When I’m browsing, I have at minimum four tabs open. One for my calendar 30Boxes, one for GMail, one for my RSS aggreggator, and one for whichever page I’m currently viewing. That’s the minimum. Usually there will be a lot more than one page I’m currently viewing, Usually my browser has three or four different windows open with about a half dozen tabs open in each. Each window is a different topic. As I read a page, I open every link that looks interesting in a new tab. And then tab through things casually as I read, going from one interesting bit to another. I always have my music player open in the background, playing music that I happen to like a lot, and occasionally I’ll have an instant messenger program, or an IRC chat window open too. BitTorrent is likely running, and I’ll check on that every so often to see the status of my downloads.

In that environment, when a page opens up and starts blaring music or noise that I’m not expecting, I get annoyed. Heck, when I open up a video I am expecting, I get annoyed at having to turn off my music.

With text, it’s easy to start and stop reading and pick up where I was before if I get distracted by an incoming e-mail or IM or update or phone call or my roommate yelling about something or the fire alarm going off or whatever.

With video, that doesn’t work. That intro anthem cuts over my music, forcing me to turn it off. And then some ad starts playing and I’m forced to listen to some obnoxious ad voice drone on about something I’m not interested in buying. By now, I’m already on a different tab, quietly fuming. (Non video ads that are placed alongside the video would be better, ads placed in the middle of a video would be even more infuriating, but stand a better chance of getting the video watched)

When I get back to the video, I don’t have the choice of skimming it for the short version, or even doing something else while it gets to the interesting part, because on another tab I can’t see the video to know when it gets to the interesting part. A lot of the time, I’m just going to decide this isn’t worth it and close the video, unless it’s something really interesting to me, or it grabs my attention in the first three seconds or so.

The difference between video and text online is that video demands the viewers undivided attention in a way that text doesn’t. I don’t always have that attention.