Meditation Media

Some research-based guidance for online meditation videos

The study

I recently did a study of viewer comments on YouTube meditation videos (I’ll post a link when the paper is published), and a few interesting themes emerged. Some of these can provide guidance to people creating and posting online media for meditative purposes, and that’s why I’ve written this article. If you want to skip over the whys and just get to what you can do, jump to the recommendations.

First let me caveat this by saying that the study used a convenience sample of comments. We1 aimed for richness and variety rather than a representative sample2. I searched YouTube for “meditation”, sorted by view count, and looked at the first 100 videos in the search results. For each one, I collected all of the “top comments” if any, and 10-12 additional comments from the most recent set, eliminating redundancy in any one video. So, for example, if two people posted virtually the same comment on the same video3, only one of them made it into our data.

I won’t go into detail here about the rest of the method or about the discussion or conclusions. Suffice it to say that the vast majority of comments that I collected (70%) expressed positive reactions toward the videos on which they were posted, and as a group the videos received roughly 22 “like”s for every “dislike”. But a substantial number of negative comments, some of them very strongly worded, led us to conclude that we had found a few things that were worth passing along.

So here they are.

The recommendations

Context, context, context! When uploading a video that you hope will provide a peaceful, meditative mood or atmosphere, there are two things you simply must do:

  • Disable advertisements. You have no control over the kinds of ads that YouTube will place in front of your video — or worse, during it — but you CAN tell YouTube not to insert them. You want your video to support meditation, and ads can ruin the mood. Advertisements produced the strongest and most numerous negative comments from the viewers of the videos I studied.
  • Monitor the comments regularly. Delete any that are likely to create a negative atmosphere. Be especially watchful for racist diatribes, religious pontificating, and insults to other viewers. Some viewers remarked that these kinds of comments got in their way of enjoying the video.

Regarding the design itself:

  • Get the details right. The kinds of correctable detail that elicited criticism from viewers ranged from poor English to using a waterfall sound and calling it “heavy rain”.
  • Be cautious with sudden increases in sound volume. One of the videos we studied had a sudden, very large jump in volume about 2 minutes in. Although the video began with a warning about that and a recommendation to turn the sound down, several viewers said it startled or even scared them when it happened and they stopped watching.

As of this update (13 August 2013) I have just begun to analyze the correspondence between the videos’ design features and viewer responses, so that’s all I can offer at this point regarding design. As I learn more from such an analysis, I will update this article with any results that may produce additional recommendations.

1The paper was a collaboration between my PhD supervisor and me. He suggested the topic and gave me some initial guidance, I collected and analyzed the data, he made suggestions and asked questions that led to additional data collection and analysis, and we collaborated on writing the paper. In this article I use “I” when I’m referring to work I did and “we” when I’m referring to joint efforts. Sometimes I also mean “you and I”, as in the case of who cannot generalize the results. :-)

2Therefore, we cannot properly generalize the results to conclude that they represent the views of everyone who has viewed the videos or that they apply to any sort of interactive media besides meditation videos. Perhaps we shouldn’t even generalize beyond YouTube, but I think that’s probably safe.

3For example, a video that aimed to promote sleep had a very long string of “Good night from [x place]” comments. I recorded that fact but skipped over the redundant comments in favor of achieving variety.


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