China’s ‘barrage videos’ are chaotic af — and say a lot about loneliness

Ideas are mysterious things. Sometimes the worst are the most fragrant, sometimes the . ] pretend to be giant droppings. It seems that to say the difference takes some measure of psychotic genius. Where, for example, is the fuzzy border of brilliance separating the slinky from the picnic pants, for example?

I may not have any vision, but if you had asked me to guess which of the two was going to sell a few million units, I tell you right away, I'm not sure. would have misunderstood.

"Hey, I know," said someone at a design meeting. "Why not let users post live comments when they watch their favorite shows. Then we could scroll through these comments in the window so that they cover the entire screen, like an enthusiastic verbal curtain of abuse? "

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Laughs in alternative reality me, "Who hired this asshole?"

That's right. It is a conversation between hundreds of users, posed on the top of a video player, while playing the video. Someone implemented this. Someone institutionalized this chaos and, worse, they did it with great success. The function is called danmu (幕), and that's the best thing about the user interface for streaming in Chinese.

I am not even sure that there is a common English word, but it has been dubbed "Video Dam" in a 2016 study ] of Jilin University. The name is apt.

It's a bit as if your sense of decency UX was being blown up by explosive bullets. Or rather, it's like trying to watch TV while having a multiple personality disorder. Or as if you were sitting in a movie theater with 300 day traders amid a collapse of the stock market. It is a cacophonous distraction so effective and devouring that it totally crushes the first function of the page.

As a Western user, the appearance of danmu gives me the same intense anxiety as pornographic pop-ups that suddenly start playing when no one speaks in the office; I'm so pissed off that I'm starting to crush the keyboard buttons. I am not the only one to feel that.

"Oh," said Jess, another voice in the echo-chamber of the West danmu hates the enemies, "I extinguish them from 39; first. "

And yet, Chinese video sharing platforms can not add functionality fast enough. Beyond the video sharing sites specifically focused on danmu, they are also available on China's main equivalents on Youtube, Youku [1945912] Tudu iQiYi Sohu TV and other. Yeah, and not just "available" via a backwoods control panel, or – in many cases, they are enabled by default.

The Danmu Control Panel allows users to adjust the color, size, transparency, placement, and scroll direction.

When did this abomination occur?

From Japan, you are ninny. Always from Japan. And like so many others horrors this one comes directly from the Otaku culture. Danmu first went to the Chinese market via animated video fan sites AcFun and . ] Bilibili (affectionately called respectively A and B 站), then quickly expanded to sites such as Tucao and from there to the rest of the video.

The concept is not born in a vacuum.

With regard to the user experience, Asian television pioneered in the contextual animation overlay more than 20 years ago. The oriental public is therefore well acquainted with the idea of ​​consuming a unique program from several perspectives.

If you've ever watched talk shows or sitcoms in Japanese, you know what I'm talking about – the main conversation is going on happily while hand-drawn doodles appear on the screen and show up. display, transforming the whole into a hodgepodge format. part of the live action, part of the manga.

An illustrated bird flutters and creaks on someone's head. Thinking bubbles appear and disappear over the family dog. These small additions work as additional comments, reinforcing rather subtle emotional nuances, or adding layers of meaning that were never present. It's like, yes, you're watching the show. But you also look at the series that looks at itself.

In terms of content, danmu culture is actually only another manifestation of egao ] (恶搞), a rather vague concept that "Indicates an online genre of satirical humor and grotesque parody that circulates as user-generated content." 1

Memes, in other words. And just like 4Chan or Buzzfeed or any other popular community, danmuculture gave birth to its own dialect and its rules of behavior. Spoilers abound (<- it dies in the end!) And ASCII art is common.

The response of the public

A few weeks ago, I had a coffee with Saber Zou, the creative brain behind The Co-designer's Studio and, in my opinion, the One of the best minds of the country's user interface.

"So. Danmu. What is the market? "

"It's great fun, right? I like it. "

"Dude, what? No, it's not fun. It's the absolute worst. It's the worst thing there is. "

But Saber was not to be influenced. He plans to base his next project application at 20% around a function danmu actually. What makes him great, he says, is the sense of community.

It's as if you're watching TV with a rowdy crowd of your funniest friends, a kind of participative live action episode of MST3K. If the audience is really there, danmucan ends up being much more interesting than the show itself.

And for the most part, it seems that the generations of Chinese users – born in the 80s and 90s – agree with him. A close reading of Zhihu (Quora of China) and the forum discussions offers an extremely positive response from the respondents. This thread asks "Does any one think the danmu are super annoying?"

