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The Urban Explorers 2009 video interface

The Urban Explorers video interface (live report) from Wilbert Baan on Vimeo.

For the music and art festival Urban Explorers festival I made a special video interface. During the festival reporters uploaded video with their mobile phones. The video was categorized on artists, venues and makers based on the video title. The project used the Blip API.

Give it a try.

Video interface for the Urban Explorers festival 2009

The report was done by reporters. I was supposed to be a reporter as well, but missed the festival because of the birth of Benjamin.

The process of building the interface can be found here.

Urban Explorers 2008, reviewing the experiment

While waiting for Murcof at the airport we asked Jimmy Edgar if he would like to improvise something on an old Casio keyboard. Recorded on the roof (full recording) of Schiphol (Amsterdam airport / AMS)

The festival was a great success. Exhausting, but really great. During the festival we made around 400 posts on the special microblog.

What worked
Mobile services worked very well. Sending a photo through Mobypicture and directly sending an audio file through Gabcast give a really strong storytelling experience. Twitter messages are like SMS. Great to keep context in the timeline without actually having ‘to produce’ something.

Avatars on Eclectro Live

I think our idea to connect everything you post to an avatar (like Twitter), and make the coverage as personal as possible really helped keeping it clear for our viewers. At least for how much this is possible given the enormous amount of information produced. Organizing it on time gives a very good overview of what was important or special during the festival.

Microblogs are really strong live applications. Afterwards they are less exciting to watch. You can use it as a collection of material where you can search items for articles elsewhere.

The WordPress XMLRPC is wonderful. From the 400 posts we have published almost none of those was made on the website itself. The posts were created using other websites and automatically posted to Making publishing really easy.

What didn’t work
Video is difficult. Or at least uploading video is difficult. if you record a video it is still difficult to upload. When we recorded a video in high quality using a mobile phone (N95) the files get easily close to 10 Megabytes. If you want to upload/e-mail these files using UMTS you’re not only giving your battery a hard time, you’re also making it impossible to upload anything else during this process. Wifi often wasn’t available and when it was it was too unstable to upload or e-mail video.

I think services like Qiktv or Seesmic Mobile are interesting because the web-server is recording instead of your camera. Unfortunately those services can’t directly post a recording to a blog, yet.

We used a photo camera for recording video as well. This worked very well, the quality is good and Flickr is a great service for distributing files shorter than 90 seconds. The files recorded with the 8 Megapixel Sony Camera are around a 100 Megabytes. Uploading a 100 Megabytes in size. This requires you (or your laptop) to spend at least a few hours on a restaurant Wifi. Missing out on the festival. In the end we uploaded most files at night or in the morning.

We recorded the interviews on DV camera. This worked perfect, since there is no urge in getting the longer interviews directly on the web.

Two blogs
My idea was to maintain two blogs. The Eclectro blog and the Eclectro Live blog. /Live would be about us, a personal story about how we experienced the festival. The main blog would present interviews and reviews. This was just too much. We simply couldn’t make all this in a weekend and have a good time.

Ideas for live blogging / micro blogging
Op de parkeerplaats
You need a central spot with a computer and good internet connection. A central spot on the festival where you can empty a camera and upload a batch of files.

Think about what you want to do and if this is possible. Think about how you keep it clear to your audience what they are looking at. Most people don’t know what is happening and they have to understand what it is and why you are publishing. We explained it with a short introduction movie.

A few people asked me to add more structure to the website and make it easier to scan what happened over time. I think we need even more timeline based structure in a next version.

If you are telling a story make sure to tell everything. Tell what you expect and afterwards tell if your expectations were right or wrong. Make returning jokes / running gags. Keep it personal and keep your audience informed.

Jimmy Edgar performing on stage later that day

Hauschka is playing at the Urban Explorers festival 2008, Dordrecht, Netherlands from Wilbert Baan on Vimeo.
Hauschka adds little things like bells, plastic and metal to the piano using tape. A piano mash-up :)

Experimenting with live festival coverage at the Urban Explorers festival

Screenshot Eclectro Live

This weekend the Urban Explorers festival is organized in the city of Dordrecht, Netherlands. It’s a three day city-festival about art and electronic music. The main acts for this year are by Plaid and Murcof. It’s a small festival with a very good atmosphere and lovely people.

Eclectro is a festival partner and we (a few Eclectro bloggers) will be covering the event on the Eclectro blog by writing reviews, doing interviews, making photos and videos as the festival happens. And we have some other exiting plans.

This is great, but not something we haven’t done before. We report while we are there. This time we want to take it a step further and make the coverage more personal. Urban Explorers is a small, diverse and very distributed festival. This makes it difficult to ask or explain visitors to contribute to the live coverage by using a mobile phone. This year we will try to make visible how we experience the festival.

