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Kendra Schaefer, "China's 'barrage videos' are chaotic af — and say a lot about loneliness", The Next Web 10/11/2018:

“Hey, I know,” said someone in a design meeting once. “How about we let users post live comments as they watch their favorite shows. Then we could scroll those comments across the viewport so they cover the entire screen, like a curtain of enthusiastic verbal abuse?”

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” laughed alternate reality me, “Who hired this asshole?” […]

That’s a conversation between hundreds of users, laid over the top of a video player, while the video is playing. Someone implemented that. Someone institutionalized that chaos, and what’s worse, they did so with great success. The feature is called danmu(弹幕), and it’s the hottest thing going in Chinese streaming media UI.

This idea apparently started in Japan as a kind of game known as Danmaku (弾幕) or "Bullet Curtain", which feature "complex patterns containing anywhere from dozens to hundreds of bullets". The idea of replacing bullets with textual comments on streaming videos was popularized in China by the site Bilibili, where you can see lots of recorded examples.

According to Rita Liao ("Danmu So Popular on China's Online Video Sites That It Enters The Cinema", technode 8/7/2014),

On August 3, a cinema in Beijing rolled out a “danmu” service to accompany its film screening. The Chinese word “danmu” (or “danmaku” in Japanese) literally means “bullet curtain” and refers to a commentary sharing system in which viewers can plaster comments directly on top of an uploaded video. It was first popularized by Japanese ACG (animation, comic, game) video portal Niconico, which later inspired Chinese ACG websites AcFun and Bilibili . The use of danmu for screening at the Beijing cinema was allegedly the first of its sort in the world.

To start commenting at the danmu screening, audience needed simply connect their smartphones to the cinema’s wifi and they would be directed to an inputting page. Their comments would then scroll across the screen in real time.

According to Zhu Yeqi, "Intertextuality, cybersubculture, and the creation of an alternative public space: ‘Danmu’ and film viewing on the Bilibili.com website, a case study", NECSUS 12/6/2017:

As a prominent feature of the burgeoning video-share websites such as Bilibili.com in China, an online video commentary format called ‘Danmu’ – which literally means ‘bullet screen’ but can also be interpreted as a ‘barrage’ – has become highly popular. Through having viewers’ text commentary scroll across the screen and being particularly popularised in China by Bilibili.com, it embraces not only ‘ACG’ (anime, comic, and game) video viewing but also film viewing by the users using the same websites. By enabling viewers to add their comments directly onto the screen, Danmu creates an atmosphere of a ‘pseudo-synchronicity’.[1] Although the format originates from Japanese ACG subculture, while being integrated into non-ACG video viewings on Chinese websites, film viewings featuring Danmu have become uniquely popular among young online film audiences in China.

As far as I can tell, there are no equivalent initiatives, even experimental ones, outside of China and Japan — though readers may be able to enlighten us further, and to explain why western youth seem to be a decade behind the curve in this case.



  1. unekdoud said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 10:06 am

    This reminds me that YouTube in its early days had a feature to let anyone add annotations: https://youtube.googleblog.com/2009/02/introducing-collaborative-annotations.html

    I can imagine arguments for one-line scrolling being better suited for CJK languages or cultures, but without any evidence of course.

  2. Lawrence said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 11:45 am

    Wow– I wasn't ready for how much text covered the image of the video!

    Something a little like this does happen with livestream videos on Twitch, which will show the comments of audience members scrolling on the side. Often there is a way for someone watching to pay money and have their name and a short message show up over top of the main video. But the video itself stays very much centre stage — this is something else!

  3. D.O. said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 11:48 am

    No idea why this type of amusement is not popular in the West, but what about double names? "Niconico", "Bilibili"…

  4. AnemosKaze said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 1:04 pm

    The english name for the the video game genre mentioned is 'bullet hell'. I guess it sounds more intense that way.

  5. Brian said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 4:10 pm

    This reminds me of how college students — one of the few youth populations who had easy access to the internet pre-1990 — would sometimes get on IRC during a TV broadcast and share running commentary. This could be everything from discussing cinematography, narrative analyses, or satirical back-talk in the style of Rocky Horror.

