The Quandary of Quality

Last Thursday I ran a seminar on The Benefits of Amplified Events as part of the Green Impact seminar series at the University of Bath. A full abstract with links to the resources (including a set of short videos created by Brian Kelly) is available. My slides are available from Slideshare and embedded below.

There is also and Adobe Connect recording of the seminar.

After the seminar one of the attendees admitted that he found it all very interesting but was slightly concerned about the quality of the resources (streamed video, video snippets, audio etc.) created. He explained that even a slight crackle in audio put him off entirely and that he felt he’d always rather be at an event then watching it streamed.

We then had a really interesting discussion about the quandary of quality and I wanted to post a few thoughts here.

  • The level of quality required is relative – There will be times when a high level of quality is necessary (for example if you are creating DVDs of talks), but there will also be times when a lower level is required (for example when putting on the Web). High quality video is resource intensive – it requires a good deal of effort to move about, store and edit. You will need to think about the context – what level of quality will your audience expect and are you willing to pay? Commercial outfits will produce excellent quality outputs but they cost – think about your business model.
  • Seamless technology is very important – If the audio isn’t working or the video is blurry people will not be able to watch. Make sure the technology works in advance, test it and test it again. Even if you are doing it yourself you can make every effort to crack this nut. However there are still times when technical difficulties can’t be avoided – it happens in all areas of work – we all just have to learn from it and move on.
  • Online/hybrid events are not the same as face-to-face events – They are different. Often they are an alternative because people cannot travel or attend. Some might argue that they are “better than nothing” but potentially they can be just as good, but different. Audiences need to be aware of this and event organisers need to manage expectations.
  • It just won’t work for some people – However it will work for many others. The face of events is changing and ‘trial and error’ is necessary to make things better. As and individual, and as an organisation, you can decide if you wish to embrace change, or not.

As an aside….I know that my husband and I have different levels of tolerance when it comes to quality of audio and video.

I still love the crackle of an LP and the feedback from an amp. High definition television is wasted on me and I’m just as happy watching fuzzy videos as I am staring up at the big screen in a multiplex cinema. Many things are ‘good enough’ for me.

My husband is a music purist with classical music training and an ear for electronic music. Bad sound quality makes him wince. He understands the physics of sound and the mechanics of video.

I often think that I’m the lucky one as I’m enjoying the AV a lot more of the time than he is! ;-)

Business Models for Video Streaming

Many large-scale conferences now offer some form of streaming of talks or videos of the talks soon after the event. How they actually do this varies hugely.

I touched on possible business models in the post I wrote on Openness and Event Amplification last month. I wanted to take a more detailed look at this area and see if I could define a set of possible business models and also raise some of the challenges within each approach.

Do it Yourself

This is likely to be the cheapest option available to event organisers. On a fairly fundamental level the event team will need to assign roles and someone will then need to use a phone or camera to film talks. These can then be served up through a free streaming service (like LiveStream, Bambuser, blip.tv, Ustream etc.), a paid for streaming service or through a webinar service (like Adobe Connect, Collaborate etc.) The videos can also be shared using services like YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Yahoo Video etc. It is worth noting that some video sites have limitations on the length, file size and formats they will accept. Event organisers will also be wise to add good metadata to the videos as this will help their categorisation and enable others to find them. Some of the videos may need editing in some way and there are countless free and licenced services out there. It is more than likely that many of the decisions regarding tools and services may be dictated by what your institution already has a licence for.

There is a comprehensive list of video hosting services on Wikipedia

At the Institutional Web Management Workshop that I have chaired for several years we have tended to rely on the skills of the host institution in streaming talks, which is a slight variation on the DIY model. Last year we found that the host institution couldn’t provide this service so we did the work ourselves.

The biggest cost here is the resources needed to train staff and the time needed to actually carry out the actual work (for example video editing can be hugely time-consuming). This approach works best if you have staff members who are interested in learning the skills needed and if you are likely to be organising events on a regular basis.

Cost: $

Event Amplifier

I’ve mentioned Kirsty Pitkin many a time, she’s definitely my event amplifier of choice! Kirsty and the rest of her team have a set of skills (live blogging, tweeting, filming, video editing etc.) that are essential when amplifying events and they also own all the necessary equipment. Not only that but Kirsty has an excellent grasp of the academic sector. These days Kirsty is extremely busy and I’ve no doubt that there will be others joining her in this space in the not too distant future – if there aren’t already. I can see the role of event amplifiers developing into a sort of ‘wedding planner for event amplification’ where they lead you through all aspects of the amplification from pre-event, during event and through to post-event. Their role is likely to extend beyond that of just video streaming. They will help you with many of the choices available but are also likely to be fairly flexible and happy to use the tools and services your institution already has a licence for.

