Convergence @youtube meets @twitter: In timeline commenting of YouTube videos using Twitter [uTitle]

Previously when looking at twitter subtitling of videos the focus has been on replaying the backchannel discussion with the archive video from live events. The resulting ‘Twitter Subtitle Generator’ has now been used to generate and replay the twitter stream for programmes on the BBC iPlayer (some iPlayer examples), the JISC 2010 Conference (See Searching the backchannel with Twitter subtitles) and more recently as a way to enhance lecture capture. The founding premise behind all these examples and the question originally posed by Tony Hirst was how to allow a user to experience and replay the synchronous channels of what was said from the stage, and what was said about what was said from the audience (physical and virtual). Having looked at synchronous communication I was interested to extend the question and look at asynchronous communication (i.e. what was said about what was said after it was said).
My first step has been to experiment with the use of Twitter for timeline commenting on YouTube videos. The idea of timeline commenting of media isn’t entirely new and has been a feature of audio services like SoundCloud for a while. Likewise I’m sure the idea of integrating with the Twitter service as a method of capturing comments has also been used (but for the life of me I can’t find an example- another project perhaps).
The result is a prototype tool I’m calling uTitle. How it works is best explained in the video below:

As can be seen in the video uTitle allows a user to make comments at any point in the video timeline. These comments are also captured and can be replayed and added to at a later point. The link below lets you try out uTile for yourself (the paint is still wet so if you come across any problems or have any feedback this is greatly appreciated – use comments below).

Click here to try uTitle (or here for an existing example)

Some notable points

A couple of features of uTitle worth highlighting. Firstly, as demonstrated by the example link above it is possible to directly link to a timeline commented video making sharing resources easier. Another important point is that because twitter comments for YouTube videos are aggregated by using the video id this makes it possible to use this data with other services (at one point I was considering short-coding the ids to make less an impact on the Twitter 140 character limit, but I wanted to make generated tweets has human readable as possible.

How it was done

For those of you interested here are a couple of the key development milestones:
Step 1 Indentify way to integrate with Twitter
I already knew Twitter had an API to allow developers to integrate with the Twitter service so it was a case of finding a head start on which I could build upon. As I do most of my coding in PHP I went straight to this section of the Twitter Libraries. Having tried a couple out I went for TwitterOAuth by Abraham Williams (mainly because it used OAuth and when I looked at the code I could understand what it was doing).
Step 2 Submit a form without page refresh
Something I’ve known is possible for a while but never needed. I knew I wanted to allow users to make comments via uTitle without refreshing the page and loosing their place in the video. This post on Ask About PHP was perfect for my needs.
Step 3 Jot down the pseudo code
This is what I wanted uTitle to do:

  • Get YouTube video id
  • If video id doesn’t exist as a notebook on Twapper Keeper make one
  • Else get results from Twapper Keeper for video id
  • Get results from Twitter Search
  • Merge data and remove duplicates
  • Generate XML subtitle file from results
  • Display interface page
    • On comment submit to twitter

Step 4 Put it all together
Some late nights pushing bytes across the screen …
These examples demonstrate how it is relatively straight forward to extract part of the Twitter timeline

Future development areas

Some quick notes on areas for further research/development:
Comment curation/admin – currently anything on the public timeline with a YouTube video is pulled in. A similar problem exists for the Twitter Subtitle Generator and it is something Tony and I have identified as a feature … but just haven’t had a chance to implement a solution. Part of the reason for developing the prototype is to start finding use cases (ie find out where the ship is leaking)
Merging synchronous with asynchronous – basically how can Twitter Subtitle Generator and uTitle be merged so comments can be collect post event (the issue here is there are two ways the subtitle timestamps would have to be generated and distinguishing what was said from what was said about what was said).
Other video sources – I’m primarily interested in how uTitle might work with BBC iPlayer (particularly as the latest developments are exploring social networks – as highlight by Tony).
Spamming your followers with comments – Interested to see if users are willing to use there main twitter account for generating comments.
Hmm I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew …


Join the conversation

comment 12 comments
  • Sharon Whitfield

    Once again, this is an awesome tool. I will promote this across the pond.
    I think faculty will utilize this as a way of jumping to the most critical parts of a Youtube video during a lecture. The only problem I foresee is how do you navigate through the different bookmarks or Tweets when you are in full screen mode. Is this possible? I don’t currently see a way.

    • Martin Hawksey

      Hi Sharon – glad you like, this one has been a bit of a slow burner 🙂
      Currently it is not possible to have navigation in full screen. An interesting avenue might be to customizing the JW Player … One for later in the summer perhaps 😉

  • Dries Bultynck

    Stumbled upon the uTitle through an e-mail. It looks very promising. Like Sharon says, would come in very handy to jump to certain parts of the video. Sort of anchors by friends who tell you which part is the best of the video. Would like to see this as a standard on youtube and even a plugin for my WP blog. Would be very usefull for my users.
    Remember, i’m in the SEO business and video is a big thing now and in the future. Would love to use this one for user experience. Video is so static right now, we need such services like the uTitle. Any progress on this so far?

    • Martin Hawksey

      Thanks Dries! Next easy win should be providing an embed option (although this would be for viewing existing comments, the interface for making them would have to be on the utitle). The direct jump should be possible but need to dig out the code 😉

  • Dries Bultynck

    Excellent! Will give it a go with my next video. Maybe you could spice things up a little more with some speed. I don’t know if it’s do-able but check out Frank his great plugin for fast loading Youtube video’s. Maybe you could integrate that in your plugin as well. Would be a win for sure!

  • Dries Bultynck

    Hi Martin, just tested the plugin but got some error.
    In mode 1 everything looks fine but you can’t add any comments.
    In mode 2 i get some error about the headers. i think it’s got something to do when you’re already logged in into twitter. The headers are already sent. Not sure how you could fix this. Can you send me a e-mail so i can send you some screenshots?

    • Martin Hawksey

      Hi Dries – thanks for the feedback. There was a bug when using mode 2 if there were no comments with related to the video. I’ve updated the code to prevent this. Not sure why mode 1 isn’t giving you the add comments link.
      Thanks also for the tip about the YouTube plugin (unfortunately because of the way subtitles are played through the JW player this trick won’t be possible).
      Part of the speed issue is because the server uTitle is hosted on isn’t optimised for the task. If anyone has a server they would like to donate I would be interested in hearing from you (the current license of JW player would have to mean this is non commercial)

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