The challenge: reinvent ‘TV news’ online

May 3, 2011 § 9 Comments

Recently, we’ve seen a huge change in video online. The advent of web native <video> makes it possible to mash up moving images with social media, tie clips to data from across the web or, more simply, create simple transcript-based interfaces for navigating long pieces of video. Yet, despite the these capabilities, we’ve seen almost nothing in the way of new kinds of storytelling. Telling stories with video online today looks pretty much the same as it did when I used to shoot local TV news 20 years ago.

This is something we hope to change with the first Knight Mozilla news innovation challenge topic. We’re inviting hacks and hackers from around the world to answer the question: how can new web video tools transform news storytelling? People with the best ideas will get to bring them to life with a full year paid fellowship in a world leading newsroom.

The next ‘montage moment’

What do I mean by transform storytelling? Just that: taking today’s online video tools beyond the mechanical and obvious, bringing people, ideas and events to life in ways we haven’t seen before. To get your imagination going, think back to how visual storytelling emerged in the world of cinema.

The Lumiere brothers made some of the worlds first films. Workers going to a factory. A train arriving at a station. Etc. The Lumiere’s fixed frame wasn’t much to write home about in terms of story. But seeing moving photographs was hugely impressive to most people at the time. It was a technical wonder.

It took 25 years for Eisenstein to grab hold of this technical wonder and then say: wow, I bet you we could tell a more powerful story if we varied the shots a bit and then edited them together. With Potemkin, he invented the visual language we still use to tell stories today: montage.

The fundamental technology didn’t change in those 25 years. The Lumiere’s knew how to splice film and move the camera around. Eisenstein’s breakthrough was to use basic film technology to tell a story in a new and creative way. Which is very much like where we are at with web native video today: huge technological potential just waiting to be seized for creative storytelling. What we need now is a ‘montage moment’ for the web era.

Open video: a huge palette of awesomeness

The potential of web native <video> truly is awesome: we can now link any frame within any video to any other part of the web. This was hard to do in the world of Flash video. The introduction of the HTML5 <video> tag over the last two years has made it easy.

Early experiments and demos hint at the potential of this new open video palette. With the recent State of the Union, PBS used Mozilla’s popcorn.js tools to synchronize their live blogging with the timecode of the President’s speech:

The same tools have been used to show how transcripts can be used to search and then navigate immediately to anywhere within a long clip. This demo from Danish public radio shows how this can work with web native <audio>. The same thing could easily be done with video.

Of course, the big potential is in connecting video to the massive amount media and data that already exists all across the web. Imagine if you could weave the sum of all human knowledge seamlessly into your news story or documentary. That’s now possible. This book report demo shows the basics concept, with a student connecting her narration to wikipedia articles and news reports.

Google and Arcade Fire took this idea a step further, pulling moving images from street view and Google Earth into a rock video. If you enter your zip code, your neighborhood becomes a character in the narrative in real time.

The Japanese based Sour-Mirror went even further, pulling you into the video. Enter your Facebook ID and turn on your camera, and then you become a character in the band’s video. Again, in real time.

These demos make an important point: the line between what’s in the frame and what’s on the web is dissolving. Or, put nerdily, timecode and hypertext are fusing together. They are becoming one.

Are you the next Eisenstein?

Despite all the niftyness, there is a problem: these demos do not yet tap the open video palette to tell stories in meaningfully new ways. Open video tools like Mozilla’s Popcorn and Butter provide a starting point. But they need people with a creative flair for both web technology and storytelling to bring them life. Which is exactly why Knight and Mozilla threw out ‘how can new web video tools transform news storytelling?’ as our first MoJo challenge question.

We’re hoping that you — or someone you know — is up to this challenge. If you think you are, you should enter the MoJo innovation challenge. All you need to do is: draw up a napkin sketch showing how you might tell a story in a new way with open video, write a brief paragraph about it and then submit it online. If your idea is solid, you’ve got a good chance at a fellowship where you could actually bring it to life at the Al Jazeera, BBC, the Guardian, Die Zeit or the Boston Globe. Who knows, maybe you could be the Eisenstein of open video?

Find out more about Knight Mozilla News Innovation Partnership on the MoJo web site. Or enter the MoJo news innovation challenge today.

Media, freedom + the web: berlin talk

March 24, 2011 § 5 Comments

As I pointed out a while back, this year is Marshall McLuhan’s 100th birthday. It’s a good time to be thinking about media and the web: in particular about how the free and open medium of the web is shaping all media that came before. Increasingly, this is a theme for Mozilla Drumbeat in 2011.

Why now? Yes, partly because it’s Marshall’s birthday. But more importantly, we’re at a key juncture: traditional media are increasingly reinventing themselves by tapping into the essence of the web; at the same time monopolies in spaces like social networking and mobile apps are calling the freedom of the web into question. Things could go either way: open or closed.

