Create video with Picasa 3

Image representing Picasa as depicted in Crunc...

Image by via CrunchBase

I have used Picasa at home to organize my personal photo collection and I have found it is a very useful tool for my personal photos. It managed them well, had some nice browse features, and the basic photo editing fixes were enough for routine tasks – crops, red eye reduction and slight colour modifications. Oh, and it’s free. But I never really found it had any features I needed at work as part of my day to day media production workflow. That might just change with this new release.

Google has added some nice features to Picasa 3 and is turning this photo organizing tool into much more of a multimedia production tool.

Some of the new features include the ability to geotag photos, add text to photos, some beefed up photo editing tools and easier synch to web to transfer your photos to your (free 1 gig) Picasa web space.

But what really has me jazzed about this new release is the video feature. Drop in some photos, a bit of audio, some text and bang, you’ve got yourself a spiffy little animated slideshow. And with a one button upload to YouTube built in, it’s easy to post to the video sharing service.

Granted, the video editing tool is fairly basic. For example, it looks like you can only set a transition style for the entire project and not individual photos. But for ease of use and quality of the final product, this new feature may sway me away from my standard photo story creation tool, Microsoft’s (also free)¬† Photo Story. But I am not sure the limited video editing options will sway me away from that other MS multimedia freebie MovieMaker.

I have a feeling I am not going to get much done today.


7 things you can do with your video on YouTube that I can't do on my media server

So, the question is – why use YouTube to host your video when the institution has a perfectly good media server sitting in the rack room? The Auricle asked this question recently and came up with 5 good reasons to choose YouTube over an in house media server. In some respects, this post is an extension to that.

Granted, I am pretending here that some of the elephant issues have left the room. I am not discounting these issues as they are vitally important when it comes to using a very public web service like YouTube. But there are more informed educators than me to discuss issues such as opening up your content, transparency, copyright and (gulp) sharing.

Instead, I am going to focus on a few of the killer technical features YouTube has that will enhance your video in ways that would take me, as an educational technologist, hours and hours of time and effort to reproduce – if I could reproduce these at all.

Take embed, for example. Now, our in house Flash server does a decent job of streaming video content from a single location (which, at my institution, is usually Desire2Learn). But beyond that, well, that’s about all we can do with video. If you want to have that content in a second place (say, a blog or website), it requires an EdTech like me with access to server folders and the tools to create a custom video player to do. So for that reason alone, the YouTube embed ability is a killer feature.

But YouTube can do so much more with a video. Here are 7 technical things that you can do with your video on YouTube that I can’t do with my media server.

1) Annotate videos

After you have created and uploaded a video, you can add notes, speech bubbles and highlights to your video. You can even create hyperlink hotspots that, when clicked on, will take users to an external website or another YouTube video.

2) Close caption videos

Looking to make your videos more accessible, or add in a second language to your video? Try adding subtitles or captions to your YouTube video. What’s the difference? Captions are in the same language as the video’s audio track, subtitles are in a different language.

3) Deep link videos

Want to trim a bit off the top of your video? To do this on our media server requires me to edit the clip, a cumbersome process at best. With YouTube, you can create a link to a specific point in a YouTube video. For example, if you’d like the viewer to start watching the video at one minute and fifty-one seconds into the video, you’d add the following time code to the end of the URL: #t=1m51s. So, here is the link in example. This url should take you to a clip from a New Scientist video that is 1:51 seconds in.

4) Swap your audio for music

Again, I would need to edit and, probably, reencode your video. But YouTube gives you the ability to turn your video into a music video with a preset music track.

5) Subscribe to feeds

RSS feeds are an area we haven’t even begun to explore with our in house media server, so if you want to replicate anything like a YouTube channel that people can subscribe to, well, you are out of luck unless you happen to catch me at a slow time of the year.

YouTube, on the other hand, does have basic RSS feeds for subscribing to content. If these feeds are too general, find some smart people who can work their way around YouTubes public API and create the most useful YouTube feeds not found in the YouTube interface.

