Wednesday, February 22, 2012

BBC Don't Make Me Evil: We need fragment level access to online spoken audio content

Today, I uploaded something to YouTube I strictly speaking probably should not have. It was a section from a BBC podcast Outriders containing an interview with Heather Marsh about connecting and protecting people by creating social networks from the bottom up rather than from the top down, so that the power and control remains with the individual and not with with an overarching central authority.

In particular, she discusses working with Tribler the open source peer-to-peer client at TU Delft. At 4 minutes and 28 seconds into the interview she states, "It's what we always wanted, it's what the Internet always was supposed to be and we're at the point now where there is no excuse not to have it."

C'mon BBC, there's no way that I am not going to take that sound byte and spread it through my social network. I just don't have that kind of will power. But are you allowing me to do this?

No. The podcast is one monolithic .mp3 file. The times at which the individual interviews (there are three on three different subjects) begin are not given. There is simply no easy fragment level access possible.

And here's where my self control breaks down. I excerpt the interview from the mp3 and upload the thing to YouTube. Twinged by guilt, I generate myself a neat deep link. (As I mentioned in my previous post that touched on deep links as used by YouTube, a deep link is a link that let you jump in to a particular point in an audio file.)

Voila, here is my link for the "there's no excuse not to have Tribler" sound byte:

(except my conscious got the better of me and I deleted it)

Most people I know are so much more likely to click on a deep link then to struggle with the podcast download at:

Of course with the download it's still Tweetable:

TU Delft P2P client Tribler as heard on BBC Radio 5 "It's what we always wanted" Listen in at 4'28''

Twitter's link shortening would get that down to 140 characters. But then I have to trust my followers are willing to devote about 10 times more attention to digesting my Tweet, then to other Tweets containing links to streams not downloads.

Not only can I not easily link to my sound byte, I also have no way of finding this reference to Tribler unless I already know this is there, occurring in the middle of an interview. There is no indication of the names of the interviewees and give only very limited information on the topic.

And to aid findability, of course, I turn on the YouTube automatic captioning and see what kind of text transcript the speech recognition will generate.

It's just a click on the little cc icon on the bottom and the transcripts are displayed. You can use the player bar to move quickly through the video and the changing transcript sort of gives you an idea of what the different parts of the interview about. You won't be blown away by the quality of the transcripts, "Tribler" for example is not correctly recognized. Nonetheless you can use them to figure out where to stop, and how to navigate to listen to particular questions.

In short, this workaround instantiates the principle of the intelligent multimedia player. Ask me about the Internet as it always was supposed to be and I would say that there should be no audio content, no interesting sound bytes, buried away without the possibility to find them and to share them easily. We need the fragment level access, the deep links, the player that tells us what is where when we're listening.

Can we get you to do this for us BBC? You might notice that my YouTube solution here is quite ugly and and strictly speaking probably not at all what you have in mind for me to be doing with this content.

But let me assume that the mp3 is online in order to be listened to and shared. Let's continue our search to find new ways to make this possible.