These answers are not chosen, I'm just going down the list here:

"Danmu is quite logical, you know, and it's more comfortable when you watch a horror movie."
"At first I was not used to it. After a while, I could not stop [watching them]. But you have to watch them on the websites that do them well, not like on Baidu's video . "
"Pfff, no. A group of guys who know how to make jokes and warn you (when something is about to happen) make fun (of the series) together, is not it a good experience? It's so alone when you do not turn them on and you look on your own. (_ಥ) "
"Just when you want to say that the main character of some series is not so interesting to watch, and you suddenly see a danmu floating next to "The man, I think the main character is super ugly! "Do not you think it's a great affirmation experience? In addition, some types are useful for deepening your understanding of video. May I ask you if you are watching the poor danmu on Tudu or Souhu? They are not as good as those of users registered on Bilibili. One day you will really have the danmu culture. "
"Dude, they've let it go out and you're still complaining …"
"Maybe it's really a matter of loneliness, but when I look at it alone, and there's a fun party but no one with whom to make fun of it, if you turn on the danmu there are a ton of people watching with you. Then you can laugh and not feel alone. The best are on Bobo, there is not much fighting, everyone is cold. If this hinders your viewing, there are settings for that. Danmu are clearly a warm and fuzzy invention. "
"They give you the impression that there are people watching you. It's just that they are really better when your opinion is the same as the one that is published. "
"You'll like them once you get used to them."

I'm not saying that all Chinese users drank danmu Koolaid, but do not get me wrong, this visual uproar is a popular feature of online video at the young Chinese market. No question. The only real question is "why".

Loneliness epidemic in China

I have a theory.

In early May of this year, Tantan (The Association of China) is associated with Netease News to publish . the results of a survey of users describing the "youth of an empty nest" of China 巢 – single young singles living alone. The survey painted a portrait of a reasonably stable but emotionally drifting urbanized generation:

On the one hand:

43% earn between 5,000 and 10,000 RMB per month – which is minimal, but enough to pay bills
They work in IT, finance, media, medicine or the public sector.
46% have their ass raised before 10 am on weekends. 78% have breakfast at a reasonable time.

But again:

76% have sex once every six months or less, 45% once a year or less.
And they do not really seem to care about that: only 1% of respondents said that their sex life was their main concern.
82% were afraid of their future (state of shock).
Only 19% have pets. I do not know if it's a decline from previous generations of Chinese, but I can tell you that 35.2% of Millennials own pets, supplanting baby boomers as the first segment of the US market. pets.
And as for the kicker, 68% of Empty Nest kids feel lonely about once a week, with coders being the loneliest of them all.

These statistics in themselves are interesting, but what caught my attention is: did the following. one of theirs. Yes, the survey explored sex and dating, but they also asked about loneliness, which, regardless of the metric used, is around 57%. Compare that with China (68%) and Empty Nest Youth, 11% more lonely than their Western counterparts. Huh.

So what?

As always, the numbers are easy to collect, the concrete "why" less. I am not convinced that the 11% differential, or even the terrifying lack of sex in this market segment, necessarily explains the popularity of danmu, but that explains a certain isolation, a need for proximity. and validation. Other cultural elements certainly come into play, such as the Chinese concept of renao – the idea that pleasure can only be amused when it comes to life. it is done aloud and in mass.

What I can tell you is that it is an upward trend, and that it will not happen any time soon. Video blogging platforms are beginning to rely heavily on danmu as the primary method of communication between real-time channel hosts and viewers: hosts talk or sing or tap-dance, etc., and respond to danmu makes comments as they appear. There is even talk of building cinemas equipped with danmu. You have been warned.

It's hard to evaluate the UI elements designed for a target market that does not include you, but if I have information about that side of the firewall, it It is better to reserve a judgment on features that look like extraterrestrials until I've spent some time. in the ecosystem that supports them. I imagine that the elements of the user interface can not be evaluated out of context. It is as if you were trying to determine the pigmentation of the skin of a dinosaur by fixing a pile of fossils.

Whatever it is, a few days ago, armed with all this backstory, I stayed until iQiYi and left danmu . I think I understand now. I am not a fresh-faced Chinese student, but I get the call.

In my view, the determining factors in the popularity of danmu are the same factors that make any successful social interaction: validation, of course, but also the small flame of hope that we will jump a pebble on the cloaca and that someone will jump another.

Kendra Schaefer writes about the Chinese user interface in The Pixellary and holds the post of Creative Technical Director at Trivium China a store of political, economic and technology. She has been hiding on the technology scene in Beijing since 2004.

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