6) Watch a high resolution version

Okay, granted, the quality of YouTube video is bad, and on this point our in house server has YouTube beat.¬† But that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with really lousy video when you use YouTube. Add this code &fmt=18 at the end of the video URL on YouTube and see a higher resolution version of the video.

7) Embed that higher resolution version

Here is a simple hack from Make on how to embed that higher quality video in your site. Basically, add the code &ap=%2526fmt%3D18 at the end of your embed and param url’s and embed the high resolution version of the video on a webpage.

Update November 21: Just found out that you can actually view and embed HD quality videos on YouTube.


Embed a YouTube video in Desire2Learn

Well, I put this video together and demonstrated this technique at a video workshop for our faculty last week, only to have it fail miserably in Internet Explorer 7. Of course. Go figure.

I have embedded dozens of YouTube videos in blogs, wikis, discussion boards and in older version of D2L (prior to 8.3) and have never had a problem. But the D2L HTML editor (which I believe is based on the open source TinyMCE editor) strips out the embed tag when you cut and paste using IE7.

This is a brutal bug, imho, and I’ve reported it to D2L as well as posted it in the D2L user community.

At any rate, here is the video, complete with a spiffy annotation (my first for a YouTube video) explaining this does not work in IE 7.


5 tips to find the good stuff on YouTube

As of March 2008, there were roughly 73.8 million videos on YouTube, with 200,000 added everyday. That’s a lot of video. And if you are looking for quality, educational video to use in a course, it’s a lot of noise. So how do you separate the educational wheat from the panda sneezing chaff? Here are a couple of strategies you might want to try out when navigating the YouTube waters.

1) Create an account

When you create an account, YouTube will be able to analyze your viewing patterns and find content that it thinks you will be interested in. Looking for videos on Gestalt therapy? View a few and YouTube will recommend similar videos and have those recommendations ready for you the next time you log in.

When you create an account, you also have the ability to mark videos as a Favorite. Very handy when you do find a useful video and don’t want to forget where it is. Videos marked as Favorites are put in a special spot on your account page where you can easily find it again.

An account also gives you the ability to subscribe to other users videos or channels and be notified when new videos are added to those channels. What kind of channels might you like to subscribe to? Well, how about….

2) Sources you already trust and use

Recently I was doing some work with a trades instructor who does a lot of work with students on work place safety. One of the prime sources of content he uses is WorkSafeBC. Imagine how happy we were when we found the WorkPlaceBC channel on YouTube with loads of high quality videos directly related to this instructors specific needs?

Before you start your general search, search the channels for organizations you already know and trust. Chances are, they have a YouTube channel which you can subscribe to (using your newly created account from tip 1).

Oh, did I say general search? Sorry. I meant…

3) Advanced Search is your friend

YouTube advanced search options

YouTube is now the second most popular search engine after Google, so it makes sense to spend a bit of time getting to know the advanced search options.

Doing a general search on a site with close to 100 million resources is going to pull up a lot of irrelevant content, so skip the search bar and go straight to advanced search options.

One of the first search filters you want to use is the category filter. There is an Education category you can choose, but also choose categories that are relevant to your subject area.

If you are looking for English language videos, filter by language, which will also narrow down the results returned.

Finally, if you are looking for geographically specific content, check out the location filter. Click on Show Map and you get a lovely Google interactive map that will let you zero in on videos from a specific location. Looking for videos of volcanic eruptions at Mt. Etna in Italy? Easy with the location filter. Add in some keywords for a specific location and you have a very powerful search option.

Search by location on YouTube

4) Set your country preference

Set your YouTube country preference

Right beside the YouTube logo in the top right corner of the site is a link labeled Worldwide (all). Click on that and choose your default country. This will give videos from your country preferential treatment. This is, of course, providing you want to start locally. If you are looking for videos on, say, British History, then you may want to set your location to the UK. YouTube doesn’t care if your default location is really your default location. Self select a location that works for you and YouTube will begin the filtering process.

