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Should This Be a Video?

There are two schools of thought: everything should be a video, and those of us who disagree. Multiple factors come into play when you make a video: manpower, bandwidth, scheduling, the value placed on production quality, length, what you want to get out of the video, and of course, personal preferences.

One of the main questions I ask when presented with ideas for videos is “Is this a visual topic?” There are some topics that don’t necessarily lend themselves to visuals as well as others. Sometimes the visuals are just boring or can’t be fully realized and sometimes there’s a topic people just don’t want to look at. A video on what the inside of a bowel looks like? No thank you.

People will argue that you can turn anything into a visual--and yes, that is true, given infinite time, energy, and resources. However, let’s say you’re thinking about making a video on the newly discovered shade of blue, YInMn blue. You’re going to be limiting yourself visually. Sure, you can show pictures of that specific shade of blue, but it’s going to be difficult to distinguish a surmountable difference between one blue and another in pixels. Perhaps a more impactful video would be on how we see color via the light spectrum and how it’s still possible for us to be discovering more colors on it and YInMn can stay a written article with pictures for now.

Developing concepts can be tricky, too. As science communicators, it’s our responsibility to pay strict attention to detail and make sure everything is as accurate as possible. Sometimes with developing technologies, you just don’t have the reference materials to know what the technologies look like or how they visually behave to represent them in a video. For the sake of accuracy, you can’t create something out of thin air that you think might look correct. This leads to the potential that you’re actually dead wrong. And no one likes fake news.

This comes into play with nanotechnologies. It’s real and it’s happening, but sometimes the action is too small to be seen. It’s challenging to show a visual for nanobots. Available footage of nanobots show tiny black rectangles shooting around the screen with bubbles following them. It’s a visual, but it might not be enough to carry an entire video. That’s up to you to decide. Coming up with metaphors for them are tricky too. They’re not robots, they’re not rockets, so what are they? They’re black squares shooting around with circles following them. Let me click on another video instead.

A better video idea might be a topic like CRISPR/Cas9. How CRISPR/Cas9 works lends itself well to video. Cas9 splices DNA, which is a concept that draws up a compelling visual to depicts the technology accurately. The visual metaphor of scissors would be appropriate here because it’s accurate and it really drives home how it works. It’s a visual topic.

Now let’s say you’re thinking about making a video on different the types of sand across the world’s beaches. Sand is an easy visual, everyone knows what sand looks like and there’s a surplus of images of it to be found. But do people actually want to look at sand? It sits there and it’s beige. It’s not a visually engaging topic and your viewership will potentially suffer from that. Be sure you have a topic people want to look at. Perhaps a pivot from a focus on sand is warranted, and a turn to a focus on the bodies of water near the sand. Who doesn’t want to look at rolling ocean waves?

Other times topics might be too complicated to make into a video--depending on your bandwidth. Animation and motion graphics is time consuming. The more visually complex and involved your topic is, the longer it’s going to take and by longer, I mean LONGER. For those of you who might not have an in-depth understanding of the animation process, it’s complex. Designing and animating shots can take up to months to produce with teams of people working on them. So if you have one or two days to put out a video, you’re not going to have time to create a complex animation, even if you have multiple animators and designers working on a single project. Perhaps you should reconsider your medium. Personally I’m a fan of complex animations as it shows how science works. People interpret visuals more quickly than words so it’s always good to have relative visuals to emphasize what’s being communicated. Plus, over 90% of videos that are consumed on FB are watched without the sound playing. This really drives home the point that you should have something to look at, opposed to just listen to.

These are just a few things to consider when deciding if something should be a video. People do love watching content, but sometimes when it comes to science and schedules, it’s just not possible to have accurate or enticing visuals.

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