Playing with video

Messing around with Google Video


Recent experiments by me with a Sony digital video camera and Adobe Premiere have pushed me into an obsession with the production of web-ready video in the expectation that video will soon go the way of audio and follow an RSS-path towards something akin to podcasting called vidcasting.

With high hopes set for devices such as Sony’s PSP to finally build a platform for portable video, I give it a year before vidcasting begins to surface as a meme.

The question is one of gnarliness — podcasting can be as time-consuming as one wants to make it depending on relative degrees of obsessive compulsiveness and the complexity of the production tools, but I found the learning curve on opensource products such as Audacity signficantly reduce the turnaround time to about a four-to-one ratio of post-production to capture time.

Video is a different matter. Thanks to the speed of a firewire connection, D/V can be sucked off of the camera and into the PC very easily. Editing tools I’ve been playing with are Adobe Premiere — which is way too feature-laden for my uneducated tastes (this bed is too hard), the video editor that is bundled with Windows XP (this bed is too soft) and Adobe Premier Elements which fits the bill nicely thanks to its ability to output onto recordable DVDs (and this bed is just right).

I recorded some rowing races earlier in the month and due to the keen interest by the rowers and their parents have had to find some time on the last two weekends to edit the raw footage, title it, and encode it for web viewing off of in .wmv format. This past weekend I encoded the files into one 25 minute flick, complete with a DVD menu system, and burned the results onto discs for distribution to parents.

 It was, all in all, a good experience and Premier Elements was adequate for my purposes. I now need to read a good book on videography to teach myself the do’s and don’ts of over zooming, panning, using a monopod to cut down on handshaking, and what to do to override autofocus so the lense doesn’t autoseek on something in the foreground when I’m trying to capture the background. I’d put the production to capture ratio at roughly eight-to-one, mainly because I was trying to figure out hairy add-ons like scrolling credits that really aren’t necessary.

 Battelle’s scoop last week that Google was launching in-browser video playback today, drove me to Google’s existing video submission service, where I opened an account under my gmail name and uploaded one of the rowing clips. It was an easy process and the file is currently under review before being posted. I was asked by Google if I wanted to charge users for viewing (which I did not), so evidently there is a market to be made. Now my concern is hosing my bandwidth allotment for Once the clip is approved I’ll be interested to see how it is tagged for search finds as there was no tagging facility offered in the upload process. Google, according to Om, is using an opensource player, VLC, which I will download and checkout as part of some webcasting due-diligence I’m now performing for CXO.

 Key insight learned from these recent video experiments: the size of the image plays a huge role in helping the viewer assign sounds — conversation — with people. The smaller the image, the more disconnected the audio. Amazingly stupid insight, but nevertheless something I’ll keep in mind when building future web videos displaying in small apertures — keep the number of people to a minimum, the images are too small for the user to assign voices to faces.

 Google Video either turns into America’s Dumbest Digital Videos or really gets some quality and makes some people some money. Wonder what Google’s cut of the action is? Google Video deserves some attention.



The Rubber Coyote

Ah, summer on Cape Cod and it is time for the lost-kitty posters to start crowding each other out for space on the phone poles and bulletin boards of the village. Ever since rabies crossed the bridges a few years ago, (despite the state’s best efforts to immunize the critter population with vaccination-laced bait) there has been more and more paranoia about the wildlife in our midst.

 Coyotes are the latest theme to dominate the summer cocktail parties, replacing Lyme Tick Disease and the Wind Farm as the horror of the season.

 Tonight I was at the home of a person (who shall go unnamed) who has been visited several times by coyotes in his backyard, visitations that cause hysteria in his two young daughters who fear for the lives of their two schnauzers. This person has used the power of online searching and buying to order a life-sized rubber coyote, which now stands, rampant, head back in a howl, in his backyard. Beneath it is a remote-activated speaker which emits the pitious sounds of a lost fawn, the horror of a wild pig being savaged by a pack of coyotes, a rabbit being devoured (which is chillingly infantile), and a coyote calling his pack of friends to share in supper.


After a demonstration of this animatronic display, the unnamed person brought out a new crossbow with a   red dot laser sight and sank a bolt from across the yard into the flank of the rubber coyote.

It went thunk.

