What a week!
The Sanctuary for Independent Media, teamed with members of the Hudson Mohawk Indymedia Center collective, has spent the better part of the last 7 days planning, executing, and post-producing media for the United National Peace Conference, a major meetup for the antiwar and progressive communities that took place in Albany from July 23 to 25.
After attending a pretty damn cool panel on the future of Indymedia at last month’s Allied Media Conference, we were looking for an excuse to test out a new crowdsourced-media web platform developed by the good folks at IndyPGH for their coverage of the G20 resistance in September 2009. Although we weren’t closely involved in the planning of the UNPC’s media strategy, a couple of weeks ago we found ourselves essentially in charge in that regard — and we decided to step up to the challenge.
The website software we used, crows, is a very customizable, easy-to-set-up system for aggregating Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube updates and posts about a specific topic in one online location, along with user-submitted reports, curated RSS news updates, a podcast feed, a live Google Map of updates, and a dedicated player for one video. I customized the site to show just tweets, flickr uploads, and youtube posts — by anyone using the correct tag, not just by us — and to include an embedded live video stream window, hosted by our current video streaming partner DiscoverVideo.com. Though this pulled the site away from being completely crowdsourced, given the nature of the event (sharing information among a group of conference attendees and external observers, as opposed to helping decentralized activists organize against unpredictable state violence), we felt this was an OK compromise given that we were the only group investing time and energy to create this sort of live coverage.
We also spent a considerable amount of time last week creating flyers, brochures, signs, and banners for the conference … though we fear the power of logos and branding, we also appreciate that to compete in a logo-saturated corporate media environment, pounding our name and special conference media website URL into conference attendees’ minds would be a helpful step in getting the word out. We also got to cover up the hosting hotel’s logo on the podium with our own banner and a new “we are live-streaming video!” sign, which you can actually see in Monday’s Democracy Now! broadcast, at exactly 8 minutes from the start.
During the conference itself, we kept a live-switched two-camera feed going as much as possible, covering all the main events and discussions. We also had a team of roving camera operators (and a few friendly folks who are not active HM IMC members but who let us digitize or copy their footage) covering the opening press conference, several workshops, and even some interviews. Some clever last-minute audio routing brought us the capability to have an insightful commentary crew, featuring Tunde Obazee (from Dallas’ Bridge Radio Network) and Brian Trautman (a dedicated Sanctuary volunteer and Berkshire Community College peace studies professor), preview and debrief most sessions on the live stream.
We also took a group approach to updating our twitter feed about the day’s events when we felt that other conference attendees weren’t doing such a good job, and to promote our video stream and postings. To be honest, this was the least techie conference I’ve been to; though I wasn’t expecting the crowd to be NAMAC– or AMC-level savvy with smartphones and laptops, I hoped there would be at least 3 or 4 avid social media-ites, avidly creating and sharing their own media. (Or at least tweeting regularly!) Still, despite my fear of powerful internet-based corporations, part of me is happy to have brought at least two new Twitterers into being because of our crowdsourced syndication of tweets.
I gave a short announcement about halfway through the conference, explaining where the crowdsourced and streaming video coverage could be found, and how to contribute to it, but I’m not sure I really got through. Though the conference’s attendees and presenters were somewhat culturally and ethnically diverse, I’m worried by the fact that it seemed like at least half were white and over 50. Nothing wrong with that demographic — in fact, some of my good friends fit in there — but many leaned toward the “aging hippy” stereotype that was nearly as luddite one might expect.
It was a pleasant surprise that the live video stream worked so well (that is, it basically did what we wanted it to, with the exception of some audio difficulties early on). We totaled about 3700 hits on the live stream itself, though many of them were refreshes or people tuning back in after an earlier visit. (Google tells us there were over 1600 unique visitors.) This was the first time we’d ever done any potentially high-audience, high-expectation video streaming, and the first time doing so with a relatively new host. Our old stream used a Quicktime video embed/object, and we found that the switch to a Silverlight-based embed/object, shown through an iframe to the video host, seemed to present fewer difficulties for viewers. (I don’t think we have a good fully open-source solution yet, but we are eager to find one, to satisfy any hardcore software-patent-avoiders out there… If you know of anyone offering free or cheap hosting for live ogg theora video streams, let us know!) We even had a few viewers report successful iPad/iPhone viewing through the mp4 feed.
Using a live-streaming software solution that also made simultaneous recording to disk possible brought us into an exciting new world of posting recordings to Youtube right after they had been streamed live. Editing and post-production delays have been a great difficulty for us — with many recorded projects taking months and even years after their live stream date to make it onto the web in an edited, downloadable format — and this was a pretty big change. Of course, the desire for higher quality images and sound (the web streaming software can only record at the same bitrate at which it broadcasts), and for the ability to include B-roll and credits and to edit down longer talks has brought us many, many hours of editing in the past three days nonetheless. But this is a sign that maybe a few years down the road, going tapeless or at least recording live streams digitally, at higher quality, could radically rework our sorta-behind-the-times, volunteer-dependent post-production workflow.
Speaking of which: numerous volunteers (really, more than a dozen!) made the weekend possible — operating cameras, staffing our merch table, talking up the live stream and crowdsourced media site, editing video on-site, and even promoting the idea of seeking funding on behalf of the local peace + justice community to pay media producers and strategists. Huge thanks go out to all of you!
As for the aftermath: I couldn’t make it to the conference on its final day, but to atone (ha!) I spent several hours cutting the low/stream-quality WMV files up into pieces to upload to YouTube. We’ve also just finished a 12-hour-long “edit bee”, which resulted in several more edited and slightly edited, live-recorded, high-quality pieces being uploaded. And due to some damn good luck timing, our video of Ethan McCord — a former soldier who was on the ground in the platoon that arrived to clean up after the “collateral murders” in 2007, seen earlier this year in the video that Wikileaks.org released online — was posted just 1 day before Wikileaks released a major trove of data and documents. All this energy resulted in thousands of hits to our video beginning Sunday afternoon, and, somehow, we were the number-1 nonprofit on Youtube earlier this week! Wow!
So, it seemed like a success. If we really succeeded, maybe next time the conference will be twice as big with twice as many media-making volunteers! And if you weren’t there, be sure to check out some of the videos from the conference, still available at http://mediasanctuary.tv and at our Youtube channel.