Introducting the Latest Mozilla Design Challenge: Collaborative Subtitling

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Mozilla Challenge
Johnny Holland is proud to be teaming up again with Mozilla Labs for their concept series. This time, Mozilla is working with the Participatory Culture Foundation to present “Collaborative subtitling — How can users quickly create a timed transcript of any video on the web?”.  We’ll be presenting a series of posts to inspire your concepts, and kick it off by talking to Dean Jansen from PCF  about the competition and some hints.

JH: Can you give us a bit of background about PCF?

DJ: The Participatory Culture Foundation (PCF) began about 5 years ago when television and other mass media really began to move online en masse. Video is the most powerful medium in our culture and we saw an opportunity to push it in a positive and more democratic direction. Our initial strategy was influencing video publishing and viewing practices through popular technology; our goal was to encourage openness and empower the individual. For instance, our first project was an open source video aggregator (video watching application) called Miro that supports open publishing standards such as RSS. It currently has about 1.3 million users each month. PCF has started many additional projects since then, including Universal Subtitles.

You’re part of the Open Video Alliance. Could you give us some more information about the alliance?

The OVA is a coalition of non-profit organizations, companies, and other institutions advocating for open standards for online video. The OVA seeks to encourage better technological practices, as well as spark a social movement, since the basic qualities of online video have the power to influence the development of our politics and culture. Current members include PCF, Mozilla, Kaltura, and the Yale ISP, but we’re about to dramatically expand the scope and membership of the organization. Last summer we co-organized the inaugural Open Video Conference in NYC which brought together a diverse mix of filmmakers, academics, artists, technologist, entrepreneurs, activists, and many others to discuss the implications and importance of open video. We followed up with a series of panels at SXSW and are currently planning the second Open Video Conference.

What are some of the special challenges of working with video?

There’s currently a huge gap in the market for simple and user friendly solutions for doing video subtitles. A number of issues contribute to this gap, such as the lack of standardization in online video players. Flash has proven to be a good basic technology to deliver video, but it’s proprietary, so developing open solutions on top of it—things that would work across the entire video spectrum—have proven difficult. Another issue contributing factor is that subtitling interfaces seem to be geared towards professional subtitlers. We’re aiming for something incredibly user friendly, so that people who would never have thought themselves capable of subtitling are encouraged to pitch in and subtitle/translate their favorite videos.

We’re aiming for something incredibly user friendly, so that people who would never have thought themselves capable of subtitling are encouraged to pitch in and subtitle/translate their favorite videos.

Prototype Collaborative Tool Demo

Prototype Collaborative Tool Demo

Is there a difference with getting people to contribute knowledge as opposed to more usual UIs?

Subtitling is something that the vast majority of internet users haven’t done yet, so in that respect maybe this will be a more difficult challenge.  However, that gives us reason to believe that it will be a more unique, interesting, and ultimately, challenging UI challenge. We also think that the probable unfamiliarity with the practice will allow designers to approach the situation with virgin eyes, which is a big advantage in many respects.

Subtitling is something that the vast majority of internet users haven’t done yet, so in that respect maybe this will be a more difficult challenge.  However, that gives us reason to believe that it will be a more unique, interesting, and ultimately, challenging UI challenge.

What are your thoughts on Youtube Video Captions?

We think the initiative is great—it draws a lot of positive attention to the need for subtitles—these will not only make videos more accessible, but also leads to a much higher potential for cross cultural exchange via video. That said, it also has lots of room for improvement, since it relies heavily on machine transcription and translation (which is fairly inaccurate these days). The biggest issue is that these subtitles are only available on YouTube videos. Our approach is more manual and community driven, but we can certainly see using technology to augment the subtitling and translation processes. Our ultimate goal is to end up with an open and standard subtitling technology that YouTube can support on its platform.

What are you hoping to get from the concepts for the Mozilla Challenge?

We’ve thought a lot about a fresh approach to creating subtitles. We’re breaking the process into discreet parts, so instead of transcribing the audio and putting down in and out points in a single step, the user does it in two.

We’re drawing inspiration from video editing software, as well as video games, and we’re shooting for something very inviting and dynamic. Even with all the time we’ve put into this interface, we know there’s a ton of room for improvement —so we’re really excited to be part of the Mozilla challenge.

Do you have any tips for people taking the competition on?

To anyone considering the challenge who hasn’t tried subtitling a video, I’d suggest trying out some of the current solutions. Use YouTube’s subtitling tools (for example Caption Tube or You Tube Subtitler ) or a service like dotsub to add subtitles to a short video that you like. This will give a good idea of the current paradigm and makes a great starting point for imagining a better approach.

Entries are open for the Mozilla Collaborative Subtitling Challenge from now until the 26th of April. For more information, see the Mozilla Challenge site.

Vicky Teinaki

An England-based Kiwi, Vicky is doing a PhD at Northumbria University into how designers can better talk about touch and products. When not researching or keeping Johnny Holland running, she does the odd bit of web development, pretends her TV licence money goes only to Steven Moffatt shows, and tweets prolifically about all of the above as @vickytnz.

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