

    Written blogs encourage literacy. Youtube is full of ignorant, illiterate crap, including conspiracy theorists and xtian terrorist vids.

    And, youtube only allows a very limited number of recent browsers and consumes a large amount of ‘bandwidth’. If you have a limited amount of ‘data’ on your internet connection it can waste it quickly. Your blog is open to a wide range of browsers and operating systems. Also, you can easily re-read a written blog, the videos are difficult to review.

  5. eliza422 says

    The decline in blogging is in all areas unfortunately. Even worse is bloggers who moved to Social Media outlets for posting little comments or whatever where they end up just fading away or just reposting articles. I really miss the long form writing from blogs.
    Even people who are still writing that I follow (like Hemant Mehta and Adam Lee) have moved to a terrible platform, OnlySky. I wish they had come here because this site is just easier to use and doesn’t have all the other nonsense on it.
    Oh well…change just keeps coming.

  6. says

    @5 eliza422 You are right on a number of points, including: ‘change just keeps coming’. I detest change for the sake of change. New, trendy does nothing positive. That is a human failing. I value Change that is IMPROVEMENT.

  7. divineconspiracy667 says

    If youtube videos were forced to have a transcript, I’d never hit play on a video. Sorry, PZ, that includes your videos.
    I can read what someone would take 30 mins to speak inside of 5 mins, and I’m able to absorb the content better in written form than in audio format.

  8. says

    I just recently got internet access at home for the first time in about nine years. That’s nine years of sporadic access, usually just checking my email.
    It’s a strikingly different place. Outside of Freethought blogs, there’s practically nothing to read. News, sports & opinions are either behind paywalls or so riddled with ads as to be virtually un-navigable. The rotting corpses of dead blogs abound. Twitter is actually the next most engaging site I’ve found, next to this one, and I suspect that may change in the coming months. And it’s a poor, short-attention-span substitute for long-form blogging.
    I’ve always preferred to read. I like being able to start and stop and rewind and think at my own pace. I’m tired of loons sitting in their cars babbling at their phones with their faces too close to the camera. I’m tired of people putting sunglasses on their dog’s butt and getting eight million views. And I hate dancing; I think people look stupid when they dance.
    YouTube is for watching Bob Ross shows.
    I know I sound like an old fogy. “Back in my day…” Whatever. I’m glad you’re still here, PZ.

  9. revmatty says

    For a lot of neurodivergent people the pivot to video essentially makes a lot of content inaccessible. If the only way to get access to content is video then unless it’s a very high priority (enough to set aside a fixed block where there is a guarantee of no interruptions for the entire duration, a rarity these days) it might as well not exist.

  10. revmatty says

    @feralboy12, all of what you said and also the vast majority of people are just not good at presenting video content. I can read a longform article and retain what I read in much less time than watching an hour long video that is more verbal pauses, jarring cuts, and irrelevant tangents than actual content (podcasts are also often bad at this except the professionally produced ones).

  11. seachange says

    I live where movies are made, still.

    The average screenplay for a one and a half hour movie, the text of it is a short story. The rest of it is all about the visual and the audio. It isn’t necessarily true that videos are poorly made (although some might be). Action, backdrops, sets, sounds and speech are slow compared to reading.

  12. Allison says

    Add me to the list that really, really hates videos that are supposed to convey information and ideas. Even when well-produced and free of cutsie stuff (remember “clippy”?) and content-free junk, videos don’t (and can’t) sync with how I process information. They are both too slow and too fast — and linear, which my thinking is not. I agree with revmatty above, that if you’re the least bit neurodivergent (which in this case, means anyone whose brain doesn’t process videos well, even if you’re in every other respect neurotypical), the content is almost inaccessible and sometimes completely inaccessible. It’s like most GUIs are for the visually impaired. (“Hey, most people like them, so you folks that can’t use them can just drop dead.”)

    However, I have the impression that the Freethought bloggers’ complaint about videos isn’t that they don’t like them, but rather that it’s too much work to make them. I conclude this because so many of the Freethought bloggers are perfectly happy making posts that are either nothing but a link to a YouTube video, or a link to a video plus some commentary that only makes sense if you’ve watched the video. These “posts” send me the message “if you don’t like videos, go somewhere else. We don’t want your kind.”)

    There are a number of websites that try to make their stuff accessible to people who have trouble with certain kinds of media. For instance, the UK feminist blog the F-word has text descriptions of every image in their posts, as does the site Everyday Feminism. One thing I really, really appreciate about Rebecca Watson’s videos is that she always provides a transcript. (Well, almost always.)