My host reasoned that while he was planning on illegally knocking off a coyote out of season, he would not be discharging a firearm within the city limits and therefore was only half-illegal.

I recommended that he seek out a newsstand and find a copy of Critter or Varmint magazines to help him in his quest.



Custom Robotic Wildlife – Coyote & Fox Decoys


Internet Advertising Projections for 2006 — who has the numbers?

IAB Resources and Research would appear to the touchstone for compiling various predictions about year-to-year growth of online advertising.

Unfortunately — for me, since  I need a solid prediction for ’06 now — the Internet Advertising Bureau is only showing estimates cooked up a year ago, and those include estimates for paid search, which by itself is arguably 25% of the category.




My worry working with expectations of growth in the high twenties and low thirty percent range, is two-fold:

1. Paid search shows no sign of slowing (save for some major click fraud discredit) and is, if one extrapolates Overture and Google Revenues, at least 20% of the spend and is not a space I play in).

2. The rapid rebound of spending between late 2003 and the present is widely predicted to flatten through the next four years and 2006, barring the development of a compellingly profitable new ad model accepted by marketers, could be the year that the CAGR starts to stagger.






Readings – What the Dormouse Said

The intersection of technology and the counterculture has always been a quiet but persistent theme in the sound track of the history of computing. John Markoff attempts a chronicle of the two worlds in his latest book, titled after the line in the Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit that exhorts the listener to "feed your head."

The foreward is brilliant, where Markoff — who has been on the scene in Silicon Valley for over three decades — relates a conversation he had with Steve Jobs when the subject of LSD came up, and Jobs discussed the impact the psychedelic had on him and others in scaling the role technology could enhance and extending the capabilities of the mind. Markoff makes a succinct, but eseential delineation of the world into two camps — Information Libertarians and Information Proprietarians. Proprietarians are exemplified by the movie industry, the RIAA, Bill Gates (who early on cast himself against the practice of sharing code with his now famous open letter in  Dr. Dobb’s to those homebrew users who swapped his version of BASIC for the Altair), and those who would predict the demise of intellectual property through file sharing and piracy. The libertarians, Markoff says, are at the essence of the OpenSource movement, whose forefathers extended government funded projects such as ARPANET and opened up the standards of TCP/IP to the world and not a commercial entity.

 It’s a neat dichotomy, one that forces a binary alignment of the world into the Stewart Brand camp where "information wants to be free" and the Gates camp where "information is expensive."

 The book chronicles the efforts of Doug Englebart, John McCarthy, Alan Kay, and the coterie of coders and visionaries that transformed the world of information technology from a centralized time-sharing model of data centers to infinitely scalable, truly personal computers, technology envisioned as tools to extend and share the power of the mind. While many components of the tale are familiar — Englebart’s and McCarthy’s projects at SRI and SAIL are stories often told — and the influence of Xerox PARC is almost mythical at this point in time, Markoff plows some new ground in his discussion of how LSD was regarded in the mid-60s, before it escaped the labs, and the impact it had on otherwise buttoned-up engineers.

There is a little over focus on SRI and SAIL and not enough details about the overall role the counterculture played within the industry that followed the early innovations. The tensions created in the PC industry as freak-met-suit, the countercultural influences on seminal communities such as the WELL versus the traditional glass house mentality as corporate communities such as CompuServe. Markoff needed to take another two years and another 500 pages to truly chart the social threads that have been woven together over the past forty years to create the most astonishing industry the world has ever known.

 I highly recommend the book.


Bragging ….

My daughter recently won the US National High School Rowing championships in the Junior Women’s Fours with Coxswain. This being her first year rowing, it’s a huge accomplishment for her individually, but most importantly her team, the Brooks School, which also won the title last year.

To put it all in perspective, I also learned how to row at Brooks and it took me until my senior year before I found a seat in the First (or varsity) boat. I never won a New England championship (which my daughter did this past May), nor did I ever earn a medal at the national level (there were no high school national championships in the mid-70s. For a novice to do this in their first season? Nearly impossible.

 Now Alexandra is rowing at the US National Junior Development camp in New London, an honor open only to the best junior rowers in the country.

 I taped the championships in Cincinnati and have posted clips elsewhere on her page here at More later on my forays into the world of digital video.


Does IT matter in Web Operations?