5) When you find a video, follow the trail

YouTube Related Videos and Other Videos From User

For every video you find, YouTube will display a list of Related Videos and More From this user videos. Chances are, if you find one video on a subject by that user, they may have more along the same lines. Follow the links and check out their other videos.

Same thing with Related Videos. If you find something you like, check the Related Videos list to the right of the video to see if there are more, or maybe better, examples.

There you go – 5 tips to make finding content on YouTube a bit easier.You may want to add a few of your own in the comments area.

Using content from YouTube is just one way to take educational¬† advantage of the video sharing site. Now that you have an account, consider creating your own videos and posting your own content. Or explore the possibilities of having students create and post content, turning YouTube into a powerful learning tool for students. I’ll explore these themes in future posts. But for now, happy searching.


Splicd lets you edit YouTube videos

Video is great, but the linear storytelling format sometimes forces you to watch a lot of irrelevant content before getting to the meat of the clip. Which is where a handy tool like Splicd comes in. Splicd let’s you edit the start and end points of a YouTube video. Enter in the url of the video and a start time and end time.

It feels a bit like a quick and dirty implementation, but it works. Here is an example I took from the recent video of our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, copying word for word a speech given by Australian Prime Minister John Howard on the eve of the Iraq war. The original video is about 3 minutes long (and well worth a look, imho). With Splicd I was able to isolate 30 seconds that really illustrates the the point.

There are limitations. Splicd only works with YouTube videos and there is no method to embed the edited video into a website. Only allowing increments of seconds as opposed to tenths of seconds makes some pretty jagged start and end points. Allowing smaller time increments would make the edits a bit smoother. But this simple little tool does the trick.

via Webware


Why you shouldn't post your PowerPoint slides online (and the alternatives available)

This is not going to be a PowerPoint is Evil rant. Heck, some people have even won Academy Awards and Nobel Prizes with their PowerPoint presentations, so there is no denying that, when used correctly, can be a powerful tool to convey meaning to a live audience.

But that is it’s place – in front of a live audience. PowerPoint is a presentation tool and was never intended to be a web friendly format. So you should avoid putting your PowerPoint presentations online and here is why.

It doesn’t work

There are 3 technical reasons why you don’t want to put your PowerPoint files on the web.

  • The files are big, especially if you use lots of animations and fancy transitions.
  • They require students to have PowerPoint or the PowerPoint viewer installed on their computer.
  • Depending on the browser, how it is configured and the security settings, PowerPoint files can cause strange and unexpected behaviours. One user may have that PowerPoint file open in their browser, another may be prompted to download the file while a third may get a security warning that a potentially malicious file is about to be opened.

These are barriers for students and should be reason enough to shy away from putting your PowerPoint presentations online.

What do these slides mean?

For me, however, the overriding reason to avoid putting your PowerPoint presentation online is that your students are missing a fundamental piece to help them truly understand the content- you.

In order to be a useful methods of delivering information, PowerPoint requires someone at the helm to guide the viewer and fill in the space between the bullet points. Without you, PowerPoint slides are just disjointed bullet points of facts and images with no context as to what those facts and images really mean. You provide the context that is critical to understanding. Take you out of the picture and the presentation is useless.

The design problem

You approach different mediums in different ways. Decisions on how you craft your message needs to factor in the medium you use to deliver that message.

Designing for presenting is completely different than designing for the web, just like designing for print is different than designing for video. In order to effectively communicate meaning, you need to structure your content in a way that correctly uses the medium you are designing for. Each medium requires different strategies to be used effectively.


The first solution is the one that takes the most effort, but has the biggest payoff in terms of making sure your content is both understood and technically accessible. Recreate the content in your PowerPoint presentations in a web friendly format. Rewrite your bullet points in HTML, convert your images to jpeg or gif, and build some web friendly pages of content. It fixes all the problems mentioned above. You can do this in Powerpoint by saving your presentation as a web page.