  13. says

    I totally agree about the accessibility issues related to switching from text to video. But, I would like to mention that it goes both ways. I’ve known people who find videos accessible but don’t have the tolerance for long essays. And obviously that perspective is not going to be well-represented around here. We need both, as PZ said.

  14. divineconspiracy667 says

    Siggy @14
    No doubt. I’m sure some of the reason why video is taking over the world is a lot of people would rather watch something than read. Definitely a part of it is because it’s easier for corporations like Google to monetize and drive content through videos than print.
    With autoplay, the algorithm just queues up another video when you’re done watching the current one. You can’t really do that with text. Also, it’s way easier to grab engagement stats from videos than from written words.

  15. says

    I like to read the blogs over my coffee in the morning (like grandpa with his morning paper :) ) but then, when it’s time to get up and start doing stuff, I queue up my playlist from YouTube, put my headphones on and get to going. Can’t read and do house cleaning at the same time. So I listen while I work. (Mostly select Minecrafters and D&D play)

    I don’t see a lot of the crap everyone complains about because I rarely (if ever, tbf) play any of the recommended videos. My sub feed is all I need really. I never read the comments either. As for any personal data hoovering, well, they’re welcome to it. Why should I care?

  16. hemidactylus says

    I haven’t yet warmed to Mehta on OnlySky. I only today figured out how to dig down to previous pages of content. I have read him much less since the transition.

    I read blogs, Discord channels, some news apps and ebooks. I also watch some self-curated Youtube content. Roku through my HDTV made Youtube much more appealing to me (I finally cut the cable cord), but it has to compete with TV shows on other apps now.

    I listen to podcasts when driving. Many podcasts overlap with Youtube channels. Some of these wind up being people’s heads babbling for a camera which isn’t much added value. PZ has managed to parlay video into enhanced content. He also usually (always?) provides a transcript. The appeal of Youtube comes for me in visual conveyance that greatly enhances value. Without that enhancement it would be preferable to listen to audio only through a podcast app.

  17. says

    I really do think video essayists should release scripts. For livestreams or podcasts, I can understand why that might be hard, but video essayists are usually working from a script anyway, so they should release the script! Rebecca Watson is very consistent & visible about this, and I regularly alternate between watching the videos or reading the text, depending on my convenience. She ad-libs a little bit, but it’s basically the same content, which is good enough for me.

  18. John Morales says


    I really do think video essayists should release scripts.

    I would like that very much. PZ does it sometimes, which is good.

    Reading is so much faster than listening, and it’s random-access, too.

  19. hemidactylus says

    I’m probably making shit up, but it seems reading, watching, and listening tap into different parts of your brain. These streams can be complementary. Also I read quite a bit already and get burnt out on that. Watching video content is a relief from looking at text, though at some point could get tedious itself (those 2-3+ hour marathon Youtubers). Not sure the transcript for that overkill would help much.

    I guess the ideal is something akin to Great Courses where you get video content in digestible 30-40 minute chunks sometimes replete with enhanced visuals that make comprehension easier, plus a coursebook. Youtube videos should be more than seeing a babbling noggin, though visual graphics are a bit difficult, plus transcripts or a link to a webpage expanding on what was said.

  20. John Morales says


    I’m probably making shit up, but it seems reading, watching, and listening tap into different parts of your brain. These streams can be complementary.

    Back in the day, I read a story by, I think, Van Vogt where a protagonist comprehends and absorbs information via four separate channels simultaneously: one for each eye and each ear.

    (Was science-fiction of its day, of course)

  21. says

    I’ve found – to my surprise – that I enjoy listening to podcasts/videos at higher speeds. It’s actually easier to focus – like listening at the same speed I read.

    feralboy12 @ #8:

    And I hate dancing; I think people look stupid when they dance.


  22. William George says

    I’ve been having a similar problem with posting art and photos online. People only want to see videos of artists making art and not the art itself. If I wanted to make videos I would have studied movie-making.

  23. lochaber says

    I wonder if part of this is how people access online content?

    I don’t like using my phone for much other than making calls/texting, and maybe taking photos. I really don’t like using the browser on it, because I don’t know enough about how it works to put limits on it like I do on my laptop (privacy badger, noscript, user settings, etc.), and I really, really don’t want to download apps for every fucking thing…

    But it seems like a lot of people really like using their phones as their primary internet access point, and I’m wondering if watching videos on a small screen is maybe easier than reading text?