Cost: $$

Outsource to a Commercial Company

Taking this one step further event organisers can employ commercial video streaming companies who carry out all aspects of event amplification. Obviously cost is dependant on what you exactly you would like done and at what spec you require it. Services like SwitchNewMedia are experts at this in the HE sector. The likelihood is that services like this will have a set of tools that they use and there will be less flexibility in processes and approaches. There are an increasing number of commercial media streaming companies out there and it probably makes sense to go with one that has been recommended by others. This approach is likely to be the most costly and the one in which you have the least control over tools and services used. It is probably the most appropriate approach for large scale conferences where quality is key and there is no room for technical error.

Cost: $$$

Use a Commercial ‘Kit’

At the APA Conference I attended last week all the sessions were videoed and archived through the River Valley TV service. The service send someone along who records the sessions using a fairly low spec camera (not HD). The videos are then edited (in Kerala, India) and delivered up on the River Valley TV site asap. The cost is fairly minimal. I chatted to the River Valley TV guy at the conference and he explained that in the future they intend to offer a ‘take away kit’ for users. Users are delivered the cameras, film the event, return the cameras and then the videos are edited and distributed online. I can see this model really taking off.

Cost: $$

Other Questions to Consider:

  • Who is paying for this?
  • Will you charge for access to the recorded talks?
  • Will you charge for remote attendance of the live event?
  • Will the streaming costs be paid by upping the price for face-to-face attendees?
  • Will you allow advertising? Will the resources be freely available or not?
  • Do you have the right processes and policies in place to allow you to video talks?
  • Have you asked the presenters?
  • Have you asked the audience?
  • Have you decided on a licence?
  • What impact will streaming have on your attendance?
  • How much does quality matter?

The recent Streaming Media Europe Conference 2011 has some talks that might be of interest.

So are there any more potential models that I could list here? Or are there more questions that need consideration?

Sometimes You Just Need to Get Out of the House

At times home can be quite a depressing place to work, but where else is there to go?

OK, so there’s that coffee shop round the corner, oh and that fast food restaurant down the road. What about that free wifi zone? We’ve talked about wifi hotspots before, but recently things just got a whole lot more 21st century…

I recently came across WorkSnug, a tool that connects mobile workers to the nearest places to work in the major cities of the world. They use their Web site to collect data and reviews and then share it through their free Augmented Reality iPhone app WorkSnug Pro. [OK so while I’m on the subject of Augmented Reality I just realised that I’d failed to mention the excellent report entitled Augmented Reality for Smartphones written by Ben Butchart of EDINA for the JISC Observatory back in May this year.]

WorkSnug also write a really useful blog with lots of remote working advice (like the ‘take care’ tips ‘5 reasons why you should use a headset’). They also have some great videos available from their WorkSnug YouTube channel.

I’m going to try out the WorkSnug app over the next few weeks and will post any thoughts.

The Benefits of Amplified Events

In just under 2 weeks I will be giving a seminar on The Benefits of Amplified Events as part of the Green Impact seminar series at the University of Bath. The seminar will attempt to define an ‘amplified event’ and will discuss the benefits for both consumers and providers of such events. It will take place from 12.15-13.05 on Thursday 17th November 2011 in room 4E 2.4 on the University campus.

There will also be a live video stream of the seminar for those who are unable to physically attend. This will be provided by Julian Prior and Marie Salter (Division for Lifelong Learning) using the Adobe Connect service.

If you are interested in attending remotely sign up using the online booking form (no cost).

Brian Kelly cannot physically attend the event and has pre-recorded three video clips which will illustrate
certain aspects of amplified events:

A brief definition of an amplified event and its benefits (see YouTube video clip – 1 min 45 secs)

  • How to participate in an amplified event (see
    Bambuser video clip – 2 mins – show first 1 mins 30 secs).
  • Why pre-recording talks at conferences may be useful in case of problems
    (e.g. illness, volcanic ash, etc.) and provide additional benefits
    (
    see Bambuser video clip – 1 min 48 secs long)

I’ll be putting up my slides after the event and will let you know how it goes.

The abstract for the seminar and an online booking form are available from the UKOLN Web site. Hope to ‘see’ you there!