Making it personal
For me Twitter was the first service that made the web more interesting as a live medium. Blogs are good for a recap, but microblogs can really give you a better live experience and it’s a more social and more personal experience. There often isn’t much value in the individual messages it’s the collection that builds a story and a character.

So this is what we want to do for the festival as well. We will also be reporting about where we are, packing my bag, how we sleep, what we are doing, what we are eating and who we are talking to. Short talks, photos and video interviews. All the small pieces of information aggregated in one spot.

The problem with building aggregators is that it often ends up in something that is difficult to follow for outsiders or people unfamiliar with the technology. We (Inge, Renier and myself) try to make it personal. And this weekend I’ve been making a website that just does that. I used WordPress Prologue, a theme that is based on Twitter and took out even more options like tags and feeds to make it look clean and simple.

The Eclectro Urban Explorers 2008 festival microblog:

The secret is in the back-end
The power of WordPress is that is has a xmlrpc back-end. This is a secure gate that makes it possible for other websites like YouTube or Flickr to talk directly to WordPress, like you wrote the message on the blog. Ad some extra open source plug-ins to WordPress and you have an incredible powerful system that is an aggregated channel centralizing information from distributed web-services.

Post from Flickr to a WordPress blog

Or from YouTube to a WordPress blog

Seesmic in WordPress
Or record a Seesmic video in your WordPress blog

Last weekend I first played with Seesmic and I really like what it does. The videoplayer could use some enhancement, but the WordPress plug-in is a bless. You enter the WordPress admin section, click on the Seesmic logo in a new post and can directly start recording a video using your webcam. When done, all you have to do is hit publish in WordPress and you have just written a new blog post including a video.

Keep it simple
We can easily post to the website using mobile phones, laptops, webcams and websites like Flickr, YouTube, Mobypicture, Twitter, and Seesmic. Everything is automatically collected on the microblog and connected to our user accounts, connecting our names and avatars to the messages published.

The orange box
Authors see an orange box on the front page, this makes it easy to directly write a message when visiting the website.

Will it work?
All these enhancements make it easy to read for visitors and easy to maintain for us while we are busy at the festival. We have a few more days to finish it, but I think we made a great tool. This weekend we will see if it works.

I’m very exited to play with this.

You can join the festival coverage as well. Use UE08 in your Twitter updates and they will show up in the stream, or post an image to Flickr with the tag UE08 and it will automatically show up in the header of the website.

Your ideas and thoughts are very welcome. How can we make it more personal or more clear? What would you like to see or what is difficult to understand? And do you know other great (web)services that could be integrated?

Urban Explorers festival 2007, The Black Dog live @ Bibelot

One of the first tickets published on was for the Urban Explorers festival. The video shows the Black Dog performing live at the festival last friday. The sound was really good (really good) although you wouldn’t say when listening to the video recorded with my phone.

I wish phone-manufacturers would focus on the microphone instead of the megapixels for a while.

New tickets
And great news, we have new free tickets to give away for some great upcoming events.

The current state of Glass, 2nd Google Glass meetup in Amsterdam

This friday I attended the 2nd Dutch Google Glass meetup. At the event Glass wearers shared insights and products they are developing.

I presented about a service for remote healthcare we are developing and what we have learned. Layar did an augmented reality demo, Raimo talked about the context of Glass services and Ronald van der Lingen brought 3D-printed Glass cases.

I really like these early meetups of new technology. Everyone is open to new ideas and sharing learnings.

The current state of Glass
The general consensus amongst Glass users at the event seemed to be that although Glass is magic in a way it still lacks the urgency to wear it. The ‘contextual’ services are disappointing.

Using Gartners Hype Cyle, I would say most beta users are in the “Through of Disillusionment“.

Glass users are looking how to make Glass work for business purposes. It’s easier to develop a viable product in this area.

Glass. Weird, exciting, promising, ridiculous. An anomaly for sure.

2nd Google Glass Meetup in Amsterdam
2nd Google Glass Meetup in Amsterdam

Video interfaces

I love video. Over the past years I’ve designed and build all kinds of different video interfaces exploring this domain. I build the first embeddable videoplayer of a news organization in the Netherlands. This was for the Volkskrant.

The video below is a screen recording from the Urban Explorers video screen. Urban Explorers is a city festival. I made an interface that gathered all the video’s posted by reporters on a an external videoservice and collected them and ordered the through the API. Sorted based on tags used in the titles, users and festival locations.

Medialandschap was my graduation project where I took video’s recored with mobile phones and ordered them based on time and place.