  6. NOEL HUNT said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 4:43 pm

    The naive observer would wonder what is the point of watching a video so obscured by the text of people's comments. I suppose it possesses some charm for the narcissists.

  7. kltpzyxm said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 6:11 pm

    Kind of reminds me of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K).

    [(myl) Yes, I had the same thought.]

  8. Ray said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 6:57 pm

    this feels like yet another iteration of the broad trend (long developing) where audiences would rather watch themselves (in real life, in real time) than a pre-recorded, pre-scripted bit of entertainment. (when did "america's funniest home videos" first hit the airwaves? a decade before "big brother" and "survivor"? about 15 years before youtube was invented?)

  9. astrange said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 10:32 pm

    I guess the idea might be from danmaku games, but it's really from the Japanese video site NicoNicoDouga (founded 2006), which Bilibili is a copy of.

  10. DDB said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 4:39 am

    Twitch, and to a lesser extent other streaming platforms, have this mode. The text doesn't overlay the video itself by default, but real-time streaming commentary on screen displays is A Thing in the west too.

    I see it as an extension of the screaming-at-a-pop-concert thing. You're ostensibly there to hear the music, right? but sometimes you can't hear the band for the roar of the crowd – and that's ok, because what you're really there for is to participate in a like-minded celebration of excellence and community.

  11. Anthony said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 7:41 am

    This reminds me of the practice of interlinear commentary/glosses in old Chinese books… Perhaps a vague cultural memory of this practice contributes to its popularity?

  12. Tadeusz said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 1:19 pm

    A logical next step — the audience has nothing on the screen, simply the comments, and their photos or video recordings.

  13. Ray said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 7:46 pm

    Anthony, this is wonderful to hear.

    MARGINALIA by Billy Collins

    Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
    skirmishes against the author
    raging along the borders of every page
    in tiny black script.
    If I could just get my hands on you,
    Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
    they seem to say,
    I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

    Other comments are more offhand, dismissive —
    "Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" —
    that kind of thing.
    I remember once looking up from my reading,
    my thumb as a bookmark,
    trying to imagine what the person must look like
    who wrote 'Don't be a ninny'
    alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

    Students are more modest
    needing to leave only their splayed footprints
    along the shore of the page.
    One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
    Another notes the presence of "Irony"
    fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

    Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
    Hands cupped around their mouths.
    "Absolutely," they shout
    to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
    "Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
    Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
    rain down along the sidelines.

    And if you have managed to graduate from college
    without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
    in a margin, perhaps now
    is the time to take one step forward.

    We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
    and reached for a pen if only to show
    we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
    we pressed a thought into the wayside,
    planted an impression along the verge.

    Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
    jotted along the borders of the Gospels
    brief asides about the pains of copying,
    a bird singing near their window,
    or the sunlight that illuminated their page —
    anonymous men catching a ride into the future
    on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

    And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
    they say, until you have read him
    enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

    Yet the one I think of most often,
    the one that dangles from me like a locket,
    was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
    I borrowed from the local library
    one slow, hot summer.
    I was just beginning high school then,
    reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
    and I cannot tell you
    how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
    how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
    when I found on one page

    A few greasy looking smears
    and next to them, written in soft pencil —
    by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
    whom I would never meet —
    "Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

  14. Trenchcoat said,

    November 18, 2018 @ 2:48 am

    Around 1996 or 1997 the Sci-Fi Network (pre-SYFY branding) ran a marathon showing of “The Prisoner” (brilliant 60’s series created by and starring Patrick McGoohan), hosted by Harlan Ellison, and accompanied by *live* chat commentary along the bottom of the television screen. All you needed to contribute to the chat was Prodigy (because AOL was for suckas). The experience was truly awesome and surprisingly troll-free. It was like MST3K if the theater on MST3K were full of very real fans of the show being projected. It was a total nerd-fest, and incredibly fulfilling. I’ve never really experienced anything like it since and that’s a real shame. I mean, we’ve obviously had the capability for over 20 years… people are really missing out. Kudos to those in China that are making it an everyday experience.

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