If your organization has embraced video as a media type in its eLearning mix, tracking video content is going to involve some different management issues than those you have with any other media. Here is an overview of those issues and some specifics that will help you deal with them.
The big question about video management
Video is great, but it has some challenges, too. Video clips are documents, but with an important difference: Most documents contain searchable content; video content itself isn’t searchable.
This raises the big question: How do you keep track of all that video your organization is starting to accumulate in your libraries? More importantly, if you’ve got lots of projects that incorporate video, how do you find and reuse video, so you’re not spending the same video production money twice?
Let me count the ways
Management and metadata! That’s how you’re going to keep track.
There are several ways to manage video, but you need to ask a few more questions before you adopt a system and everything required to support it.
The first question is, “What video format can your LMS or course building software use?” Some systems are really specific. Some end-user hardware is specific as well; for example, if you’re doing a lot of mobile, it’s best to stay away from anything involving Flash. Articulate can be pretty picky with its video formats as well.
The second question has several parts: “Who is serving or will be serving your video? Are you just dropping your video into your courses as links from YouTube or Vimeo or another streaming service? Are you using a specialized streaming service like Brightcove? Is your IT department running a video server for your learning organization? ”
All those different methods of hosting your video make a difference in the way you manage your video. And to make things a bit more complex, some video streaming services only deliver to you in their format, which may or may not be a format you can use. Let’s get some answers.
Servers and metadata
Whose servers do you use, your own? YouTube’s servers? Vimeo’s servers? Will you use a paid service such as Brightcove or BuzzFeed (or Vimeo in certain cases, as we’ll discuss)? There are valid reasons to avoid a public server, but there are fewer negatives than you’d think.
One thing about public servers is that they don’t have to be totally public. You can list videos as “private.” The disadvantage is that the more metadata you provide (see Sidebar 1), the easier it is for anyone to search your video. You can always leave your videos unlisted on the public servers, which means you’d have to know the exact URL to view them.
Sidebar 1: The top 10 things to put in your video metadata file
Since it doesn’t cost anything (except time) to add metadata, the more you add, the easier it will be to find the video or video clip you need.
A script (if you have one) or lots of descriptive information about the video content, including the title and subject.
Actors’ names and bios. This goes for subject matter experts (SMEs) who contributed to the content as well. You should include the SME bios.
Other video clips included in your video.
Other pictures included in your video.
As much data as you can think of to go with your video clips and pictures.
Video information such as frame size, streaming bitrate, and encoding format as well as container format (i.e., MOV, WMV, etc.).
The date the video was shot, along with the date the video was rendered and approved.
Various approval emails, etc.
Anything else you can put in, including the kitchen sink, that will facilitate searching later for that moment you’ll need in your video. Put in the information even if you don’t think you’ll ever need it. One example would be the version of the software you used to capture and edit your video and the edit dates along with the network storage data (where the whole timeline and the software live on your network). It may not seem like this could be important or ever would be, but if you need to find something you shot in 2010, but edited in 2012, it could be very useful.
Some specifics on YouTube and Vimeo
You’ll always know what video you have on YouTube via the video manager. Vimeo has an option for this, but remember that Vimeo becomes a paid service when you’re uploading over 500MB of video a week, which isn’t very much video at all.
One strategy on YouTube would be to create a separate channel for each of your courses. Let’s say you have lots of courses and lots of videos. If you organize the video by channel and put in the metadata that allows for easy searches from a logged-in computer (you don’t need a separate log-in for each channel), then you can search for your term in YouTube. It’s a little clunky, but it works. Careful planning pays off. You might be spending more time managing your video library than it’s worth.
There’s one other problem with YouTube: advertising. You can choose to leave it off, but you have to choose that option every time.
Vimeo is pretty much the same as YouTube, except that you’ll need to pay if you upload more than 500MB per week. That’s only about 40 or so minutes of quality rendered video. And that’s standard definition, too (720 by 480 pixels)! Almost all the courseware you’ll use can only support SD video, which isn’t a bad thing, because standard definition video conserves bandwidth. And your IT department will like that!
YouTube has no limits on the amount of video you upload.
The translation problem
The one big disadvantage with public servers is they translate the video you upload into the file format and temporal quality of their choice, not your choice. This can seriously affect not only whether you can use the video at all, but also the quality of the viewer’s experience. So if you have a system that only takes a certain format (i.e., WMV or MOV), then you really do need to look elsewhere, because you’re pretty much stuck with the format that each service uses to display in a browser.
If your course is browser-based, it makes your life easier because the video can be delivered in almost any format. But if you’re using Articulate or Storyline or any course system, the file formats you can use are very limited. Or if your course is delivered to an iOS or Android device, you’ll have to do a lot of testing if you’re using a public service.
