Andy Carvin became synonymous with a new form of media curation in 2011, retweeting first-hand accounts of the revolutions in Egypt and its surrounding countries to his tens of thousands of followers. A small group of media visionaries is now working to ensure that the next Andy Carvin won’t be restricted to 140 characters.
The hypermedia movement, spearheaded by people like HTML5 developer Mark Boas and the Mozilla Foundation’s Ben Moskowitz, wants to make the remix and curation of audio and video sources as easy as Carvin’s countless retweets. The end goal is that “someone with a laptop in a coffee shop can do a very compelling news report,” Moskowitz told me a few days ago during a phone call with me and Boas.
Text as the ultimate meta-data
The idea behind hypermedia is as simple as it is compelling: More and more media publishers are providing closed captions for video content online – a move that is both prompted by SEO strategy as well as increased pressure to make web video accessible. And in the audio space, radio networks like NPR have long had transcripts of their recordings. Boas and others simply view this text as meta-data that points to specific pieces of a recording.
What if there was an application, Boas asked in a blog post earlier this year, that would help compile new videos or audio recordings based on the remix of this kind of meta-data? “Audio authoring tools and video authoring tools can be quite complex,” he argued. Boas’ app on the other hand, which he has been calling Hyperaudio Pad, could look as simple as a text editor. Just copy captions from a few sources into the same document, and the program will automatically compile an audio recording. (Check out a screencast of the Hyperaudio Pad.)
The Hyperaudio Pad is so far not much more than a simple hack, and Boas and his partners in crime don’t even have a website yet, opting instead to discuss their ideas via a Google Group. But the hypermedia idea has been brewing for a while.
Radiolab and Al Jazeera
Boas started playing with synchronizing text and audio in HTML5 about a year ago. A few months later, he stumbled across a blog post by Henrik Moltke about the use of open web technologies to advance radio, an idea Moltke coined Hyperaudio. The two of them started collaborating, got some support from the Mozilla Foundation, and soon after, they had done some really interesting demos that show how powerful the combination of audio, text and the web can be (make sure to take a look at the demo for WNYC’s Radiolab if you haven’t seen it yet.)
Both Boas and Moltke come from the intersection of audio and HTML, which explains the moniker Hyperaudio. But that doesn’t mean that the Hyperaudio Pad and the ideas behind the technology will be restricted to radio programs only. “This can be applied to video as well as audio,” Boas assured me, and there’s a good chance that we will soon see some of the first hypermedia use cases for online video in action.
Boas was recently picked as one of five fellows for the Knight-Mozilla News Partnership program that pairs technologists with mainstream media newsrooms. Starting in February, he will work with Al Jazeera for a year to advance open source news innovation. “I hope to take the opportunity to develop the Hyperaudio Pad and other hyperaudio techniques and figure out how a newsroom can make use of these technologies, Boas told me, adding: “Specifically with the pad I want to tie into Al Jazeera’s subtitled content that they are building up using Universal Subtitles and build a resource around that for citizen journalists.”
Opening up the black box
The early demos build by Boas and Moltke are visually very compelling, and the idea to give users an easy way to curate audio and audiovisual media online is interesting as well. But the bigger vision for Boas and supporters like Moskowitz and the Mozilla Foundation is to create technologies that foster open media that is accessible to everyone both for consumption as well as creation, just like the web opened up text publishing to everyone by allowing people to easily quote and link.
Moskowitz told me that he views much of what happens now in traditional media organizations as a bit of a black box. Journalists work with very specialized tools on their stories and then spit out the finished product. The hypermedia approach could not just help citizens to curate the resulting stories, but also provide an avenue for media organizations to cooperate with citizen journalists and their audience as a whole. “It’s kind of opening up the black box,” Moskowitz said.