A Scandal in Belgravia

Wasn’t last week’s episode of Sherlock (“A Scandal in Belgravia“) great! I thought so and when I looked at my Twitter stream last Sunday night it seems that many of the people I follow on Twitter were impressed. too. I then searched Twitter for #sherlock and found the approval of the first in the new series was pretty overwhelming.

As a friend of mine later said, it’s not surprising that Twitter users liked the programme so much as it was written with users who are au fait with Web technologies in mind. Note only did the programme feature @TheWhipHand it also mentioned John Watson’s blog. Both had been created to accompany the programme, and yes people did view the Twitter stream and the blog while they were watching the programme, as can be seen from the accompanying screenshot of the tweets which were posted during the show.

TV’s ‘Second Screen’

The link between a TV programme and a Twitter stream reminded me of the pioneering which Tony Hirst and Martin Hawksey were involved in back in 2009.

As described in the Wikipedia entry for “Twitter subtitling”:

The concept of combining video and twitter feeds for recorded events was first proposed Tom Smith in February 2009[1] after experiencing Graham Linehan’s BadMovieClub[2] in which at 9pm exactly on the 13th February 2009, over 2,000 Twitter users simultaneously pressed ‘Play’ on the film ‘The Happening‘ and continued to ‘tweet’ whilst watching, creating a collective viewing experience.

Smith, in response, proposed that media such as DVDs and YouTube videos could be enhanced by overlaying asynchronous status updates from other Twitter users who had watched the same media [1].

Separately, in March 2009 Tony Hirst (Open University), in consultation with Liam Green-Hughes (Open University), presented a practical solution for creating SubRip (*.srt) subtitle files from the Twitter Search API using Yahoo Pipes. The resulting file was then uploaded to a YouTube video[3] allowing users to replay in realtime audio/video with an overlay of status updates from Twitter. Hirst subsequently revisited his original solution creating the simplified Twitter Subtitle web interface for the original Yahoo Pipe[4]

The concept was revisited on the 16th February 2010 by Martin Hawksey (JISC RSC Scotland North & East) in response to a notification by Hirst made via Twitter during a broadcast of the BBC/OU’s The Virtual Revolution series in which Hirst requested information on replaying the #bbcrevolution hashtag in real-time[5].

Although Tony and Martin’s work initially focussed on providing a mashup of tweets and recordings of a number of BBC TV programmes Martin subsequently developed the iTitle tool which was used to merge event tweets with video recordings taken at a number of events held with the UK higher education sector.

As described in a post on Captioned Videos of IWMW 2010 Talks iTitle was used after UKOLN’s IWMW 2010 event to provide Twitter captions of the discussions which took place during the plenary talks at the event.  One of the developments Martin made to iTitle was to provide a search facility which enable you to jump directly to the video associated with the content of a tweet.  I described this can be used to provide crowd-sourced bookmarking capabilities of live video feeds. As illustrated using an example of the IWMW 2010 conclusions I could search for “good stuff” and find three examples of tweets containing these words.  In the screen shot I seem to be looking at the Twitter Wall at 10:51 on as @PlanetClaire as she tweetsProfessional network grown after this IWMW. Good stuff. #iwmw10″. It’s not only the BBC which can take a post-modernist approach to the blended real world and online environment!

After speaking at the University 2.0: the Extended University Conference held at the UMIP in Sandanter, Spain in 2010 at which a number of the plenary talks were live-streamed it occurred to me that there could be other ways in which iTitle could be used. Professor Alejandro Piscitelli, University of Buenos Aires gave a fascinating talk on Explorando los bordes y contornos de la Universidad 2.0. The talk was given in Spanish and I listened to the English pharmacy online india translation. Since the audience were mostly Spanish the tweets were also in Spanish. The talk seemed to be one which Professor Piscitelli had given on a number of occasions. But what aspects of the talk would be of particular interest to the Spanish audience, to an audience in Argentina or in the UK or USA (Professor Piscitelli is a fluent English speaker). I should also add that Martin Hawksey was a remote observer of the conference. Martin processed the tweets posted during Professor Piscitelli’s talk by using Google Translate to translate them into English, Spanish and Catalan. The user could select their preferred language and view a recording of the talk will the translated tweets being displayed in the recording. Note that although this interface is still available it seems that the original video recording is no longer available at the UIMP.

These thoughts came back to me when I saw Sherlock and the accompanying Twitter backchannel.

I am sure the BBC will have been analysing the tweets and interpreting how the audience was responding to the complexities of the plot. But will they be using analyses of live Twitter posts in order to make comparisons between the posts from the UK audience and a US audience when the programme is broadcast over there?

Back in February 2010 Tony Hirst gave his thoughts on Broadcast Support – Thinking About Virtual Revolution:

I watched the broadcast on Saturday, I started wondering about ‘live annotation’ or enrichment of the material as it was broadcast via the backchannel. Although I hadn’t seen a preview of the programme, I have mulled over quite a few of the topics covered by the programme in previous times, so it was easy enough to drop resources in to the twitter feed. So for example, I tweeted a video link to Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, explaining how Google ad auctions work, a tweet that was picked up by one of the production team who was annotating the programme with tweets in real time

Tony concluded by referencing Martin Hawksey:

PS here’s another interesting possibility – caption based annotations to iPlayer replays of the programme via Twitter Powered Subtitles for BBC iPlayer Content c/o the MASHe Blog (also check out the comments…)

The Ideas and Experimentation Become Apps

We are now seeing these ideas being deployed in a commercial context. Just before Christmas I came across the Zeebox app. This is described as “new way to watch television. It’s social, connecting you to your TV-watching friends, so you can chat, share and tweet about whatever’s on” which I have now installed the app on my iPod Touch. Previously I typically used my iPod Touch to view tweets and had a large enough Twitter community to spot hashtags which may emerge or have been minted about a TV programme. However apps such as Zeebox are now managing this process and provide a ‘frictionless’ way of sharing thoughts and opinions.

This is an example of a “Second screen” which is defined in Wikipedia as “A term that refers to the electronic device (tablet, smartphone) that uses a television user, to interact with the content they are consuming“.

It’s good to see ideas which were explored in the higher education sector a few years ago starting to be used by the early adopters in the mainstream community. There’s a danger, though, that such mainstream uses of Twitter will lead to a backlash by those who are uneasy when a technology become used in entertainment. But rather than looked at the trivia which we’re likely to see on the backchannel for Saturday night entertainment programmes, let’s explore how the easy-to-use applications which are now becoming available can be used to support our educational and research interests.

Looking back at the blog posts written by Tony and Martin in 2009 and 2010 might be a useful starting point for seeing what the future may hold 🙂