I am not a big fan of this method for a couple of reasons. For one, it is still content that has been designed for Powerpoint and brings with it all the constraints and none of the benefits of that format. The second is the geeky reason – the code is poor and it tends to create whacks of files and folders that all need to be uploaded for the pages to work correctly. For more tech savvy faculty, this may not be a problem. But if you are the type of faculty who can’t find or organize files and folders on your computer, this may be a challenge. It’s better to use other HTML editing tools (like the built in editor and content manager in Desire2Learn) to do this.

If you absolutely must post PowerPoint presentations on the web, at least do your students a favour and don’t force them to download large files or the PowerPoint viewer. Chances are they already have a PDF reader installed on their computer, so convert your PowerPoint to PDF and post that instead. PDF is a much more web friendly format than PowerPoint.

An option that is becoming more popular is using a web service and posting your PowerPoint online. A service like Slideshare works like YouTube for PowerPoint. You can create an account and upload your presentation. The presentation is converted to the (close to) ubiquitous Flash format which you can then embed in a web page, blog post or D2L course content page. No downloads for students.

There are also online presentation tools, like Preezo, SlideRocket and Google Presentations that you can either use as a starting point for creating web friendly presentations, or will convert your existing PowerPoint presentations to something you can easily embed into your course. While not as feature rich as PowerPoint (and who really uses all those features anyway?), these are still powerful tools for creating web friendly presentation that won’t make your students curse you as they wait for your 100 meg PowerPoint file to download.


Imeem – a YouTube for audio?

A few days ago, Alan Levine fired off a tweet looking for a “YouTube-ish” web service for audio. I’ve also wondered if there was also a service out there that would allow users to upload audio and provide something as handy as the embed feature of YouTube to allow that audio to live in a number of locations . Today I discovered imeem, which is an audio sharing site that gives you the ability to embed the audio clips you upload using a flash player.

At it’s heart, imeem is a music sharing social network site. But an mp3 is an mp3, so your audio doesn’t have to be music. Any audio you upload can be embedded into a blog/wiki/LMS page. And the flash player is about as close to a cross platform media format as you get these days.

Here’s what the embedded player looks like.

If you head to the page for this song, you’ll see the interface is very YouTube inspired with a lot of YouTube features. Imeem is probably the closest to YouTube for audio that I have seen.


Annotate Jing videos with ZoomIt

I really like Jing. Sure, you could dish out hundreds of dollars for Captivate or Camtasia and get a bit more robust set of features (including the ability to create videos over 5 minutes and post production editing), but in terms of value, it’s hard to beat this free, simple and easy to use piece of software for creating videos of screen captures.

One feature I would like to see in Jing that it currently doesn’t have is the ability annotate content on the screen as I create screenshot videos. Well, this week I came across a free tool called ZoomIt from the Sysinternals group at Microsoft. Here is another handy, free tool that allows you to do simple annotations on the screen, and also allows you to zoom in. Put Jing and ZoomIt together and you’ve got a handy screen video capture that allows you to annotate videos. Here’s a quick example of what you can do with Jing and ZoomIt.

[kml_flashembed movie=”” height=”400″ width=”500″ /]


Podcasting in Plain English

Another gem from Common Craft and their excellent “In Plain English” series, this time about podcasting.

The trouble I tend to experience with faculty, especially faculty who are fairly new users of technology, is explaining the key difference between a podcast and traditional streaming audio, which is subscription. I often find that until people actually see a podcatcher in action, they sometimes can’t wrap their head around what that subscription model looks like, especially if they have never been exposed to RSS feeds before. This video will help.


Adobe to add DRM to Flash video?

I imagine video remixers around the world are holding their collective breath today in hopes that Adobe will not go ahead and include Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption in the new version of Flash servers.

One of the great byproducts of the emergence of powerful, free and easy to use media production tools like Jumpcut, iMovie and Windows Movie Maker is the emergence of the video mashup. Someone posts a video, perhaps to a video sharing site like YouTube, DailyMotion or a similar site, which then gets captured by someone else, remixed and recut to create something new.

