i-3ab5ce9ec0924100bb37cf972d52441f-4years.jpgLately, it seems everybody’s a video producer. From YouTube to BlogTV to Seesmic –- it’s as if everyone’s doing something with a videocamera. Last year, I wondered if the transition from blogger to video producer and host might not be the best route for everyone. It seemed that bloggers were eager to jump formats and just “do video,” and the results aren’t always stellar.

However, some bloggers have emerged as video producers first. Called videobloggers or vloggers, these folks often rely more heavily on moving images rather than words when communicating with their readers/viewers. As with traditional weblogs, in vlogs there are genres that range from comedy to politics to personal rants.

It’s hard to classify vlogs. Are they blogs that incorporate video? Or video accompanied by blogging? Are they video podcasts? Most of the videoblogs I’ve enjoyed don’t fall into a strict definition. Some bloggers have a traditional blog and keep their videoblog separate. Others follow a blog format but call what they do video podcasting. Most vlogs incorporate a simple player into the blog format which allows for easy viewing by anyone with a high-speed Internet connection.

I must admit that when I first started to hear about vlogs back in 2005, I was slightly skeptical of the idea. My experience with film production led me to believe that good (just good, not even great) content takes endless amounts of time to create and later post-produce. I wondered if bloggers might be able to consistently produce quality video content on a regular basis. But the rise of digital video and access to low-cost and even free tools has put the power to produce video into the hands of many more people. Vlogging has indeed come of age in the last several years, and I’ve seen production values get better and better.

In going through a slew of vlogs over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a little bit of everything, both good and bad. But regardless of genre, a few really stood out because to me they are using the medium well. A common thread with these standout vlogs is higher production values, concise and effective communication, and consistency in content. I’ve chosen five examples for you as an introduction to videoblogs. Each one has traits that I think show how this medium can entertain and inform if used effectively.

Political

Alive in Baghdad
Mainstream media only shows a small part of what is taking place in Iraq as a result of the war, and the focus is more often than not on money spent, number of killed or wounded and days since the war was declared. Seldom do we see glimpses into the daily lives of Iraqis.

Alive in Baghdad is a citizen journalism project that takes the form of a vlog, but also mimics traditional journalism in its weekly dispatches from Iraq. The reporting is done by locals, and the videos are breathtaking, while being simple and right on target when it comes to subject matter. Alive in Baghdad explores the difficulties of living in a war zone from the perspective of citizens who have been unwillingly pushed into a violent, uncertain way of life. Interviews are short but the questions are powerful.

The production value of the three-to-five-minute dispatches is high quality, ensuring that technical issues don’t dilute the message. Late last year, Alive in Baghdad suffered a terrible loss, as one of its correspondents, Ali Shafeya Al-Moussawi, was killed in a raid in his own home. Despite the tragedy, the weekly dispatches from Baghdad keep coming, and are a courageous look into a dark time in human history. This vlog matters because it is effectively filling a gap in war reporting.

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MobuzzTV

Technology

MobuzzTV

Spain’s MobuzzTV is a videoblog that begs the question: Is it online TV or is it a videoblog? Shot in Madrid and on location with versions in English, Spanish and French, Mobuzz covers “geek topics” centered mostly on the Internet. Originally intended to be viewed on mobile devices, Mobuzz hosts deliver the news in a casual yet careful way, with enough personality to keep you coming back for more.

A nod to traditional blogging, each news piece features a citation of the source for the story (e.g. “via: Yahoo News”), which reminds you that this is a vlog (that detail would be lost on a traditional television audience, as would the mention of tech blogging personalities and Internet rivalries). Even with that geekiness, Mobuzz is the perfect example of a videoblog (or web TV show) that I’d watch on regular television, and those are few and far between. Nothing looks thrown together, and the shows have just enough content to keep you interested. Though it is tech-centric, it doesn’t get annoyingly so.

Comedy

Ask a Ninja

Ask a Ninja didn’t begin as a vlog, but with the lines blurred between videoblogging and online video, I think it qualifies as one. In 2005 improvisational comedians Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine (the Ninja) began uploading videos with their strange brand of humor centered around a modern-day ninja. The premise: ask a Ninja a question, and get an answer.

