Are We Seeing The End of Text?

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A few weeks ago, Facebook executive Mendelsohn stated that in five years she expects the social network “will probably be all video”. Nicola Mendelsohn is the vice president of European, Middle Eastern and African operations for the company. She has an extensive resume going all the way back to 1992. There’s no denying she likely knows what she’s talking about.

But while you can’t deny the impact of video on Facebook and the Internet in general, is her prediction implying the actual death of text? I’ve seen headlines about the death of SMS messaging (and I’ve written about those here), and read reports saying 70% or more of Internet traffic is video.

Many in the news media are taking her words and making the broader prediction about text (all text, including SMS) disappearing – on social networks and throughout the Internet. But I think it’s a long jump, very long, to make it to a world with no text. I take issue with the prediction because it just doesn’t make sense from a broader perspective. Here are two reasons I don’t see either Facebook, or our online experience across the web, becoming all video.

People Communicate Differently

From Facebook’s perspective, video is big. For example, over 100 million hours of video are watched each day. They’ve also invested heavily into a live streaming and video game streaming capability. They’ve also added the ability to use emoji, animated pictures, and video in comments. Clearly, they plan on video being a large part of their platform in the future.

As I scroll through my Facebook feed I see lots of video – most of it shared from other places rather than original posts. People are taking advantage of the new emoji reactions (as opposed to just the “like” button), and I’ve seen pictures in the comments. There probably are some video comments as well. All of those are quick to post, and do give a visual reaction to the post without having to write any words.

But all that happens within the confines of a social network. When it comes to actual direct communication between people, text will win out in most cases. For example, a private hire is much more likely to send a message to their customer saying, “Arrival time is 14:23” than a video of the driver saying “I’ll be there at 14:23”.  It just isn’t practical (for the moment at least).

When you get an SMS message from your spouse saying “Dinner is at 18:00”, you might send back an emoji, or you might just send “k”. A video wouldn’t make much sense, even if you had more to say than just ok.

The point is social network interactions and direct communication is different, or at least it doesn’t have to be the same.

How People Tell Stories

One of the reasons Mendelsohn gave for video replacing text was that video is “the best way to tell stories in this world” and “helps us to digest much more information”.

Well, I’ve heard that before. About 7 years ago I worked for a start-up company. The CEO insisted that all their content be in video (I was hired to write scripts). He would go on and on about how every website would only have video in just a couple of years and he refused any recommendation to include text on a webpage. Video, he would say, was the only way to tell the story of his product and his business.

His website, and his company, no longer exist. Of course I’m not trying to say video isn’t a powerful storytelling tool because it absolutely is. There are some things that just cry out to be made into video. Complex concepts can be made simpler when visualised, or simple concepts can be made into moving stories.

But it’s the broad brush that says video is the only way to tell stories or deliver information that bothers me. I don’t need to watch a video to discover my favourite store is having a buy-one-get-one-free sale. I can read an SMS message that says that in less than two seconds. And that is a story I want to know about – albeit a short one.

In our distracted, always on the go world, some things are just quicker and better conveyed in text. That’s one reason SMS messaging is so popular for personal, business or marketing purposes. It lets you cut through all the other media that takes so much time to digest and connect directly with a person.

So while people may consume more video in the years to come, I predict direct communication and engagement between people and customers will continue to be in text. Ok, there will probably be lots of emoji and memes too. Am I wrong?

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