Mobile phone based citizen journalism videos on YouTube viewed over 104,000 times

YouTube Video

Inspired by a post on Burning Bridge to do a count of the number of times all the videos on the Vikalpa YouTube channel had been viewed, I was pleased to note that the videos had been collectively viewed over 104,000 times to date. The channel itself has been viewed over 5,000 times. 

Writing in October 2007 I said,

Coupled with VOR Radio, we want to explore ways through which digital media and mobile devices such as the N-series Nokia phones with their built in mobile blogging, multimedia, wireless and video editing features can be used to strengthen the voice of citizens in support of democratic governance, human rights and peace.

We’ve come a long way in the space of a few months. Featuring senior political figures, trade unionists and media rights activists, school and university students, IDPs and refugees, Members of Parliament, award winning human rights defenders and peace activists, rarely heard voices from Jaffna on ground conditions in the embattled region and exclusive footage of significant socio-political events, the channel features nearly 200 short videos in Sinhala, Tamil and English.

Currently featured on the channel is a professional English production on the life of Nadarajah Raviraj, a prominent human rights activist and Tamil politician assassinated in Colombo in 2006.

Nearly all videos have been filmed using a Nokia N93i camera phone to raise awareness on the potential of mobiles to strengthen democracy and bear witness to abuses of power, human rights violations and violence. 

We generated interest from / have been featured on Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), France24’s Observers initiative, Global Voices Online and Witness, the source of my inspiration for starting this initiative in Sri Lanka (though the videos are shot, edited and produced by a talented and brave colleague).

Obama says Iraq situation is shit. Or does he? Google speech-to-text not quite there yet

Google is making it easier to search for instances of key words and phrases used by the US presidential candidates in videos uploaded to YouTube.

With the help of our speech recognition technologies, videos from YouTube’s Politicians channels are automatically transcribed from speech to text and indexed. Using the gadget you can search not only the titles and descriptions of the videos, but also their spoken content. Additionally, since speech recognition tells us exactly when words are spoken in the video, you can jump right to the most relevant parts of the videos you find.  

Thing is, it’s not quite there yet. Searching for Sri Lanka for example brings up Obama’s well known reference to the country during his appearance at Google but also brings up a wholly unrelated video:

In late 2006 I saw for the first time real time video transcription during Strong Angel III that was far more impressive in that its accuracy was (at the time) higher than what one would have expected. For archived video, I would have thought that with all the computing power Google has at its disposal that the accuracy would be that much better.

It’s not as if the technology is new either. Podzinger used to do it, and very well, with audio (they’ve since made it into a full blown corporate product). Blinkx, started by Sri Lankan Suranga Chandratillake also seems to be doing it, though I’ve not used it myself. Search engines like PodScope are also based on similar technologies (the algorithms for text extraction from audio or video should be more or less the same). 

As Google admits:

Speech recognition is a difficult problem that hasn’t yet been completely solved, but we’re constantly working to refine our algorithms and improve the accuracy and relevance of these transcribed results.

My interest in this type of technology is to resolve (data) conflicts by holding politicians, amongst other influential figures in authority, accountable to what they say by making it easier to search through archives of their public statements (Ameritocracy is a great text only example of this). However, this technology can also give rise to conflict. The heading for this post comes from an error in the speech recognition that attributes “shit” to Barack Obama when he actually says “shift” (again during the Q & A session at Google HQ around 8 months ago).

Not good. 

Given that Barack speaks with an American accent and that the Google Gadget only indexes American politicians / public figures, I expected the algorithms catch the nuances of inflection and delivery unique to the regions of that country.

Perhaps an idea would be to make this participatory, so that the search results can be qualified by users thereby increasing the accuracy of the engine over time?

Using Safari on Leopard, I also found that I couldn’t go directly to the point in any video where the phrase was “found”, though this may be a chink with YouTube’s flash player.

Google’s on to something here and though it is certainly useful, there’s a long way more to go. And with the gadzillion servers they have at their beck and call, can’t think of any better company than Google to crack the audio / video transcription problems. 

In the meanwhile, let’s just hope that McCain’s camp doesn’t get too worked up over what Barack didn’t say…

YouTube wants more citizen journalists

Olivia M. is the new YouTube News Manager and she wants more citizen journalists to send in their content to the site.

YouTube was the only platform I considered for Vikalpa’s Video Channel (the first and sadly still the only citizen journalism video channel in Sri Lanka) but there are other sites, Vimeo and Veoh being two I use, that are fast catching up.

YouTube, because of its sheer size and accessibility for a site of this nature, is still useful, but I use Veoh to syndicate content to both YouTube and Google Video in addition to a copy on Veoh that’s of a higher resolution. Vimeo also supports HD, which is you have a fast connection looks delicious. In general, most of newer video sharing sites have much better resolution than YouTube, but of course this comes at the price of being inaccessible of slower connection (e.g. SLT “broadband”). 

One more impediment to serious citizen journalists and non-profits that encourage it. YouTube has a great non-profit programme, but as I noted in my previous post on it I hope YouTube extends service to non-profits registered outside of the US.

Because of all the sheer nonsense and junk on sites like YouTube it’s sometimes difficult to actually get to more serious content from citizen journalists. And I’m not talking about the TV news services opening up channels on YouTube (BBC, France24 and Al Jazeera to name but three) – those are fairly straightforward to find. But the stuff of issues that I care about related to peacebuilding and human rights are overwhelmed by a endless stream of drivel that makes exploring the site for new content that’s more to my taste tiresome.  

And I’m not too crazy about it’s design either, which looks more than a bit dated. But the thing is, YouTube works for what I do in Sri Lanka, is mobile friendly (you can upload videos directly to the site) and plays nice with slower connections (you hit play, sleep and when you wake up the next day, you can play the video jitter free)… 

So respond to Olivia M., send your videos, send your thoughts and let’s make YouTube better. Together. 

Nokia N93i and Citizen Journalism in Sri Lanka

Vikalpa YouTube Channel

Reading Reuters/Nokia Collaboration Has Potential for Citizen Journalists on MobileActive echoed what I’m currently facilitating in Sri Lanka with the help of the CPA Media Unit.

We are using a Nokia N93i phone to capture content that is feeding into Sri Lanka’s first citizen journalism YouTube channel, the Vikalpa YouTube Video Channel. The channel will be formally launched in the near future with more content added online.

Vikalpa, the first and only vernacular citizen journalism initiative in Sri Lanka to date, follows Groundviews, launched late in 2006, that was Sri Lanka’s first ever citizen journalism initiative.

Coupled with VOR Radio, we want to explore ways through which digital media and mobile devices such as the N-series Nokia phones with their built in mobile blogging, multimedia, wireless and video editing features can be used to strengthen the voice of citizens in support of democratic governance, human rights and peace.

YouTube opens Nonprofit Channels

YouTube’s announced the creation of a Non-Profit Programme that gives US registered non-profits receive “a free non-profit specific YouTube channel where they can upload footage of their work, public service announcements, calls to action and more”. The non-profit channels will feature, inter alia:

  • A premium channel on YouTube that serves as a non-profit’s hub for their uploaded videos. Through the channel, people can connect with a non-profit via messages, subscriptions, comments and more. Non- profits will also receive enhanced channel branding features and increased upload capacity.
  • In the coming months, non-profit channels will have a centralized area on YouTube, making them and their videos more easily discoverable.

I only hope YouTube extends this new service to non-profits outside of the US. Visit their new Non-Profits page here.

To glimpse at what’s possible using YouTube, visit the Groundviews Video Channel here.