UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Usage Statistics for the IWMW 2008 Live Video Stream

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 Aug 2008

The first live streaming of talks at a IWMW event took place at IWMW 2006, when we experimented with an in-house streaming service and use of the Access Grid.  The following year live streaming of the plenary talks was provided by staff at the University of York, and recordings of most of the talks were subsequently made available on Google Video.

On both occasions the numbers of people watching the live streaming video was low, with the maximum numbers of viewers being less than 20 at each of the events. Despite the low numbers we felt the service was valuable as it provided us with an opportunity to gain experience of not only various streaming technologies but also, and more importantly, the non-technical aspects of live streaming at events such as privacy, copyright, accessibility, etc.

This year’s IWMW 2008 event was held in the King’s Conference Centre at the University of Aberdeen.  I was not the only delegate who was impressed by the King’s Auditorium – as one person commented on the event evaluation form “Conference hall had great facilities and microphones meant that you could hear delegates questions“.

The venue also had an excellent AV facilities, and we were pleased that, once again, we were able to stream the plenary talks. The quality of the video was excellent, as you can see if you watch any of the videos of the talks.

But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the live streaming was the numbers of people who watching the talks. As can be seen from the accompanying diagram there were 160 people watching the videos on the final day of the event. As IWMW 2008 attracted 180 participants, with a number of them having to leave before the event finished I suspect we can say that there were more remote people watching Ewan McIntosh’s closing plenary talk on “Unleashing the Tribe” that there were in the King’s Auditorium. When I mentioned this to my director, Liz Lyon, she wondered whether we will soon reach a ‘tipping point’ in which live streaming of talks at large conferences in the digital library environment will be expected as a mainstream offering.

For that to happen, though, there will be a need to establish the business case for providing the streaming service, ensure that it is easy to use and ensure that the risks are being addressed.

The business case is interesting. Who should pay for the costs of providing a video streaming service for an event? Should the costs be taken from the participants who attend the event? Or should remote viewers who wish to access the video stream have to pay? Or perhaps event organisers should be looking for commercial sponsorship to cover the costs (although in light of the current economic turbulence, now is probably not a good time to suggest this).   I wonder, though, whether the costs be covered by the host institution. Once the AV equipment has been installed, can the support costs be included i the rental of the facilities – just as we are now starting to expect access to WiFi network being provided as standard.

Once the business case has been sorted, there will be a need to ensure that the service is easy to use (back at IWMW 2006 people wishing to view the streaming video service needed to install “Real Player and the Xiph Player Plugin or Windows Media Player with the illiminable Ogg Directshow Filters for Speex, Vorbis, Theora and FLAC, with Linux users needing MPlayer with Ogg Theora“). Nowadays users shouldn’t need to concern themselves with details of the technologies, as use of Flash seems to provide the interface to streaming services (although there may be issues about versions of Flash). However I suspect there will be a need to provide a back channel, to enable the remote participants to discuss the talks. There will also be a need for the remote participants to join in discussions with the local audience, especially if a WiFi network is available. There will be a need, therefore, to ensure that the back channel is not tightly coupled to the video streaming service.

Finally there will be a need to address the risks. This will include addressing issues such as privacy, copyright and data protection. In addition there will be a need to consider the quality of service and reliability of the streaming service, especially if the costs in providing the service have been made transparent.

And the more I think about such issues the more I wonder whether live streaming at conferences has reached a tipping point. Might it simply be too much effort to provide on a regular basis?

5 Responses to “Usage Statistics for the IWMW 2008 Live Video Stream”

  1. Col said

    In addition to streaming the conf live, I think it would be good to see them available for download, so I could watch them on my ipod/media player for example. I enjoy D/l conf talks even if the conf was a year ago- if the talk sounds interesting I will download it an watch it.
    Is this something for future IWMWs?

    Also, what about IWMW for ItunesU?

  2. At the eduweb conference in Atlantic City, NJ, some of the attendees took the video streaming of a few live presentations into their hands using their laptop webcams and Ustream, a free video streaming service.

    They were streaming the conference as others were blogging or twittering it, most of the time without the knowledge of the organizers but with the consent of the speakers.

    My closing keynote was live streamed this way. The image quality is poor, the sound is so so, but this was done on a shoe string and nobody paid for the streaming (that is except ustream).

  3. @Karine w.r.t. “nobody paid for the streaming” – I slightly disagree. There will probably have been a cost to all the other users of the wireless network at the venue while the stream is being uploaded to ustream – that is my typical experience anyway. (I’m assuming that the informal streaming happened over the conference wireless facility- apologies if other bandwidth was used).

    I tend to find that the upload bandwidth of conference wireless facilities is pretty poor – so anyone doing informal streaming (or even uploading lots of images to flickr in some cases) can clobber the network for everyone else.

    Whether this is a cost worth paying is another matter and can probably only be judged on the day.

    In general, I think that conference venues need to try much harder to provide decent wireless facilities (i.e. good bandwidth in both directions) for delegates and as a regular conference organiser this is now something that is very high up our agenda in terms of requirements.

  4. Hi Andy – When I wrote the Acceptable Use Policy for the IWMW 2007 event I included a section:

    The potential for use of the WiFi network at the event will be dependent on the available bandwidth, the numbers of users and the profile of usage made. If the usage patterns are adversely affecting speakers presentations, we may request delegates to cease usage or to change their usage (e.g. use of low-bandwidth technologies may be permitted but not downloading large files).

    This was based on some of the experiences we’d gained at previous events, and as you know, also caused some problems at UKOLN’s Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks Workshop (for info for others, this was when Andy, on behalf of the event organisers, managed the uploading of the video feed into Second Life).

    So yes, I’d agree that an understanding of both upstream and downstream bandwidth limitations will need to be considered, especially as uploading multimedia files becomes more mainstream. My approach to this is to try to ensure the participants are aware of the potential problems, and to provide an AUP which will allow us to ask participants to desist from uploading resources if this significantly degrades the experiences for others. Whether this is enforcable is another question, Of course!

  5. These streaming stats are OK if your thinking locally. Cisco has big plans with mobile streaming.

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