Thursday, July 5, 2007

Web Video - the next wave

I recently went to a conference (they called it a "summit") about video on the web.
Several things struck me as very significant.
1) In countries that have very high speed web access to the home (100mbs), the average viewing time for web video programs is 40 minutes. People actually watch long-form programs delivered over the internet. The U.S. internet infrastructure is sadly lacking in the "last mile," so we are playing catch up in this game right now.
2) Big money is going into Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) that will enable anyone with a modest budget to have their own television "network." The challenge now is to make the experience of finding and watching programs as easy as cable TV. The buzzword is a "lean back experience" as opposed to the "lean forward" mode of computer interaction.
3) Advanced compression techniques allow CDNs to deliver HD quality. We saw demonstrations of feature films over the web that looked better than the blocky images that you sometimes see with cable or satellite.

The conclusion: We are probably just a few years away from the long-awaited promise of true video on demand -- any program, any time, any where.

Friday, June 1, 2007

"We are the people formerly known as Audience"

Toni wants to hear here we go. Read "Let them eat cake," below. In the olden days, like yesterday, we targeted our communication to specific audiences. That, I learned, is so last-century. Social media means engaging people in conversation, one on one, through all of this new technology. Through blogs, like this. We reach out directly to people, rather than targeting groups of people to give them information, or see them as a class of citizens that may or may not respond through channels or more formal means.

Corporations are using You Tube, FaceBook and My Space to talk directly with people, to find out what they are most interested in and create a personal relationship. It is that personal relationship that reaches people at a deeper level and really engages them.

How can we relate this to the Forest Service? Many people have a passion about our issues. Many people either love us or hate us. That provides a perfect environment for discussion of these issues. It could also provide the perfect environment for poor behavior, especially on the "hate us" side. There is protocol for blogging and for use of wikis, for instance. There are lots of examples of self-policing of wikipedia, for example.

We could use MySpace or Facebook to create personal relationships -- good personal relationships. How about a MySpace profile for Smokey Bear? We could create a virtual forest in Second Life.

There's lots we could do to create positive relationships in this new world, and have a great time doing it, and learning a lot at the same time.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Let them eat cake?

I almost wrote two postings last week. Steve Dunsky asked if I would report back from a conference called subtitled "Deploying Social Media for Business Advantage." I say almost, because I couldn't remember my password and my tries to retrieve the password failed. So I gave up and tried again this morning, while back safely in my cubicle. (This time it worked.)

The conference was fabulously informative and stretched my mind. Speakers were all CEOs or presidents or founders of companies doing cutting edge things in social media. Taking the Los Angeles subway (yes, they have one) was a sharp reminder of the haves and have nots -- a theme I would recall throughout the workshop.

I learned, first, that social media is way more cutting edge than I thought. So maybe I'm not so far behind.
I learned how influential bloggers are.
I learned about Second Life and those who spend hours being an avitar in a virtual world.
I learned that I really should use RSS feeds -- they can greatly simplify my web life.
I l learned that great blogging gets many more comments than postings.
I was reminded to think about objectives first and media second.
I learned that we are the people formerly known as the audience.

And, I was reminded that:
56 percent of Americans don't engage in electronic communication.
The Forest Service is about the Great Outdoors. How can social media simplify our lives, rather than enforce a pasty-faced existence in front of a computer screen?
How can we make sure the technology we use is really simple -- so if I forget my password, or want to add an item to a wiki, that the doing is easy. Otherwise, we'll find folks not engaging.
I have to put blogs and RSS feeds and wikis and podcasts in context -- let them eat cake?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

FSWiki sandbox

As of today, we now have a test Wiki up and running on a Forest Service server. FSWiki uses the free, open source MediaWiki software from the folks at WikiPedia. "Sandbox" is metaphor used in the computer programming world for a place to test new code. This is our sandbox for learning and experimenting with this powerful collaborative tool. It looks a little confusing at first, but you will catch quickly. One helpful tip: you can create a new page by simply putting double brackets around any word or words -- [[like this]]. Come play.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Podcasting at a Glance

Podcasting...well I'm one of those former DJ's from years gone by finding a way to actually use my early experience to produce audiocast for the U.S. Forest Service. No matter what you want to call the our case it's a customized audio file that we produce to provide information to the public. No it's not all about music as teenagers would like to believe.
Here's a link to the Black Hills National Forest Podcast Web site.

In developing a Podcast, I first think about a topic that needs further discussion besides a text only News Release. The Forest tries our best to produce multimedia Press Releases. If you have the time and employees to produce content, then throw a little video, audio and a few high quality pictures in the mix to create a multimedia News Release.

Before I get ahead of myself, let's talk more about the production side of a Podcast. Now that you have chosen a topic, coordinate with subject matter experts to join around a small table to chat. The Black Hills National Forest calls our audio & videocast content ForestNet.

I have a standard introduction that identifies the show, the topic and our guest. Once that's over, we move into the questions. Hey...don't worry about messing up. Remember it's not a live show...start over at the point you tripped up. At the end, Close out the show with thanking your guest for joining you and remind folks who your guest was and the topic of the show. The Host says goodbye and then export the audio file to audio editing software.

I use Sound Forge audio editing software. It was $69.00 at Best Buy. Apple Quick Time Pro is approved by the U.S. Forest Service for downloading and is only $29.00. I have ordered the software and look forward to using it to produce future Podcast.

Once your in the editing mode, clip out all the mistakes you may have encountered. Take :10 sec of music and place it in the front and fade into your intro. At the end, fade out with music and your closing. Save your audio file to a server and export it as an Mp3 file and upload to a Blog.
Yep a Blog. I have created a Blog similar to Social Media. Take a look how I use it to deliver my content to the public. At the site, you see a brief description or News Release, video and audio files as well. Posting your content to a Blog can help push your content out to the world. In my case, all the content is in the Public Domain and I'm just sharing the content the Forest produces. Google picks up the topic and it becomes searchable. Unfortunately, my Government website isn't very attractive to Google.
The Forest outsources our streaming content with an outside vendor called Streamhoster. The Forest Service gave us permission to link to the external site. I'm sure it want be long the FS will be able to stream content from its own servers. The bandwidth that audio and video files take up when delivering can be a pain if the system isn't designed for that type of service. Streamhoster allows us to keep up with the number of hits on our content and actually provides you with an URL once your file is uploaded. You don't have to chat with anyone. It's that fast!

Once the Blog is established and your file is on a server, visit Feedburner to develope an RSS Feed for your Blog. Once it's working well, iTunes will soon be scanning your Blog with the help of Feedburner to alert the world you have new mulitmedia content on your site. Wow...that was fun explaining.
You can also see U.S. Forest Service content from the Black Hills of South Dakota in iTunes under keyword: black hills.
Better go for now. In closing, I have a great passion for this type of work and would be more than happy to share my work with anyone wanting to explore this emerging technology.
Everyday is research and development...isn't this fun.