Does IT matter in web infrastructure? As I ponder a rebuild in a new era of commodity functions, the question is forced: “What should we build ourselves?”

To steal a meme from the Nicholas Carr article that rocked the IT world two years ago — does IT matter when it comes to organizing and operating an online publishing environment?

Carr’s thesis was that IT doesn’t matter, or at least doesn’t confer sustainable competitive advantage to an organization, and that while vital to business operations, should be managed as a utility on a cost basis. This pushes the question of what, if anything, a web publisher should build inhouse or seek outside from the market.

As I am in the throes of an infrastructure rebuild, I can point to some fundamental assumptions about what technology needs to be directly under the control of the publisher, and what can be sourced elsewhere.

Beginning at the bottom of the "stack" — the server environment — few, if any publishers have ever considered a self-hosted environment where the racks were housed on their premises and managed onsite by their sysadmins. Decisions about operating systems, application servers, backend databases, have depended on cost constraints, the existing skills of the technology management team, and vendor preferences. At we launched into a Microsoft IIS/ASP environment because it appeared to be well supported and offered some environmental conditions — particularly in database publishing — that were compelling. Inevitably we had to suck it up and migrate to an Apache/Java world, which caused our developers and tech team a world o’hurt. Today — the preferred environment for many sites is LAMP, by its opensourced nature a commodity environment that further commoditizes further application development by opening up a wide community of opensource third-party apps ranging from WordPress for blogs to MediaWiki for Wikis.

 Above the OS lies the tricky part: the content management system, ad serving system, and third party apps.

As I look at CMS options I’m restricting my intial scan of the market to five choices. They are:

  1. The incumbent home-grown solution (custom CMS development is a viable option, and indeed, the end state, even for customers of off-the-shelf solutions that require a high-degree of customization to fit their particular environment and variables)
  2. An open source solution — Bricolage, etc.
  3. A commercial solution I have experience with (in this case, Interwoven Teamsite)
  4. A hosted solution. ie, Websidestory’s Atomz
  5. A player to be named later

Continuing with custom development for the CMS forces the question "Should we develop such a system?" All technology sourcing questions — which it can be argued come down to build vs. buy? — need to assess staff capabilities and capacity against those functions which confer strategic competitive advantage and those which are "lights on/table-stakes" for staying in the game. Does a CMS confer strategic advantage? Should it be purchased versus developed? Would purchasing technology free internal application developers to focus on those activities which do confer competitive differentiation?

 A great deal of internally developed web publishing tools were a matter of survival and economics — we need it, we can’t afford it, so we’ll build it.

 The net of this scenario is cheap economics, and indeed, tailored apps, the result can be undocumented software which is a bear to train on, get users to adapt to, etc.

More to say on this topic anon … 



One month into the new gig

Lack of blogging here due to 65 hour weeks the past month; but coming out of the cave of analysis now and beginning to carve out some time to return to this blog (9:30 pm on a Saturday is an indication of loss-of-life).

Tons of stuff to post and pose:

1. Audience enhancement — not development as an art of "names" embrace. Wish I could find the old Bill Ziff keynote to some b2b publishers association in the 80s. Brilliant manifesto for working with one’s "names" on every thing from qualified circ, direct mail, registration, renewal, and multiple media delivery channels.

2. Podcast production. Easy as pie. Download Audacity, get a digital mike, then find something to say. Last week CMO Magazine launched its first in 36 hours from conception to publication. Production costs were the salaries of those involved. Issue is how to make cash from the thing.  (The story of getting copyright permission for the music in the aforementioned podcast is priceless. Good thing I tracked the owner down, he was the force behind the passage of the 1976 copyright legislation).

3. Lead generation – this is a whole new alien topic. Remember Glengarry Glen Ross? When the desperate condo salesmen are ravenous for leads and contemplate stealing them after bemoaning the old set is full of Polish people, deadbeats and people named Patel?  Now take that scene and apply to tech advertisers. 

4. Metrics – whole new game now that Hitbox and Omniture are in the game.  No more seat of the pants guesswork. Death to Webtrends and garbage numbers. But yet … still they fall short.

That’s it for now. Now to figure out how to migrate my admin password for this blog from an old laptop to my new one, and blogging can recommence or need to go on pause and be reconstituted, most likely under blogharbor at Matt McAlister’s suggestion. 

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