Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Online Publishing Platform Allows Full Syndication And Distribution Of Multimedia Content: Splashcast

Every week it seems to become a little bit easier to get involved in multimedia content delivery and syndication - whether through sharing videos using Youtube, photos through Flickr, or your thoughts using popular blogging platforms. The ability to upload, embed and easily share media content is now something we take for granted, but until now there hasn't been an easy way to gather all of this content together into a personalized online channel. That is all about to change starting today.

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YouTube was revolutionary in that it made it easy for all kinds of people to quickly upload their home-made video content, and let other people embed the resulting videos straight into their blogs and websites, or watch it directly from YouTube. Services like Slideroll made it easy to add soundtracks to your photo collections, and SPresent took the pain out of putting together great looking, animated presentations online. They are all great in their way, but they stand alone, and the content made using these tools functions in discrete, one-off units. One video (or playlist), one slide show, one presentation.

For those working in the field of video, Brightcove offers a great step forward in that it allows you to create your own Internet TV channel. This means that you can add video content as you go along, and the video player embedded in other peoples' websites will update every time you add new content to your line up.

In this sense, content becomes dynamic, something that is forever changing and updating rather than displaying the same one-off information over and over again.

But what if the same idea were applied to a service that allowed you to create your own truly multimedia online channels featuring audio, images, video and text? And if this service allowed you not only to create multimedia content easily from your browser, but also pull it into your channel from all over the web, placing your favourite YouTube videos side by side with your own webcam introductions, photos, text and mp3s?

What you'd have is the world's first multimedia content delivery and syndication tool.

Today, that tool was launched. In this full review of the service, I explain exactly how easy it is to put together your own content-rich, personalized Internet media channel. The details follow:



Introducing Splashcast

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Splashcast - which officially launched in public beta at the DEMO conference today - is a media syndication service and more. The service offers an easy way for users to create and grab all kinds of media from around the web, and bring them together in an RSS-updated embeddable player.

If you think of the feel and ease of use of the ubiquitous YouTube player, you will be in the right ballpark. The major difference is that Splashcast takes things a thousand miles further down the line, bringing all kinds of content under your control, whether photos, mp3 audio, text or Internet video. Effectively, Splashcast makes you both a presenter and curator of online media content, which you can gather into new contexts, for new audiences.

In the following video introduction (1' 49"), Splashcast's Director of Content (and veteran tech blogger) Marshall Kirkpatrick talks you through the basics of what Splashcast is, and what it aims to do:



The ultimate web widget

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What makes Splashcast so refreshing is the way that it combines the video-embedding trend popularized by YouTube with the flexibility, content syndication and ease of use of web widgets.

A major breakthrough in the evolution of Web 2.0 has been the ability to easily share and recontextualize online media and data to suit the needs of different audiences at different times. By plugging different media players and micro-applications directly into websites and blogs, it has become a cinch to add rich content that adds value and interest to site visitors.

But having a page full of separate videos, maps, RSS aggregators and other plug-in tools can be wearing on the most capable broadband connection, and there is something counterintuitive about placing videos and widgets in a vertical line down the body of a blog post or MySpace page.

With the Splashcast player, you ultimately hand over more control to your site visitor, who instead of having to wait for six videos and a couple of widgets to load, can go straight to a single player and choose from a range of mixed-media content. Maybe they want to go through your photo-collection, or listen to a podcast you have put together, but then again, maybe all they are interested in is your selection of hand-picked YouTube videos. With Splashcast embedded into your website, it's as simple as choosing from an intuitive channel guide that will be familiar to anyone that has ever used cable TV.

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What we have here is a simple way to have your content splashed out across the farthest reaches of the web, while keeping it totally under your control. Make one change from your console, and regardless of how many thousands of people have tapped into your online media channel, that content is going to be instantly updated in every single player. That's quite an achievement on the part of the Splashcast team.



