Streaming on a Shoestring

Streaming multimedia – why to do it, how to do it, what they do with it at the National Agricultural Library. If you missed this one, let me just say, you missed a good show. John Gladstone is a fun speaker, and, well, it was a talk about multimedia, so we got to watch a lot of movies.

Updated link! The presentation slides are available at: http://mamajama.com/uo/lita.ppt
That contains all the details he mentioned about technical pieces to put together your streaming capability for relatively low cost. I’ll just mention a few items from the talk which aren’t fully obvious from the slides.

Basically, the rationale for doing streaming is (a) Everybody’s doing it and (b) Libraries potentially have better content to offer than Everybody. There is an explosion of multimedia content out there but much of it comes from the same big entertainment and web publishing companies — AOL, Yahoo Music, Disney. Now when you view a TV show you see a note on it saying you can see outtakes at aol.com. “These behemoths are driving this bus.”

We got an overview of some of what’s going on today in multimedia on the web. “If we’re going to dip our toes in this multimedia sea, we have to see what else is swimming around there.”

What do Monica Lewinsky’s secrets have in common with Victoria’s Secret? In 1998 President Clinton’s deposition before a jury was webcast and a million people tuned in. In 1999 Victoria’s Secret had another webcast to which a million people tuned in. These have in common that when that many people tuned in at the same time to view the stream, it choked the available pipe. Failed terribly because no one could reach it. Now there are events such as the shuttle launch or Live Aid where 5 million people can simultaneously tune in and 95% of them can successfully reach the stream. The difference is that edge servers rather than central webcast farms are doing the streaming so the work is now distributed to many servers.

One of the movies we watched was a streamed lecture from a NASA archive. The audio was virtually inaudible. There are new technologies coming out like Streamsage and Speechbot aimed at capturing and indexing text from audio. But bad audio thwarts these technologies.

There are other new video indexing tools coming on the scene: Google, Yahoo, Truveo. Google only searches video submitted to it, Yahoo only retrieves video mentioned in RSS Feeds. Truveo goes out and indexes video all over the web. Searched for: Pon the river — which is a dance you do in Jamaica. Google and Yahoo can’t find it but Truveo can. (I tried it out today. It’s in beta. Give it a try and see what you think.)

Some of the best ideas I took from this were about combining audio or video with a “slide push” for distributing tutorials, lectures, conference presentations over the web. (Using audio-only works if you’re trying to save bandwidth and have interesting slides to look at!) The presentation slides are coordinated on a timeline with the audio or video. For this, Microsoft Producer will now do for free what it used to cost $2,000 – $15,000 to do.

“Not only is it not cost-prohibitive, you can do it, it’s not rocket science!”