If you're a follower of a news brand on Facebook, you've probably noticed a certain kind of video popping up in your feed. It doesn't require you to turn on sound. It usually involves text or subtitles to explain what's going on. It is two minutes or less. It is often a list.
Meet the slidestream. It is a new version of an old digital format: it is a slideshow. But unlike the annoying ones popular on news websites for years because of their effect on page view metrics, you don't have to click… through… each… slide. Instead, the video just auto-plays as you scroll down your Facebook page, perhaps drawing you in because you wonder which hot celebrity would be too short for you IRL.
There are celebrity slidestreams:
Instructional slidestreams, like how to open a champagne bottle with a machette:
Recipe slidestreams are especially easy to do, allowing the New York Times and the Daily Mail to get in on the action:
Video consumption on Facebook has exploded, because as Fortune put it earlier this year, the "social network’s engineers, quietly and with little fanfare, retooled Facebook’s interface to make video easier than ever to watch and share." Video ads are traditionally easier to sell, but Facebook says that's not what it's about. Via Fortune:
Facebook’s mission-driven executives, famous for downplaying any profit motive, argue that the video push is not about money or getting a competitive edge—it’s about giving users what they want and connecting them to the content that matters.
The number of videos showing up in Facebook feeds is up 360 percent compared to last year, reported Ad Age in January. News organizations, which are increasingly dependent on Facebook to reach their audiences, have noticed Facebook's emphasis on video.
They've seen how much better video embedded on Facebook performs than posts with links to stories on their own sites. Thanks to the secrecy of Facebook algorithms, we can't know whether video travels further on Facebook because it's what users want, or if it's because it's what Facebook wants: Someone who watches a video instead of a clicking a link stays inside Facebook's garden. Such is the power of Facebook over media organizations.
Like its slideshow predecessor, the slidestream is incredibly cheap to make, requiring no camera or on-screen talent. The challenge is only in coming up with a good idea for one. And it definitely has digital news shops thinking about how to present more stories in video form. Buzzfeed, for example, has started doing news slidestreams, blog posts presented as subtitled videos:
Medium dictates form. On Twitter, people have taken to posting "screenshorts," or screenshots of blocks of text, a phenomenon named and explained by Buzzfeed's Mat Honan. It lets the poster highlight what they think is the most important part of an article while ignoring Twitter's 140-character limit, and lets the reader skip clicking a link. It's become a hugely popular way to share content on Twitter—though it has drawbacks; a jpeg isn't text-searchable, making these tweets harder to find later. (And if you're a blind user of Twitter, these tweets won't translate.)
On Twitter, the screenshort seemed to evolve naturally as users realized it was a more complete packaging of commentary and thus more likely to make their tweets go viral. On Facebook, where virality is still somewhat of a mystery controlled by the social network's algorithms that determine who sees what, slidestreams evolved in response to the platform subtly pushing for more video content from news organizations, along with a recognition from those organizations that users looking at their Facebook app at work or in a coffee shop would prefer videos without sound.
Among news organizations, Buzzfeed seems to have best mastered the art of the slidestream. It makes sense; one of Buzzfeed's greatest gifts to the Internet was transforming slideshows into vertical lists (which saved us all lots of clicking). And, honestly, what better way is there to discover the power and pitfalls of bangs?