Back in February, I explored this theme in the annual Marshall McLuhan Lecture at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin. I’ve re-recorded the talk and posted it here:

It’s a long talk: 40 minutes. If you just want to get a feel, you can flip through the PDF version. Or, you can download an mp3 audio version or an ogg video version.

At a high level, I believe we have to make a number of critical choices in coming years that will impact media and society for decades to come. My three top level points are:

MFW Berlin - The Web is Made of Freedom

We rarely call it out, but the same basic principles that make free software and open source great are also baked into the very fabric of the web itself. The web gives us the freedom to use, study, remix and share — that’s what we are all doing at a massive scale. We do these things because they are baked into both the technical building blocks and the culture of the web. When we think about the web as the medium that is shaping our times, it’s important to remember that this kind of freedom that is central to what’s going on.

McLuhan said: “The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form.”

This has happened. And it hasn’t just happened to television. All media have become the content of the web. As a result, all media are wrapped in this context of freedom: in a world that lets you bend and share without asking permission. The initial reaction from old media was push back. But times are changing. We’re very clearly entering a phase where smart media players are using the essence of the web to reinvent themselves. Eg. witness the Guardian and Wikileaks or Al Jazeera in Egypt.

MFW Berlin - We Get to Make Choices

The context is a web built on freedom. The opportunity is that all media are reinventing themselves in this context. If we seize this opportunity, we can bake things like transparency, remix and sharing into the media culture and practice for the next 100 years. That’s what we’re trying to do with Mozilla Drumbeat projects like popcorn.js: build tools that give filmmakers and journalists access to the essence of the web. If we succeed, we also bake the web into how whole industries work and think.

Of course, there is another direction we can choose: we could close down the web. Tim Wu talks eloquently about this in his book the Master Switch. Talking about media empires in the last 100 years, he says: “Open eras tend to last for about 15 – 20 years. And then they flip into being more closed. 
We may be at the beginning of the closing with the internet.”

Specifically: we could give up our privacy and identity to one or two social networks; we let one or two companies decide who gets to innovate and create software; we could let governments decide whether we get to access the internet at all. The result would be a very different web than the one we have now.

It’s this point about choice that makes media such an important theme for Mozilla and Drumbeat in 2011: now is the time to aggressively, creatively and playfully promote web technology and web thinking in the broader world of media. What we do now will shape media — and society — for a long time to come.

I’d love to get people’s feedback on the ideas in this talk. And, even more, I’d love to see people building things and playing with the theme of media, freedom and the web as part of Mozilla Drumbeat in 2011.

This is the third in a series of posts about media, freedom and the web. I’m hoping to do more, including a few posts on the future of cinema.

Web video, teaching and love

September 27, 2010 § 3 Comments

My mind is regularly blown by the way web video is changing how we learn, and increasingly how we teach. It’s something that raises wonderful questions about the future of education.

I think about this a ton as I watch my 11 year old become a bit of a geek. He doesn’t use help files or FAQs to learn new software. He watches YouTube tutorials. And, as his skills grow, he shows off and shares by making his own:

Much has been said on the learning side of all this. Clearly, video packs way more info punch than print. And the ubiquity of online video means we all tap into rich (and fast) new learning opportunities constantly. TED’s Chris Anderson released a great talk on this side of video and learning a few weeks ago.

Chris points out that we live in a world of online video fueled by a desire to dance, sing, perform, play and think. Most people who post videos online are not driven by the desire to teach — they just want to show off or have fun. Yet, as we watch them, we learn.

There is, however, a huge online phenomena very much about the desire to teach: web video tutorials. A great example is the Khan Academy:

Driven by a. frustration with how schools teach math and science and b. easy access of YouTube, Sal Khan has produced a massive, high quality collection of 1800+ web tutorials for self learners. The idea has landed him a $2 million Google 10^100 grant. It’s also attracted millions of viewers eager to learn.

What’s even more exciting to me is that this sort of teaching isn’t limited to over achievers like Khan. YouTube alone holds over 10 million tutorials (search: tutorial and how-to). Videos with people teaching everything from how to set up WordPress (400,000 views), how to curl your hair with paper bag (2 millions views) to how to moonwalk (8 million views). Here’s the moonwalk tutorial:

If you look to the young people making these tutorials (like my son), web video isn’t just making learning easier. The web is creating a generation that takes it for granted that we can all be teachers. Teachers driven by the best aspects of the word ‘amateur’ — a love of a subject and a desire to share that knowledge.

Clearly, this is HUGE — and is truly giving us all more control over how we learn. The question is: what does this mean for the future of education? What does it mean for who we turn to when we want learn something? And how we all start to teach each other?

These are questions I want to sink my teeth into at Mozilla’s Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival in Barcelona. I’m not sure what this conversation looks like yet. If you’re making or thinking about video tutorials, I’d love your help figuring this out (and running sessions in Barcelona). Please get in touch.