Creating, syndicating and displaying content

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Putting content together has been made very easy indeed, and one of the things that really sets Splashcast apart is the range of media that you can draw on in creating your online channel. To break this down, you are given the option to use the following types of content:

  • Audio files - which can be brought in from a URL, uploaded from your browser, or searched for from within Splashcast.
  • Photos - which can be accessed in all of the same ways as audio files, with the addition of the ability to grab pictures directly from Flickr.
  • Video - which can be uploaded, searched for, recorded directly from your webcam, or else grabbed from YouTube.
  • Text - which is inputted directly into a familiar, easy to use WYSIWYG online text-editor.

Any number of these files can uploaded to your 'show', and sequenced as you see fit. You are also given the option of choosing whether there will be a fade in / fade out between discrete items, and if you would like items to auto-advance after a certain time, or wait for the user to click before moving to the next item in line.

Sequencing your mixed media components is as simple as dragging and dropping them into the position you want them within your playlist. You might begin with a still photo, with accompanying background music (this is another option - the ability to choose a background music track that will play underneath your media elements), before moving onto a video, and finishing with a transcript or summary of the video.

A fifth option allows you to bring whole RSS feeds in either from Flickr or YouTube. These can be put together using a range of parameters, including keyword and username searches that will bring back the content you are looking to collect. So if you have a collection of videos all gathered under a YouTube username, this provides a great shortcut for you to import the lot into a compilation 'show'.

The ability to choose the size of the player will make this a great tool for the display of portfolios, web-comics and other visual media that will be able to make the most of the combination of still and motion elements. The biggest drawback with a lot of the current video sharing services is the inability to determine the size of the player window.

Splashcast have taken a big step forward here, and offer player sizes that range from the standard 320 x 240 online video resolution right up to a much more accommodating 800 x 600. If it wasn't enough that you can select from a vast range of preset sizes, it is also possible to create a player according to your own custom parameters. Given that different websites, and even types of content, call for differing display sizes, this seems like an essential aspect of online media publishing, and yet few others have picked up on it. Hopefully, those that emulate or draw on Spashcast's well thought out design in the future will take this into account.

In short, then, Splashcast makes it easy to quickly put together mixed-media, multi-file content from around the web, and bring it to a single destination.



The Russian doll effect - granular differentiation of content

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Different users of the service will have different needs for it, and Splashcast offers a good degree of flexibility in terms of how it is used. Effectively, what you have is a granular means to either aggregate or differentiate your content. Content is ordered on four basic levels, one nested inside the other like a Russian doll:

  1. Discrete media files - your starting point for any use of Splashcast is the raw material you will either source from elsewhere, or record directly into the console. Initially what you have is a bunch of photos, video, audio and text with not much of a relationship.
  2. Shows - these items are now arranged using a simple drag and drop interface, so that you create a sequence for the media clips to run in. This is where aggregation comes into play, as you gather content from around the web and bring it together in a new context of your making, whether that be skateboarding mishaps or political commentary. Finally, you have a show. For some people, this will be as far as they need to go in differentiating and forging an identity for their content.
  3. Channels - for those looking to diversify and specify their content even more precisely, you can next arrange your shows into their own channels. You might have a gadget review show, game review show and Web 2.0 application review show all gathered together under the banner of a tech review channel, for instance. This gives you a further opportunity to create choice within a specific niche, as your content grows.
  4. Players - channels are then gathered into players, which you can select the size of. Should you finally end up creating more content than even your channels can contain, you can make selections of your channels within different players. Furthermore, by being able to create different players you are not only given the opportunity to create different contexts for your aggregated work, but also to allow for different player sizes, depending upon the needs of your audience.

What I want to point out here is that Splashcast is very scalable, and will readily adapt to the needs of both the social networking crowd, and those looking to put together professionally produced or aggregated mixed-media content.

If this all makes it sound needlessly complicated, and all you are really looking for is the ability to throw together some YouTube clips and put them on your MySpace page, Splashcast will not give you any problems in doing so. In fact, the whole process feels very intuitive.

Nevertheless, should you wish to use Splashcast to create an independent network of syndicated content, this is also well within the service's reach. In short, then, Splashcast is incredibly scalable and has been built to cater to a range of users.



