Overstream tutorials

January 30th, 2009 by Evangelist

We’d like to thank some of our users who created great tutorials in addition to our own:

Thanks, folks!

P.S. You can now follow us on Twitter!

Halliburton 2.0?

January 28th, 2009 by Evangelist

To the satisfaction of many who wondered, the revolution inauguration was indeed televised captioned.

Many accolades follow, and rightly so. The NAD gave a nod. Various other captioning advocates (such as slinkerwink over at DailyKos, etc) thank the captioning team that apparently, as Washington Post reports, worked against all odds:

One member of the White House new-media team came to work on Tuesday, right after the swearing-in ceremony, only to discover that it was impossible to know which programs could be updated, or even which computers could be used for which purposes. The team members, accustomed to working on Macintoshes, found computers outfitted with six-year-old versions of Microsoft software. Laptops were scarce, assigned to only a few people in the West Wing. The team was left struggling to put closed captions on online videos.

Even conservatives over at RedState commend the Obama team in this regard.

But I am going to put a damper into this celebration. Notice that YouTube seems to have emerged as a de facto provider of important communication infrastructure to the government. Which would be perfectly fine, except that it appears that YouTube got a special dispensation from the federal privacy rules.

Are we witnessing a phenomenon that is the reverse of trademark genericide? One may use “to xerox” to mean “to copy”, or “kleenex” to mean “a tissue”. We are all familiar with that. But in today’s age, it seems that whenever “online video” is mentioned, “YouTube” is understood. While this is a great compliment to YouTube, is it good when the government does it?

How does this sit with the many Obama supporters that are proponents of Net Neutrality?

P.S. In a somewhat ironic (albeit unclear in what way exactly) twist on the subject of YouTube and accessibility to the Deaf community, YouTube now mutes some videos. I just thought I’d add that in there.

Bits and pieces

January 17th, 2009 by Evangelist

US Congress is getting its own YouTube channel. Dear Senators and Congressmen: please follow the laws you passed (does Section 508 ring a bell?), and make your videos accessible. We also agree with ReadWriteWeb’s criticism of top-down nature of this development:

[Q]uite a few Senators and Representatives decided not to allow comments on their videos. We would hope that more of our elected officials would value comments from their constituents.

But while the legislators may disable comments on YouTube, they won’t disable comments for videos embedded in the blogs — or on Overstream.net, for that matter. Which would make the YouTube channels mere video repositories, rather than portals; the discussion will happen elsewhere. Thwarting the authoritarian, centralized, top-down model like only the Internet can.

And now, moving from D.C. to the Holy See: His Holiness is coming to YouTube. Since the faithful are all over the globe, it’s encumbent upon this Vatican 2.0 (couldn’t resist) to be accessible in multiple languages. ChurchCrunch wonders if a digital version of the 95 Theses is to be expected. May we suggest to the next Martin Luther that they come in a form of an Overstream? We’d set up a special Schlosskirche page just for that.

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Gaurav makes a case that “the future of online video [journalism] will be driven by translation.” We are in vehement agreement. But may we suggest that providing context is another important facet of Journalism 2.0?
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In other news, we have added support for high-quality YouTube videos. Enjoy.

Gaza, Oakland and citizen journalism

January 9th, 2009 by Evangelist

The events in Gaza did not just elicit online protests, but in fact opened a sort of parallel theater of war in cyberspace. And shortly on the heels of that, another tragedy strikes closer to home.

On New Year’s Day, local transit police fatally shot a passenger, Oscar Grant, in an Oakland, California, station. This has been caught on video by numerous passers-by. The videos, rapidly spreading via Internet, left traditional media behind, of course, and generated a backlash that resulted in disturbances in Oakland (citizen-journalism footage from which are even more numerous).

The revolution will not be televised. But will it be captioned?

But there is a problem here. Even though I am not visually or hearing-impaired, it is very hard for me to understand what is going on just by watching such ad hoc videos.

We get more real-time, unfiltered news thanks to the ubiquity, cheapness and small sizes of consumer devices such as cameras and cell phones. The low prices make them available to more and more people, and the small sizes make them not only portable (and thus available to the public at any time), but also less noticeable to “authorities”.

But these same characteristics of these devices mean that the quality of the recording is far from perfect. Now add to that the ambient noise, lighting problems, crowds jostling, and general lack of professional videography experience by the amateurs. As a result, what we gain in speed of getting information we lose in its quality. We know that something happened, but can hardly be certain as to what.

This is where the great real-time reportage by those on the scene can, and should, be enhanced — both by other citizen journalists, and by professionals in the traditional media.

The citizen reporters who happened to be on the scene did their part. And now, the bloggers who sit at their computers will provide their points of view. As Xeni Jardin notes (emphasis mine):

[M]any YouTube users are annotating and re-uploading video to offer amateur opinions on what’s going on, and who did what, why.

Contribute your skills to provide clearer content and deeper context, not merely opinions.

Speaking one’s piece of mind is great, but we know full well here is no shortage of that on the Internet. Instead, those that can should contribute their time and technical ability in a more objective way. For example, those that possess appropriate skills and technology could analyze and enhance the provided video and audio, and add annotations and captions to them, so that those of us using run-of-the-mill computers to keep up with the news can get some content (and, perhaps, even some context), that is currently obscured by noise.

