UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Isn’t #Sherlock Great! (TV & a ‘Second Screen’ For the Twitter Generation)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 Jan 2012

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 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 :-)


8 Responses to “Isn’t #Sherlock Great! (TV & a ‘Second Screen’ For the Twitter Generation)”

  1. […] up on Brian Kelly’s traffic seeking #Sherlock post (Isn’t #Sherlock Great! (TV & a ‘Second Screen’ For the Twitter Generation)), I just made a quick tweak to my emergent social positioning code to have a peek at who’s […]

  2. Tony Hirst said

    Thanks for remembering the twitter subtitling stuff, Brian:-) I think second screen apps will be being hyped a lot this year, being promoted as discussion, commentary, engagement and enrichment services but of course really being about ad serving (eg )

    I think there are probably still quite a few usability/attention splitting issues to address, though…

    One thing that interests me is how we might be also able to use secondscreen ideas to augment radio…

    PS did you get much traffic to this post last night? I’m sure I saw a link to it in the buzz listing around the programme, but then it seemed to disappear (or maybe I just imagined it? If it was there and anyone clicked through, it’d show in your logs as a referral from the BBC.)

  3. Steve Hitchcock said

    You may have seen Charlie Brooker’s 2011 Wipe, which included a spoof of a viewer invited to contribute via #bbcqt to BBC Question Time during live broadcast. Needless to say, his contribution didn’t quite work out as planned. Although the comedy of the sketch fell flat quite quickly, in the context of your post it was nevertheless a reminder that the superimposition of services to create new services, because we can, does not always work out as the technology visionaries expect. As you and Tony have identified, the trick, and the obvious difficulty, is to give users control while also providing synchronisation between different realtime services.

    • Thanks for the comment. I didn’t see Wipe but I did watch Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series and was conscious of the links.

      Note that I first installed Zeebox in December and used it in a pub just before Christmas, while a Jane Austen documentary was on the TV. When I spotted a “Zeetag” saying “sexually transmitted diseases” (illustrated) I did think the service had been spammed but when I saw a repeat of the programme a few days later those words were said in the documentary.

      I will be interesting to see if “second screen” do take off, especially in light of the opportunities for misuse.

      In addition to the question of possible misuse related to user-generated context, this software also raises the interesting question as to who ‘mints’ the programme tags around which the content is aggregated. The BBC and other channels may have their own tagging schemes to ensure programmes can be uniquely identified, but in reality we’ll use “Sherlock” for Sunday’s programme.

      I also wondered how authentic the tweets will be, especially for more obscure programmes. Will people be paid to try and build the appearance of a community around programmes? Or might tweets even by generated automatically?

      Lots of interesting issues!

  4. Andy Heath said

    Absolutely fascinating. I am one of what must be a very small band of people unable to watch broadcast tv, only iplayer and occasional 4od. Timeshifting also gives me greater choice so it doesn’t bother me. I haven’t seen the Sherlock episodes and am working from imagination.

    This raises some really fantastic prospects for future service deliveries to meet real needs – I’m thinking crowd-sourced accessibility – captions written on the fly, support for cognitive disability etc. and raises the profile of many issues in analysis of content that we need to solve in technology and in society – its really exciting. It seems to me that unfettered tweets are likely to reflect the nature of “the crowd”. I suspect for example they will follow some kind of median behaviour patterns – full of racism, homophobia, culturism and similar biases, having a focus on the median view, within 70 percent of the bell curve. Some people will feel excluded, some will feel abused by others and so on.
    What do we need to solve to use this kind of thing meaningfully in a way that benefits us all ? We need technological support for AND an *applied* understanding of mechanisms of community growth and attitudes – how these work together. Specifically we need to support:

    Cultural adaptation
    Inclusion and how it works (and how it doesn’t) in community growth
    Content analysis that supports these

    and we need to build into the tools the respect for these matters that is somehow paid lip-service to in our societies but not completely and often ignored completely in unawareness. Building a global or even local system that incorporates the violence that is so visible in our other societal systems – providing automated support for systems that only work with “the norm” – would be disastrous – doing so may well amplify the negative aspects of our societies – what we all feared in cyberpunk science-fiction. However, I don’t think that will happen – I think we *will* learn to understand these things in society and support them in technology – we will be forced to because anything else simply won’t work.

    As I see it, we are reaching a point where human moral growth and technological growth really do interact in an iterative spiral of growth – its two-way. This is something to do with scale. It really is an exciting time to be alive.


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