Crowd-sourced Twitter Captioning of Videos

Back in March 2009 Tony Hirst write a post on his OUseful blog entitled Twitter Powered Subtitles for Conference Audio/Videos on Youtube in which he provided a proof-of-concept on how you could take time-stamped Twitter posts and synchronise them with a YouTube video to provide Twitter captions for videos.

Although people liked the idea people commented that the process was too difficult. So two weeks later Tony wrote a post on Easier Twitter Powered Subtitles for Youtube Movies.

Captioned video of Gordon Brown's talkMoving forward to February this year and we find a blog post written by Martin Hawksey of RSC Scotland North and East which describes Martin’s service for Twitter powered subtitles for BBC iPlayer. And yesterday Martin used his software to which provides Gordon Brown’s Building Britain’s Digital Future announcement with twitter subtitles. Great stuff. What this does is to provide cost-effective crowd-sourcing captioning (which provides accessibility benefits) as well as helping to contexualise tweets, which may otherwise lose their meaning when accessed from a Twitter archive which is decoupled from the talk.

Have a look at the video – and if you’ve not yet listened to Gordon Brown’s announcements I’d recommend that you do so.

Issues About Reusing Twitter Posts

My recent post on The “Building Britain’s Digital Future” Announcement summarised Gordon Brown’s talk based on tweets from @hadleybeeman. I was slightly worried about the ethics of doing this. Partly in light of the responses to my post last year on What Are the #jiscbid Evaluators Thinking? which cited a couple of tweets. In response to that post my colleague Paul Walk pointed out that Anything you quote from Twitter is always out of context and raised the issue of “courtesy and good practice” when citing tweets. Paul’s post generated a lot of interest, with 27 comments being made.Of particular relevance, I felt, was a comment Paul made; “Beyond the need for absolute privacy for some communications it’s a grey area of overlapping contexts & tacit trust“.

I agree that this a grey area and there is a need for what Paul described as a “sophisticated sense of proprietary in these matters“.

I was prepared to cite Hadley’s tweets as I judged these to have been made for the public good.  I also made a judgement call not to cite tweets (from others) which I felt to be trivial or may not accurately can you buy antibiotics uk reflect the views of the person who posted the tweets.  And it seems that Hadley appreciated the approach I took, subsequently sayingI think that once my tweets are up, they’re cite-able published material. I’d like credit, but they live on their own!“.

So we can make a judgement call on how we cite and reuse tweets, without having to go to the extremes of regarding all tweets as public property which are fair game or personal remarks which should never by cited.

But what happens if a Twitter stream is embedded in another environment,such as Martin’s Twitter captions of Gordon Brown’s talk? And what if Nick Poole’s tweet posted at 09:03 which is captured on the opening frame instead of saying “Gordon Brown getting started on Building Britain’s Digital Future now. Anyone there doing reportage via Twitter? #bbdf” had said “Listening to Gordon Brown – but slightly hungover after too much to drink last night #bbdf“?

My Thoughts

My view is that we need to acknowledge that tweets which are published in an open space are always likely to be reused by others, possibly in ways that we might not always be happy with. “Caveat twitterer” might be our motto. But we might also find, as Hadley did, that the reuse of our tweets can be beneficial- and the accessibility benefits of crowd-sourced tweets might be a particular benefit to be aware of.

Perhaps we should start to regard tweets which contain an event hashtag as being particularly likely to be reused.

And maybe there is a need for more sophisticated tools for aggregating such tweets. Would it be possible for a video captioning service to allow a preferred Twitter user to be used for the captions (perhaps an official event Twitterer, as UKOLN used at last year’s IWMW 2009 event Twitter)? And would it be possible to delete inappropriate tweets from a stream used for captioning? After all, as Martin Poulter has recently pointed out on his Ancient Geeks blog in a post on The dark side of aggregating tags the Conservative Party’s experiment in social media fell foul of, presumably, left-of-centre geeks, embedding inappropriate content, markup and scripts in a feed which was automatically displayed on a Conservative party Web site. Let’s not repeat that mistake.