Thursday, February 01, 2007

Audio experiment

I have recently decided to explore the option to use audio to capture, and distribute online, knowledge sharing which takes place during face to face (f2f) events. As there may be other non multi media specialists out there, who would like to enter the world of "audio capturing", I am "capturing" my own "learning by doing" process here in case it can help others (smart enough to do more research than I did) to get a jump start.


  • Some target groups are less inclined than others to use written text to share knowledge. Audio can be an alternative medium to share knowledge via the internet.
  • Also audio requires less bandwidth than video, thereby reaching those with only low bandwidth access.
  • Recording a f2f event also creates the opportunity for those unable to attend the event, to benefit by being able to listen to the discussions which took place.
  • Audio is of course not collaborative in the sense that immediate feedback and response or interaction is possible, but it can feed online collaboration with a different format of input besides written text.
  • And audio can be transcribed to text at a later date, using services provided online, but this is the next phase in my experimentation.

The beginnings, in hindsight

As the saying goes, "hindsight is 20-20" and I can clearly see now that some further preparation would have been beneficial. My advice to anyone undertaking a similar endeavour, is primarily to try it out initially in a context with no pressure to succeed. Test your hardware and software beforehand. In my defense, it was a spur of the moment decision to start my audio endeavour at the ecollaboration f2f event, so I made do with the tool I had, which was my mobile phone.

Mobile Phone

I used the speech recording functionality on my mobile phone. Only a couple minutes into the discussion did I notice that the recorder automatically ended after 5 or so minutes, so I had to keep pressing record, thereby not being able to record a full conversation without interruptions.

In the evening, once having transported my recordings via bluetooth to my laptop (another learning curve surmounted), I saw that the format of the file (mp4) was not recognized by the various multi media software options I had on my computer. Further investigation via Google taught me that I need to encode (i.e. convert) the file to a mainstream format. To do this I needed to download and install new software. The "mobile phone - audio file" endeavour has ended there for now.

Capturing audio via video

During a second (non-related) event I decided to use my digital camera, using the video option to record voices. The benefit of this approach was that I was easily able to edit the files afterwards using the visuals as memory triggers regarding the beginning and ending of sessions. So I could edit the files and provide them in sections which were intuitive for the rest of the group.

But here again, it was a learning by doing process to find out how to extract only audio from a video file. I first used the free tool, windows media encoder. The options I choose to encode the file, took almost as much time to complete the process, as the audio file was itself. So either I need to examine windows media encoder more closely, or it is not a quick tool to encode video to audio. Finally I found the option to extract only audio from the video file, using Adobe Premiere's own encoder. This went very quickly. I now have doubts however, if I have compressed the file as much as possible because I now have audio files of 50 minutes which are 23 MB large... not really a feasible option for low bandwidth usage.

Future, mp3 player

The next attempt I plan will be using my mp3 player which also has a sound recording option. Taking into consideration that the mp3 player is focussed on audio, I expect the resulting files to be smaller and therefore more practical for a target group of low bandwidth users. I also expect the files to be in a mainstream format, no or minimal encoding necessary. But this last experiment I will undertake with a purely experimental approach, not expecting to have usable files as a result.

I will keep you posted!

Potlach of online collaboration tools

Below are tools used and/or discussed during the the latest face to face (f2f) ecollaboration meeting. I've tried to describe them from the context of my work at IICD.

All in all I can say the f2f meeting of the otherwise virtual ecollaboration group, was very usefull to gain exposure to a variety of online collaboration tools and share experiences with other users facing similar challenges.

It reminded me of the importance of the preparatory process and research necessary to match an online tool with each groups specific goals and context. In order to do so, and be in a position to advise regarding the usage of tools, it is important to keep your eyes open and stay up to date on the scope of different tools and platforms out there which can be used. And what is more beneficial than to do this with a group of people undertaking similar challenges? So a big thank you to the organizers of the f2f event and to the initiators of the ecollaboration Dgroup!

