Videos That Explain Life but Leave The Verifying to You

By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, August 20, 2006

Some of the most popular programming on cable television networks today revolves around the do-it-yourself theme -- from Bob Vila showing you how to tile a floor to the team on "While You Were Out" offering tips on how to brighten a room with the right colors.

But who wants to wait for one of those shows to develop a segment about rewiring outlets or installing a garbage disposal when there are bound to be plenty of helpful how-to tips on a Web site somewhere?

And there are. But here's the big downside of user-generated content: its dubious authority. An online video showing you how to change your oil may have been produced by Mr. Goodwrench or Mr. Wingnut. You don't know!

And how are you supposed to know if the "electrician" offering Web advice knows what he's talking about? Because he's wearing a tool belt?

Case in point: , a beta product from Britain that just popped up. It provides a novel twist on user-generated content -- something that might actually teach you something as opposed to merely entertaining you. Assuming the instructional videos are actually, you know, correct.

Under the motto "Life explained. On film," the site posts how-to videos on a variety of topics, from how to eat sushi correctly (obeying custom), how to make a vodka martini, how to unblock a toilet, how to brush your teeth and even how to be a paparazzo.

It's impossible to watch the videos, with their step-by-step presentation and the British accents of their narrators, and not hear Monty Python. ("Number 6: Just above the elbow.")

There are Pythonesque elements to the viddies. For instance, Step 2 of the "How to roll a cigarette" video is: "Do you really need a cigarette? If you've decided to make yourself stink, increase your chance of a serious terminal illness and also do it all by your own hand, there's no better way than rolling your own cigarettes."

The proprietors of Videojug have primed the pump by shooting several instructional videos of their own, but they are building their ad-supported business by soliciting user videos.

So far, they have four. (Whaddaya want? It's beta!)

There is some degree of authority claimed. For instance, several paparazzi were consulted in the making of the paparazzi video. But some of the other material moves into areas I'd rather not leave to the expertise of the masses.

One video on the site shows women how to self-administer a breast exam; another shows men how to check for testicular cancer. As they are the most-viewed videos on the site and they both feature nudity, I'm guessing it's more than health interests that's made them so popular. (The site provides age registration but it can be lied to.) The narrator of each video claims it is based on information from health professionals, but without citations, that assurance is meaningless. And even though the men's video gets the major points right, I still wouldn't trust it over WebMD.

Still, if I need to know something harmless, such as "how to conceal bags under your eyes," and the answer doesn't involve spackle, I might be inclined to follow Videojug's advice. For more important stuff, I'll stick to ironclad authoritative Internet sources.

Like Wikipedia.

Web Watch will return on Sept. 10.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company