    If it wasn’t clear, I’m also one of those who generally prefers text over videos. I find it easier to both skim text, and also to quickly reread something or refer to an earlier part of the document if I’m having questions about the content, whereas finding a point in video is a much slower process, and even after I find it and rewatch it a couple times, I often have to end up turning on captions or searching online for a transcript if I’m having difficulties understanding things

    There are some good youtube content producers out there, and most of them I’ve probably picked up after links from this blog network. But I also typically skim, if not read, most of the new posts on this blog network most days (I don’t comment that much, because even when I have something to say, someone similar minded but more eloquent and timely has often said it already before I even get around to reading the post…
    Whereas, I typically only go through my youtube subscribed channels(?) new video lists on the weekends, when I have plenty of time to lounge around in bed and waste time on the internet while intermittently conscious…

  24. blf says

    Another individual here who detests videos for multiple reasons. One reason is the lack of a transcript (frequently). That lack means you have to take notes (or similar), to study, quote, refute, and discuss a video, and it’s easy to mishear — even when the presenter is good (which in my opinion, most aren’t — this includes some “professionals” — and I myself often enable subtitles when available to help check I’m hearing the babbling correctly).

    Transcripts help, but I suspect an essay tends to be better, though this clearly depends on the skills of the writer / presenter. Videos are made to seen, and essays to be read, so whilst reading a transcript helps, it’s not the same as an essay. It’s a script to be performed. Essays seem to have the advantage of being easier to follow, and to study, quote, refute, and discuss.

  25. John Morales says

    SC @23,

    I’ve found – to my surprise – that I enjoy listening to podcasts/videos at higher speeds.

    Yes! And YouTube at least lets you select a speed.

    Beau (of the 5th) and PZ himself are best at 1.25x or higher; they seem normal then.

    (This is not — not! — a diss. Listener can choose, that’s a good thing)

  26. Dunc says

    YouTube now has an auto-generated transcript feature, which is actually not terrible. In the web interface, it’s hidden behind the ellipsis next to the “Save” button, and in the Android app it’s in the info panel accessed by tapping the video title. It’s not perfect, but definitely a massive improvement for those of us who prefer to read.

  27. says

    The aggregators push people’s attention to their stable of creators so they can capture the ad $. That pulls audiences away from the small creators and leaves them having to join the platform and hope the algorithm smiles on them. Realistically, reader/viewers have a limited amount of time, so I’m competing with Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Carlin, and Joe Rogan, etc. so the little blogs lose readership.

    I don’t begrudge or blame the audiences for going to the more interesting, well-produced shows. After all, I listen to them, too. There’s only so much attention out there and someone’s got to lose out.

  28. says

    I have the impression that the Freethought bloggers’ complaint about videos isn’t that they don’t like them, but rather that it’s too much work to make them.

    I think it’s about the same, depending on how good you want the production values to be. Just banging off video takes about the same time if it’s unscripted and unedited. Grab a camera and blather – that can be faster than blogging. But if you script it then you basically write a blog post (the script) then perform it and edit the results. Also you’re on youtube’s framework; here on ftb’s wordpress I can start writing a draft and let it hang about for days. With youtube you have to do all your edits on your workstation then upload it in one fell swoop.

    For me it’s not a matter of the difficulty of producing video (video can be fun!) its just the relative pointlessness of competing with the really top notch material that’s out there.

  29. blf says

    Dunc@28, Thanks, that is good to know; I’ll have to try it sometime. As per my @26, I suspect an essay is still preferable (for those of us who prefer to read), since a transcript is a (written) record of a performance, unlike an essay; performances and essays have different capabilities and goals. As one example, it’s probably easier to give a dynamic example in a performance (i.e., video) than an essay, but an essay isn’t a recorded chalk-talk, making it easier to quote & analyze.

  30. says

    I like transcripts too. +1 for appreciating Rebecca Watson’s.

    It’s taken me time to figure out that my visual working memory is better than my audio working memory. Lots better. I stop to formulate responses a lot.

    It’s easier to respond to text. Sometimes I think there’s a political gossip advantage to videos, but that might be my perspective.

  31. Pierce R. Butler says

    Once cams started coming as standard equipment on personal computers, I worried blogs would all turn into vlogs, and comment sections become a series of short vid posts.

    At which point, I figured I’d have to go back to just-books.

    TikTok may have already achieved such an online dystopia, but I for one feel happy to help TT remain a boomer-free space.

  32. DanDare says

    I browse text stuff on my phone a lot. I hate videos poping up on auto play, blai r ing their soundtrack into whatever puplic space I’m in.
    I do watch video and do deep dive reading at home on my desktop. That’s where I also do long form replies.
    I miss forums most. The tools for tracking threads, replying, quoting, even page jumping, are so much easier and more prevalent in a forum.