Web Made Movies, a teaser

April 12, 2010 § 3 Comments

I’ve been meaning to blog about Web Made Movies for a while now. It’s one of the early Drumbeat projects I’m most excited about. One reason is the pitch: “A documentary about the future of the web, told by the people of the web.” But I’m also excited by the proposed partnership between filmmakers (submitting footage and episodes) and hackers (creating innovative HTML5 video interfaces). The idea is not only to create an online documentary series, but also invent an open source approach to cinema.

You can also view or download ogg open video version.

Brett posted a teaser videoblog on Friday (above), prompting me to put fingers to keyboard. The teaser is mostly an invitation to participate by submitting story ideas. We’re looking for examples of new internet technology, applications or content that will shape the open web of the future. Brett (and probably Henrik) will be blogging on the story framework soon. But it would be great to get your suggestions now if ideas are already popping to mind.

The first big opportunities for participation will be the pilot episode and a ‘future of the video player’ design challenge.

Shooting has already begun on the pilot episode, including interviews with Local Motors, Iranian bloggers, Brasilian computer recyclers and (hopefully) Johnathan Zittrain. If you have stories or footage to contribute, we can roll them in.

The design challenge will start later in April, and will unfold over the next couple of months. It’ll provide a chance for people to brainstorm cool HTML5 video use cases and then to submit design mockups that combine the best use cases.

The pilot episode plus leading design sketches should be ready for public consumption in June. See the Web Made Movies roadmap for more info.

Open Video Conf Roundup

June 25, 2009 § 13 Comments

Wow! was the only word that can really sum up the Open Video Conference last weekend in New York City. It was an amazing confluence of people from the worlds of online video, art, free culture, open content and web technology. This is not a group that comes together often, but it turns out sparks fly when they do (in a good way).

Zittrain interviewed

Photo: Kid Kameleon, CC BY SA NC

Paul Kim, Chris Blizzard, Paul Rouget, Asa Dotzler and myself were all there for Mozilla. Also attending was Sebastian from Daily Motion and number of others working with Mozilla on open video in the run up to FireFox 3.5. We figured that we should post some quick reflections and takeaways. Here we go:

First take away: people who make video are great potential allies. This may seem obvious, but it’s worth talking about. Whether I was talking to Brett Gaylor about user annotations for RIP: A Remix Manifesto or listening to Lauren Cornell talking about online video art, it’s clear that people who make video ‘get’ the potential of <video> becoming a first class citizen of the web. These are the people that really can show what’s possible with open video at the creative level. And they want to do it. The thing is, they’ll need help. There is a real need to reach out and work with video creators on this front.

Second take away: we have a long way to go. The conference provided an opportunity to dig into the practical questions of making open video work — which was a great reminder that there is a ton of work ahead. Despite best efforts, the amazing video feeds from the conference ended up in Flash and not <video> plus Theora (archived versions coming in open video soon). The lively codec panel clarified a number of things, but still left us with more questions than answers (Blizzard to blog on this separately). And, over and over, individual filmmakers expressed a) excitement about open video technology (they love the interactivity it can bring) and b) confusion about where to find good and easy to use tools to start playing with this stuff (there really aren’t any yet). All of these things are solvable, especially if we work with people who make video everyday. But we’re clearly still in very early days with open video.

Third take away: there are some simple things we can do now to build momentum. Everyone was in constant brainstorm mode in NYC. One good and simple idea: develop a campaign or visual element that says ‘this is open video’. Blizzard, Nicholas and I are going thinking this through, and will post again soon. There were also a number of ideas around helping creators use open video, partly through better documentation (Blizzard has some ideas on this) and partly by encouraging people to experiment (PCF and Mozilla announced an open video contest with this in mind). These are tiny first steps, but they are a practical start and a good way to keep the energy from the conference flowing.

Of course, the big take away is that open video is both important and fun. Dean, Elizabeth, Ben and all the volunteers did an AMAZING job organizing an event that showed this. They invited the right mix of people, programmed the right content and threw the right parties. The organizations that backed the event also showed tremendous leadership and prescience — Participatory Culture Foundation, Kaltura, the Yale Information and Society Project and iCommons. All of these people and orgs deserve a huge thank you (I hear clapping!).

Photo: CCLearn, CC BY

Photo: CCLearn, CC BY

Next steps: start doing the small and easy things (open video awareness and documentation), and figure out a way to pick up some of the hard stuff along the way (better codecs, easy tools, deeper connections to the people who make video). The good news is there are alot of people and orgs that want to make it happen, and they are gathering around this idea of an Open Video Alliance (the umbrella for the conference). Good things ahead.

PS. A full video archive of the conference sessions is coming soon. In the meantime, you can see one of the demos that Blizzard and Paul Rouget gave here and Blizzard and my slides here.

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