If you use your own IT department to serve your video, then you will have (hopefully) worked out what formats will be served. Since I don’t want to dwell on video formats, let’s say that you have a server with Microsoft Silverlight installed (it doesn’t require a Windows server!). A server running Silverlight Media Server will only work properly serving Windows video. But if you need something else, you’ll need a more flexible server (see Sidebar 2).
Public, such as YouTube
2. Have three levels of privacy
3. Always on; you don’t have to worry or think about downtime on servers
4. Accessible from anywhere your learners have a fairly fast Internet connection
1. Metadata is searchable by anyone, even in private mode
2. Anyone who gets to it can download a video
3. You may not be able to use the files as streamed by YouTube as they’re usually in an MP4 format
4. Possibly not great for streaming to a tablet or phone
Semi-public, like Vimeo
1. Free (until you want to upload more than 500MB/week)
2. Always on; you don’t have to worry or think about downtime on servers
3. Accessible from anywhere your learners have a fairly fast Interned connection
1. Not free if you have even a modest amount of video
Private server, like Brightcove
1. Always on; you don’t have to worry or think about downtime on servers
2. Can serve the type of video you need for your courses
3. Don’t have to worry about backup
2. May be too much service for the cost or value
3. Might be difficult to configure and manage
Your own server
1. Total control over server environment
2. Total control over how you deliver video to learners
1. Can be expensive to build
2. Has to be maintained by IT
3. Needs software updates
4. Needs your own backup service
Streaming vs. progressive download
You can put your video on any server and allow it to progressively download. The difference between progressive download and streaming video is subtle, but important if you’re serving video to lots of people at the same time.
Progressive download is just that, the video starts to stream, but the stream can be interrupted if the server gets a lot of requests at the same time. Streaming video servers make sure the video is buffered and streamed without interruption.
If you’ve ever watched a video on YouTube or Netflix or any of the streaming services, you’ll see that it buffers as much as it can without downloading the video to your computer and keeps the flow of the video constant. A progressively downloaded video might start and stop at times because the server can’t keep up with all the demands that are put on it for requests from other users on the server. It also makes it more difficult to view the video if a lot of people are trying to watch at around the same time.
“Around the same time” is an important concept here. Let’s say Learner One clicks on a video part in your course at exactly 2:00:00 PM. Learner Two starts watching the video at 2:00:10 PM. Learner Three starts watching 10 seconds later, and so on.
A regular server might get overwhelmed with so many requests for the same video at around the same time. If the server you’re using is a file server, it has to go out and look up the video each time it’s requested and start streaming each time it’s requested. A server can be quickly overwhelmed by these requests.
A video server sees the first request for video and starts to serve the video while caching the whole video in RAM, so it’s not streaming off the hard drive but rather out of RAM. Then, when the second learner requests the video, it’s already in memory and thus it is far easier for the server to send the video to the learner. And a video server won’t be overwhelmed with requests for the same video. This is why YouTube can stream so much video all the time.
A word about selecting streaming media servers and services
Many streaming server applications are in the marketplace, as well as services that will host your video … for a fee. Sometimes the paid video services make sense and sometimes they don’t. The economics of this are not that difficult to understand. It really depends on how many videos are in your library and how many videos you’re adding to the server over time. As in all things, I like to keep it simple. That way I don’t have to remember as much. It also makes things easier to manage, which is actually more important. One of the dangers of allowing your IT department to set up and run your server is that they might make it too complex for anyone in a training organization to operate, upload, index, and … well, this is the tail that wags the dog, yes?
I saved the best for last. The most important part of video management is the metadata you attach to each video.
Many companies have tried to make video files searchable as files when they’re just in a directory on a server and not streaming. Many companies have failed. So far, it hasn’t worked. Adobe has tried. Google has tried.
Here’s the concept. You have a (legal) video that contains footage of the first moon landing. Unfortunately, you aren’t sure where it is or which video it’s in because you didn’t add the moon landing information to the metadata, which is mostly about your course topic. You can’t find the specific moon landing footage by searching.
However, if you’d provided more comprehensive descriptive material about the video itself in the metadata, including the fact that there is a clip in it about the Apollo 11 moon landing, you’d be able to find it. So the real management part of this comes right at the beginning; the better your metadata, the better your searches will be.
Attaching metadata to a video file is easy. We do it all the time, whether we’re working in Word, Premiere Pro, Excel, Photoshop, PowerPoint, or whatever program you use to create your files.
All you have to do is right-click on any file and click on Properties. You can add metadata there. Or if you’re using some video server software, you can add metadata in the file for that. Since there’s no limit to what type and amount of metadata you can store, I’d suggest storing everything, including the script, if you use one. You can also add your metadata to an external file that is a pointer inside the database for the server.
There are a lot of details to consider, so that can be a challenge. However, if your choice of approach for managing your video doesn’t work out, the good news is that you have options for Plan B. Video is constantly evolving, so being flexible is good as well. Whatever works today will be improved upon, and staying informed is essential.