And as that happens, the traditional media should, in parallel, work hard to add value, in the form of deeper context and analysis, as close to real-time developments as possible. As Om Malik put it:

The eyewitness dispatches (and photos) via social media are an adjunct to the more established media — which needs to focus on providing analysis, context, and crucially, intelligence — in real time. And yet it is old media — and their next-generation counterparts, the blogs and other Internet outlets — that will have to adapt to this.

We already know that the revolution will not be televised, but it will be on YouTube.

But will it be captioned? Annotated? Explained?


January 6th, 2009 by Max

It has been a very difficult decision on our part, but we have decided to try showing a small amount of ads on Overstream.net. We are very serious about your user experience and the influence of ads on it, which is why we have waited for so long and why we are going to proceed very slowly with this, listening to your feedback and trying to get it right. Please, please tell us your reactions, suggestions and feelings on this matter - either in the comments to this blog entry, in this forum thread, or via email.

As you can guess, the last thing we want to do is bombard you with advertisement. Currently, we will try showing a single ad, with the following properties:

  • The ad is only shown on the video view page (on the upper right).
  • The ad is only shown to users who are not logged in.
  • The ad is styled consistently with the site so as to minimize distraction.
  • The user has the option of hiding the ad (via the [x] in the corner).

We want to see if it’s possible to generate some revenue this way to be able to support ongoing development of Overstream. However, our philosophy makes us strongly opposed to showing you, our users, anything that is extraneous or unnecessary. As you have no doubt noticed, the Overstream.net site design is very simple and minimal, with little or no distractions from the site’s purpose: to add subtitles to online video. I have written the following in a post on our forum about a year ago, and I still stand by every word of it:

I think that simplicity is very important actually, and I am glad that you think overstream is simple. We now live in a world that is overloaded with information, new and awesome services are coming out all the time, every one of them chock-full of different features. As users, we are constantly faced with having to absorb the new possibilities presented to us, and when on top of that we add that the marketing can be pretty forceful in chasing after us to try out their new product, things get fatiguing pretty fast. Simplicity then becomes a necessity from a psychological perspective: a service that is easy to use and that does no more than needed is a respite for the tired mind.

And that is why we are very wary of contributing to the pollution of your attention, and will do our utmost to minimize its effects, so that Overstream.net can remain one of the places on the net to which you can come to relax.

Our dog food is better

December 30th, 2008 by Evangelist

Eating one’s own dog food, especially in software companies, refers to using one’s own products internally. At the very least, it tests a company’s belief in the strengths of its offerings.

Which is why it pleases us to no end that Overstream was used for a tutorial on using … captioning software:


Current events 2.0

December 29th, 2008 by Evangelist

As the news unfold in Gaza, there are protests in Second Life and a Twitter press-conference (hat tip: Joshua Fouts via BoingBoing).

All that is in our power is to wish our best to our friends at Gaza/Sderot project, who are now wondering:

How can we fulfill our mission in such circumstances? We are currently seeking means to go further. Please do not hesitate to write us, communicate with our characters and our crews. Despite the big noise of weapons, our voices can be listened to.

And we’d just like to add that your voice is an important one in the chorus of Global Voices.

Hitler’s Ultimate Downfall

December 26th, 2008 by Evangelist

Just when we thought that Sean-O’s brilliant sendup has brought the Hitler meme to its apogee of expression (”six million views”, Sean!), we now see the Chizik Controversy giving birth to not one, not two, but three videos based on that infamous scene from Downfall.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Hitler.”

And that, of course, isn’t the end of it: Downfall is not the only video that is getting hitlered. Among the other “hitlers” are a lesson in dancing Moskau, some good old Andy Griffith episodes (there are more), and even Chico Buarque’s brilliant Cálice which we liked so much that we featured it. Sure, it wasn’t something you’d ever associate with US college football, but then a german dictator doesn’t immediately come to mind either, does he?

Finally, in related news: another Hitler video got hitlered. Does anyone have an idea of what this one is about?

So what does this all mean? It’s Christmas time, so in response to Virginia Heffernan’s excellent essay on hitlering we are tempted to say: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Hitler.” But, we disagree with your conclusion, Virginia:

How grim — how perplexing, how unsettling — that after more than 60 years of trying to cast and recast Hitler to make sense of him, we may have arrived at a version of Hitler that takes him exactly at his word.

How perplexing, how unsettling it must be for the spectre of the one-time would-be world ruler that in this internet age he might be remembered not as the face of evil unmatched in human history, but simply as a namesake for a new bookmarklet: Hitler It! (To add this bookmarklet to your browser’s toolbar in Internet Explorer, right-click the link above and select Add To Favorites, creating it under Links; in all other browsers, simply drag the link into your browser’s links toolbar. While watching a video at your favorite video website, click the bookmarklet and hitler the video!)

We can’t help but wonder how this development will change the course of life for our new 21st Century Adolph Hitler?

And what would Mike Godwin say now?

Do you realize what you have done?

Merry Christmas!

December 25th, 2008 by Evangelist

Although a bit belatedly, we still would like to wish Merry Christmas to all of you! (And thank you, atrude777, for this Overstream).

Site Update

December 21st, 2008 by Max

Released another small site update, with Overstream Editor 0.62a and (ta-dah!) Blip.tv support. I know some of you have been asking for Blip.tv support, so now here it is.

Blip.tv replaces Megavideo in the list of Overstream-supported providers, since Megavideo hasn’t been working lately.

I must say - my hat is off to the Blip.tv guys, as this was by far the least painless integration that I have done. Awesome job, guys!!!