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Published in IT World
December 19, 2006

More than words can say

Almost a year ago in this column[1], I opined the general lack of good diagrams on a certain class of Website. Websites that purport to help their readers figure out something physical like changing a tire or tying a Windsor knot or adding a WIFI card to your PC. Websites that might be selling books and supplementing the books with online information.

Well, a year is a long time on the Internet. Drawing good diagrams is still hard. Taking a series of photos that adequately reflect a physical process is still hard. However, anyone can point and shoot a digicam...or so it seems. If you have any doubts about this, you need to do nothing more than spend a few minutes in the company of online video services like youtube[2]. From changing tires[3] to making Windsor knots[4] to adding WIFI cards[5]. Everything (or so it seems), is covered.

It would appear that we are bypassing a potential pedagogical future of digital stills and going straight for a future of full motion video. I find myself reminded of a Simpson's episode where Lisa is visiting the library. Outside the library a poster proudly announces that inside you will find "books about TV". On the Internet, we have video about those old fashioned things called books...

I am also reminded of the fact that I have an MP3 player that can replay video better than it can display words. Perhaps the future of the much heralded portable electronic book lies more in moving video than it does in static words? Hmmm. I will have to think about that some more.

Back to the current future for now. I am a case in point of the online pedagogical video phenomenon. I have recently (please don't giggle although I will understand if you do) decided to teach myself to play guitar. I have been absolutely amazed at the sheer volume and variety of multimedia guitar "stuff" out there on the Web to help self-deluding souls like me. By combining the use of online video and audio streams with (gasp) old fashioned paper books, I find myself quite pleased with my progress.

Now the following is going to sound like a grandiose statement but that never stopped me before so here goes:

There has never been a better time, in the history of the planet, to pick up a physical skill on a "teach yourself" basis.

The reason for this is the burgeoning corpus of multimedia material -- from amateur through to highly professional -- now on the Web. Material which, judiciously combined with those old fashioned things called words, says a lot more than words can ever say.

On its own, this makes the Web a priceless thing.

[1] http://www.itworld.com/Tech/2987/nls_ebizillustrations_060131/
[2] http://www.youttube.com
[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGp1meWKCD8
[4] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8BxLxf8KD0
[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2iCxPi1o7E