Whenever we sit down to discuss an existing project or a new concept, my colleague, Scott Parris, pretty quickly asks “what does a good one look like?” Sometimes the question is in relationship to a startup we are working with, sometimes a concept to explore, sometimes a piece of software, and sometimes a brand experience.
What does a good one look like?
What a simple question. Yet, it really taxes my memory as I sort through things I’ve read about or experienced directly.
There is a subtlety to this question that escaped me for several months. As I work to answer the question and recall several potential examples, the nature of what I am looking for changes. The question is helpful for remembering, evaluating AND for refining the subject under study.
For the last two years I’ve been looking for a video annotation tool to help me make sense of and find patterns in several hundred hours of early stage new venture video ethnography. I know that it is going to take many thousands of hours to make sense of the material and I want to be able to capture my insights as I go.
What does a good video analysis tool look like?
Every month or two, I do a web search and I reach out to colleagues to see if they have encountered the tool that I need. I keep adding to my list of things I want the tool to do.
What makes my task so daunting is that the video material is scattered across 20 TB of mass storage in my office, in many different formats, and not very well labelled.
As I whined about this problem to Kelly Franznick of BlinkUX, he shared the exciting work that his company is working on with what they call Feedback Panel. Kelly described the big time sucks that his user researchers go through with their video ethnography projects:
- Capturing, copying, converting and managing video files – for the researchers use and for sharing with their clients
- Commenting on and annotating the video in real time during a study – for their own researchers and for their distributed client base
- Selecting video snippets to illustrate their analysis and findings and then dropping those snippets into either a Powerpoint presentation or a multi-media report
These time sucks are very costly when using expensive user researchers, but are low value work. The user researcher doesn’t want to spend time doing these tasks. They want to spend their time making sense of what they are seeing in their experiments.
So Kelly’s team started working on Feedback Panel to address the three time sucks. After a little experimentation they realized that instead of recording within a camera they could stream the video directly to Amazon cloud services. They developed the capability to stream live from their user research labs and remotely through iOS devices.
Then they realized that they could watch the live streaming through their tool and do live annotation of the stream. Their clients loved this capability because now the client could watch the experiments live from wherever they are located and comment both on what they are observing and on the design of the experiment. Quickly the tool evolved to capture these live “chats” with time stamps to help quickly position the video for later review.
Once the stream was in the cloud, they had an easy way to manage a collection of files by client project. The last step in the process was to use the Amazon cloud computation capabilities to convert the live stream into the format of choice for their client.
In short order, the BlinkUX team developed a solution for the first two capabilities. The icing on the cake was when they found a vendor to do high quality automatic transcriptions of the audio track of the video ethnography to make it easy to search through a given video.
So part of what I needed showed up, but there was still a lot more required to be “the good one” I was looking for. A few additional things I want emerged from searching, discussing, and collaborating:
- As the number of videos exploded, I needed a way to have a video management capability like the Vimeo Portfolio. I wanted to have multiple ways to organize, tag and search my collection of videos.
- Expanded video annotation – I want to be able to not just have some text or tags, but also embed URLs and pointers to other related videos.
- Multiple ways to assemble videos for others to view. Sometimes I want to arrange the videos to demonstrate insights for a client, and sometimes I want to use the videos for teaching purposes. My colleague, David Socha, has at least four layers of ways he wants to use his research videos including running professional workshops for academics on how to use video ethnography.
- Easy to remember how to use. I am not going to be using these tools all day every day. I may use the tools for a couple of days and then a month may pass before I come back to the tools. I don’t want to have to go through hours of tutorials to remind myself how to use the tools.
- Easy to install. I have to be able to install and use the tool and not require a software developer to make sense of the technical gobbledygook.
- The tools or SaaS has to be affordable. Many of the tools that appeared interesting cost $1000 plus per month.
On my last try at searching for “video annotation software” and “qualitative research software” I evaluated the following tools or projects (out of 100+ that showed up in search results):
- Studiocode – performance analysis software for education and research
- Silicon Coach – illustrating principles of human movement
- Energos – products targeted to unlock the potential and performance of business people
- VARS – Video Annotation and Reference System
- ELAN – built for lexicographers to both record video and share analyses
- Mobile Video Annotation Apps – a variety of mobile apps to record and analyze sports data
- Viddler – moving video content into connections
- VideoANT – video annotation tool
- BrightCove – cloud based solution for delivering and monetizing video
- Vzaar – less expensive version of Brightcove
- Wistia – video hosting for business and interesting way to engage and track users
Each of these tools failed on several of the above criteria. I was becoming clearer about what I needed as I kept searching for “a good one.”
Out of frustration at not being able to find what I was looking for, I entered the search term “interactive video.” Immediately, I found tools that were much closer to what I wanted.
The following tools were evaluated out of hundreds that showed up in search results:
- Vidzor – a full service interactive video publishing and distribution platform for marketers and advertisers for actionable results.
- Touchcast – a really exciting tool for the combining of the web and video into an integrated platform. I was so energized by this capability I visited the company in NYC. However, it became very clear that they were not interested in the individual user (no way to protect my content or have the users pay for the content) as they were focused on $300,000 per year enterprise sales.
- Mad Video – interactive educational videos for better classroom learning
- Panopto – enterprise video content management. A really powerful set of tools but they are only interested in large enterprise sales.
- Pulpix – an eLearning tool that looks interesting but is clearly in early beta.
- Vinja Video – interesting tool that is aimed at advertisers that is also in early beta.
- Interlude – a video tool that is exciting, but was far more limited than I initially thought. This is a great tool for interactive story telling where the user can change what is displayed. Requires a great deal of up front planning.
- RaptMedia – aimed at advertisers.
- Mashable review of interactive video tools – a good overview of what is here today and what is coming.
- HapYak – ability to place links in video, add quizzes and have analytics on how your interactive videos are used. In early beta stage of development.
- Wirewax – really interesting combination of automatic video analysis and user control of the interactions. Very expensive.
After spending considerable time and energy, Zaption emerged as the clear winner. As I worked with Zaption, I realized that it was also very teachable. One of the other reasons I was on this search for “a good one” is to use it as the basis for a seminar for professional services talent to scale the availability of their expertise using digital media. The good folks at Zaption already have a kit for instructors on how to teach interactive video.
As I spent time building my video tours, I was stunned at how much Zaption was doing for me. I could quickly combine several videos in a tour and then trim the videos quickly and cleanly to just show the parts I wanted. Just this feature along saves me hours of painful manipulation and re-learning in tools like Adobe Premiere or Apple’s Final Cut Pro.
With the ability to insert many different kinds of questions into the video tour, Zaption automatically creates a database for the answers. Then, there is a full range of analytics for me to understand how users are actually going through the video content.
Lastly, I have the ability to restrict who sees my video tours and I have the ability to create groups of “students” around a particular video tour or group of tours. Within a group of students I have the ability to embed discussion questions into the tours.
Here is an example of a video tour I did on Enterprise Visual Analytics.
What does a good one look like – for video analysis?
Today, the answer to that is a lot clearer. I want a combination of the BlinkUX Feedback Panel and Zaption. Feedback Panel solves for the creation and management of videos and Zaption allows for the annotation and presentation of the video material with the added twist of using the videos as educational material.
Now if I can just get Kelly Franznick and Ross Bohner to build the bridge from Feedback Panel to Zaption. That’s a story for another day.
The next time you are stuck for how to move forward ask yourself the question “what does a good one look like?”