Flash video is one of the technologies that is making this easy to do. The vast majority of video sharing sites are using this relatively new video protocol which, up until now, has been DRM free, unlike many other streaming media technologies like Real and Windows Media which have had DRM encryption fro quite some time. Ironically, the new version of Real Player includes a video download tool that allows you to download and save Flash video, but not Real video. Go figure.

Remixing is nothing new. But in a digital age, video remixing is becoming a powerful tool of both expression and media literacy. Seth Schoen at the Electronic Frontier Foundation makes a great point in his article:

Before we understand how to read media messages, we must first learn how to speak their language — and we learn that language by playing with and remixing the efforts of others. DRM, by restricting the remixing of Flash videos, stands to bankrupt a rich store of educational value by foreclosing the ability of students and teachers to “echo others” by remixing videos posted online.

There is another angle to this story. The fact that Adobe can use this new tool to effectively lock out any client side player except for an Adobe player. I don’t imagine Adobe would be so stupid as to shoot themselves in the foot and do this. One of the major reasons we are currently looking at purchasing a Flash server at our institution is precisely because it is much more platform neutral than Real, Windows Media or Quicktime. But corporations have done sillier things in the past in an attempt to control a market.

This will probably be a minor annoyance in the future as workarounds and hacks will become available should Adobe follow through with the plan to do this. But still it puts a hurdle in the way of remixers looking to build upon previous works to create new forms of art and express themselves in new and interesting ways.


MIT Lecture Browser – text search for video content

I just came across the MIT Lecture Browser and am a bit smitten.

Essentially, it’s a combination speech to text converter and search engine for video lectures at MIT. Enter in a word and the search engine will not only find the videos that the word is used in, but it will also take you to the exact spot within the video where that word was used and give you a running transcript.

With more than 100 million videos online and another 100,000 being uploaded each day, there is an awful lot of great content that is, for the most part, hidden away from search engines that do nothing but search on tags, keywords and descriptions.

I imagine this kind of search will be much more common in the next couple of years – in fact, there are already some options emerging in this area.

The speech to text recognition isn’t perfect. I used the example search term of “wine”. one of the videos returned was from Nicholas Negroponte, talking about the hundred dollar laptop at the 2005 MIT Emerging Technologies Conference. I was intrigued. Where in that address did Negroponte talk about wine? Well, here’s the text quote:

show you a few slides so wine doubt laptop it does you could that that creek slips out and see sells word eat else can slip and

And here is Negroponte’s actual quote:

show you a few slides. It’s a wind up laptop. (bit of a stumble) that crank slips out and c cells or d cells could slip in

So the speech to text is a work in progress.

But besides the technology, the ability to access and search the MIT lecture library for content is also very cool. However, it looks like there isn’t a heck of a lot of content there yet. Do a search for “television” in the category “Media” and you only get a single video returned. I suspect the word “television” might be used in a few more classes than that in a Media Studies program.

Maybe part of the reason I am smitten is that it reminded me of a project I was working on about 5 years ago. We have a large collection of digitized audio and I was trying to build a web based application using an XML based language called SMIL that would do something similar with audio clips. That project eventually died, and I was a bit sad that the use of SMIL was never really mainstreamed, despite being a W3C technology. It looks like the MIT site uses some SMIL program and that brought back some warm fuzzies of my bygone project.

Really, how can you not love a programming language called SMIL?


Animoto creates very slick videos automatically

This was way too easy to do.

I finally had a minute to test out a new video creation service called Animoto, which promised to automagically create a very slick video with a few clicks of a button. So, to test out the service I choose some photos I took during the recent U20 World Cup here in Victoria. I uploaded the photos, picked one of their music tracks and hit create. All the photo transitions are done by the site. And you can see, it did automagically create a very slick video that I can easily embed into my site.

The service is still in beta. You have to sign up and wait a few days for your invite. And it is limited to 30 seconds for the free service. You can, for a fee, create longer videos. But this was about the easiest piece of multimedia I have ever created.