The interface

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The Splashcast console's interface has been well thought through, and will take you step by step through the process of adding, switching and tracking the success of your content. The very clear graphical dimension of the interface features colourful, easily identifiable icons that leave little room for confusion. If I want to add video content, I click on the movie camera, and make my selection from the well illustrated list of video options. I feel confident that I could find my way around the console if it was written entirely in a different language, and that is a good thing in terms of overall usability.

In addition to the use of these clear icons, text-box hints appear for almost anything on screen that my cursor rolls-over, so that I am constantly being guided through the process of putting together my custom media channel. There is never a point in the process that - even as a complete newcomer to the service - I feel out of my depth, or confused as to what I should be doing next. There are a good few media sharing services that could learn a thing or two here.

Putting together a selection of media files to make a 'show' is drag-and-drop easy, and importing these media components - from your own computer, or from an online source - is made utterly painless from start to finish.

From the end-user perspective, the Splashcast player itself is well designed. All menu options fade away if I move my cursor outside of the player's window, which allows for full, uninterrupted images and video. With the cursor inside the window, I gain access to the usual video controls, the ability to quickly skip back and forth from one media file to the next (rather like skipping scenes on a DVD player), along with menu controls that allow me to subscribe to the channel, leave comments along with a number of other options.



What I'd like to see next

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It's hard to find room for critique of what is already a very polished and well put-together service, despite having only just entered the public beta phase. The fact that the service is in the early stages of its beta release means that there are still some questions waiting to be answered.

Chief among them for independent media publishers will be the issue of monetization. As YouTube have just announced their intended use of advertising, and the resultant revenue-sharing they have planned, it seems that monetization is no longer something that can be ignored by Web 2.0 start-up companies. At the time of writing, the Splashcast team have not arrived at a monetization model, although they have expressed an interest in avoiding pre- and post-roll advertising - the insertion of videos or advertising images before or after a clip.

At this stage that certainly isn't a problem, and it makes good sense for the service to build an active community and develop their service before deciding on such an important issue. However, in a competitive marketplace consumers (and especially those looking to produce professional quality content) are increasingly coming to expect compensation for their work.

Given that Splashcast has such rich potential for the creation of entire mixed-media networks, channels and shows, this would definitely seem like an important step for them to consider before too long.



In conclusion

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Splashcast's chief appeal is in its ability to bring together a range of content, regardless of medium, and recontextualize it for specific audiences. By putting at your finger tips an easy-to-use toolkit for the creation and aggregation of text, audio, photo and video based content Splashcast have succeeded in creating a unique venture with a whole lot of appeal.

Added to this groundbreaking creation of the world's first multimedia content delivery and syndication player, the inclusion of RSS at the heart of the service is the cherry on the cake. What this effectively means is that as a content producer, you can change, update and overhaul your content from a single online destination, and have the resulting content instantly relayed to your global online audience. Every show, every change in your line-up, every addition to your network will be instantly beamed to the Splashcast players embedded in the websites of your audience. Now that it's here, it all seems so obvious - but then, the best inventions always do.

Reading blogs site visitors have come to expect the ability to receive instantaneous updates every time new content is published.

They have also come to expect the inclusion of rich media components, whether in the form of mp3 players, embedded video, or any number of web widgets. The age of text and scant images are coming to a close.

What makes Splashcast so groundbreaking is that it brings these expectations to the world of multimedia. Now I come to think of it, why shouldn't my media players update as often as my news feeds? Why shouldn't I be able to bring my photo collection into dialogue with a video I just shot, and that video into contrast with last night's TV news? Splashcast have taken the mashup and made it as accessible as Internet video. I can't wait to see what they're going to come up with next.



Additional resources

If this review has made you hungry for more information about Splashcast, you might want to take a look at the following websites:

 
 
 
Readers' Comments    
2007-01-30 04:51:20

Marshall Kirkpatrick

Wow - thanks for taking such an in depth look at SplashCast - we really appreciate it. Really glad you appreciate it in the way you do.



 
posted by Michael Pick on Tuesday, January 30 2007, updated on Tuesday, January 30 2007


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