Questions range from “What is net neutrality?” (hint: the answer involves a girl working at Hot Dog on a Stick, Robin Williams’ cousin and bacon) to What should I write my next term paper on?. The reason why Ask a Ninja works is that if you like the humor, you’re prepared to come back time and time again for what amounts to be the same joke with a different topic: a reader asks the Ninja a question and the Ninja departs from what would be considered normal Ninja behavior to dealing out advice on things like dating or cooking.

The gag never gets old. What also helps is that the videos are consistent: silly musical intro, question appears on the screen, and the Ninja answers the question with extremely random pop culture references. At the end of the day, it’s entertainment and stands out because it is simple, well done and consistent.

Food and Wine

Wine Library TV

With the rise of food blogs, food and wine vlogs have also entered the scene. Most are good enough, with videobloggers stirring some pots, walking you Rick Steves-style through some market in Italy. Great ideas, but not enough to hold my attention for more than a few minutes or keep me coming back for more. Worse still are most wine blogs, which have content dull enough to bore an enthusiast like me.

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Wine Library TV

Far from your typical wine snob, Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV is the opposite of a stuffy gourmand — he’s an entertainer. Slate referred to him as a wine guru for the YouTube era. Gary himself calls his program “the most passionate wine show on the Internet.” Whether or not you can stand his in-your-face style of vlogging, you’ll have to give him that: The guy’s got passion.

While other vlogs are more dependent on subject matter, Wine Library TV is all about Gary. He tastes wine, teaches you about it, and makes it fun. Sometimes in watching him, it’s easy to forget that you’re actually learning something. What makes this vlog successful is that it’s entertaining. Gary’s passionate about wine, and he effectively communicates his passion to viewers. What’s even more impressive is that he does it nearly every day.

Daily Dose

Rocketboom

Rocketboom is a daily videoblog that serves up three minutes of news and commentary presented by Joanne Colan. I’m including it on the list as an example of a vlog that isn’t really my taste uses the medium very effectively and has pioneered the format.

What I do like about this vlog is that it’s consistent. You go there knowing what to expect, you get the same thing day after day, and it’s never boring. The production value high and posts are short. You have time to catch an episode daily without feeling that it’s interfering with your life, which I think is key for succeeding in videoblogging (as well as podcasting).

Whether or not the content is appreciated by everyone, Rocketboom might represent the first real vlog success story. Founded in 2004, by Amanda Congdon and Andrew Baron, Rocketboom was almost an overnight sensation (according to Wikipedia, it went from 700 to 70,000 viewers in 10 months) and traffic remains strong, though the viewership numbers continue to cause controversy.

*****

Will videoblogging go mainstream? Well, it has seeped into mainstream culture to some degree. LonelyGirl15 was basically a videoblog, and even that crazed Britney fan’s plea for all of us to leave his idol alone might be qualified as a videoblog post as well (incidentally, the fan in question has even signed a TV deal).

Former Rocketboom host Amanda Congdon was picked up by ABC News as host of the network’s weekly videoblog (though she was later dropped), and just last week cable network Current TV announced recruiting of vlogger journalists in the UK. Similar to what happened when blogs first went mainstream, vlogs are even talked about on the business front, with experts discussing videoblogging as a way to make marketing campaigns go viral.

I think for the average viewer like me, engaging content is the most important thing. What’s on a videoblog needs to be interesting enough to hold my attention, and the production quality good enough not to distract me. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. The unprecedented access to tools to create, upload and broadcast video makes the temptation to do it haphazardly quite great. The good news is that, like the vlogs I’ve mentioned above, there are many more excellent examples, and if care is taken in producing vlogs, we can expect a lot more great content from this medium.

What do you think? Are vlogs a part of your media diet or do you think they are a passing fad? Why or why don’t you watch videoblogs? Do you think there is a future for this medium? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Jennifer Woodard Maderazo is the associate editor of PBS MediaShift. She is a San Francisco-based writer, blogger and marketer, who covers Latino marketing at Latin-Know and Latino cultural issues at VivirLatino.