On-the-fly electronic knowledge sharing


Even before the meeting started, a fellow participant geared me towards "Gably" (thank you Dorine). We were each positioned behind a laptop with wifi access, browser open and she suggested we open a shared "gably", which allows you to create a shared chat interface, on the fly, based on simply filling in a similar domain name. Take any domain name and insert before it and voila, you can chat with anyone else who follows the same steps. See if anyone else if loking the the ecollaboration gably right now by going here:

The effect in our case was similar to "passing notes in class" as we were sitting next to each other, but were using the chat interface to comment on, and share extra information, with regards to the presentations taking place.

In the context of my work at IICD, the downside of the tool is that it does not have an archive function. The upside for my work and that of my colleagues is that no application had to be downloaded and installed to be able to chat with each other. For my colleagues who sometimes communicate electronically with partners who have to make use of internet cafes, it is a very accessible way to chat with each other. It is also a handy tool when giving feedback on a website as you both inherently have the same webpage and chat window open.

Tailor made Search Engine, managed by online community / Google Coop

The Focuss project was the first presentation. See blog post by Joitske. My fellow-laptop-user and I were familiar with the focuss project and with the Google Coop tool. If you haven't taken a look at Google coop yet, it is really worthwhile to do so. You can "steer" google to search in a specific selection of websites determined by you or a community of users. And by pasting a small snippet of code into your website, voila, you have a Google powered search, searching through your own specific selection of websites, embedded in your own website as an extra service to your visitors! What makes it even more interesting is that you can manage this tailor made search engine with an online community.

For thematic oriented groups, such as we have at IICD, this tool could be very powerfull if managed by a thematic group. Each member could contribute to building a shared thematic Google search and it can be implemented on more than one website, thereby truly sharing the ownership of the tool.

The search for relevant content

The issue of building a tailormade search engine is of course to find, or facilitate the finding of, relevant content for our work. So quite naturally the tools Google Scholar and Google Books were suggested as alternatives in the mission for finding relevant content.

Some specific tools were examined in smaller groups...

Electronic Conferencing


This is a videoconferencing software package. It is not free, and its low-bandwidth-adaptibility has not been tested. However the demonstration did show that it is a tool which can be considered by non-profits as being good value for money, and user friendly.

Skype & Unyte

A free "alternative" mentioned was Skype combined with UNYTE which facilitates file sharing and remote desktop control. I have the word "alternative" in brackets because this combination does not provide all the functionalities Interwise does (such as hand raising and microphone control), but it strives to reach the same goal: remote electronic synchronous communication and desktop sharing, amongst a group of people. Both Skype and Unyte offer extra functionalities with paid subscriptions.

Groupware / eLearning

I wasn't active in the moodle group, but as my computer was located next to the group, I couldn't help but eavesdrop a bit. In the discussions taking place within that group I was reminded of the pitfall which is often made with electronic tools, and that is trying to facilitate an online collaborative activity with a tool which was not developed for that purpose.

Moodle is an elearning platform, designed with extensive functionalities to facilitate classroom-type learning. Of course some forms of group activities, not elearning specific, can be hosted in a moodle platform, but why would you if there are other platforms out there developed specifically for that purpose? Each online endavour should consider carefully the needs of the target group, and all the platforms available to facilitate those needs specifically.


Dgroups for example has the charm of being an extremely simple platform. In my experience this means that you can effectively apply it for a miriad of purposes, as our use of the platform at IICD also proves. Because of its simplicity, it does not have overly dominant characteristics to influence the manner in which its members collaborate. It has been known to be put to use for a broad scope of online collaboration activities such as communities of practice, project based work, newsletters, mailinglists, distributed knowledge sharing networks, etc.

Let me contradict myself immediately by stating that one dominant characteristic of dgroups is that it was specifically developed for low bandwidth users, often first time users of online tools. Therefore, logically, the downside of dgroups becomes apparent when you have a group of web-savy people with highbandwidth access. These users are sometimes better facilitated in a platform with more extensive functionalities such as chat, file versioning, etc. However the functionalities in Dgroups (calendar, resources section, web interface and email) go a long way to facilitate all kinds of online collaboration efforts.

Other groupware platforms which really deserve attention are:
Basic Support for Cooperative Work BSCW and PhProjekt (open source). Maybe we can consider these in the next meeting and the differences between elearning platforms and groupware platforms?