Iterative Media: Treating Collaborative Media Like Open Source Code

kentbye's picture
| | |

The second day of the Beyond Broadcast Conference split into smaller working groups, and I attended the "Iterative Media: Treating Media like Open Source Code" session with about 30 other people.

The idea was to draw parallels between open source software development and the trend towards interactive and participatory media.

The Echo Chamber Project has been very much influenced by the open source production model, especially after watching the Revolution OS documentary about the free and open source movements -- as well as reading Eric S. Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Here is some of the discussion that came out of session as to how it relates to The Echo Chamber Project:


What is the best way to describe "Iterative Media" or "Open Source Media?" It helps to define it by contrasting it to traditional media.

Traditional media production has a distinct final product that is created, consumed and understood by the audience. (h/t Thomas Michael Winningham.)

Iterative media is always being updated, improved and remixed much like the "constant beta" nature of modern software and websites.

Let's take a look at the traditional production cycle that Kenyatta Cheese mapped out on the chalkboard during the session that Thomas Kriese documented

Traditional Production Cycle

The Traditional Production Cycle:

* Starts with an idea.
* More plans are made and resources gathered during pre-production
* Audio and visual source material are collected during production
* All of the gathered material is filtered, edited and massaged into a final film during post-production
* This static product is then distributed and consumed through various distribution channels.

Iterative and Open Source media introduces feedback loops and collaboration at various stages of the production cycle:

Iterative Media

Some examples of this are:

* Collaborative planning like A Swarm of Angels
* Collaborative Production like Chain Camera, Beastie Boys: Awesome I F***in' Shot That! and The War Tapes
* Collaborative Editing like The Echo Chamber Project
* Collaborative Distribution like Robert Greenwald's Uncovered, Outfoxed & WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price
* And a new phase of remixing content into new and different products like MOD Films.

Archival documentaries have been remixing footage for quite a long time, but the difference now is that the proliferation of Creative Commons licensed material has made it so much easier and faster to create iterative media derivatives.

I see that one of the biggest bottlenecks for achieving large-scale participation is within the post-production phase. It relatively easy to gather a lot of facts and other source material compared to the challenges of filtering, making sense and condensing all of the material into a consumable form that has a cohesive story.

The Echo Chamber Project is focusing on developing the methodologies and open source technology for making the post-production process more collaborative.

Kevin Marks describes the editing process as distinct stages of shot-logging, sequencing and polishing. I'd add another stage of filtering and clustering of the logged segments before they're placed into sequences. So the four steps would be:

* Shot-logging: Longer audio/visual segments are broken into smaller discrete chunks of meaning with specific IN and OUT times.
* Filtering & Clustering: The good segments are separated from the bad ones, and segments are then categorized into thematic clusters
* Sequencing: Sound bite and visual chunks are placed within an editing timeline and juxtaposed together.
* Polishing: Fine-tuning of IN/OUT times as well as adding transitions, color correction, graphics, etc.

For the Echo Chamber Project:

* I will be setting the preliminary shot-logging by segmenting the sound bites within Final Cut Pro.
* Users will be helping filter the signal from the noise, and help categorize the sound bites into different thematic clusters.
* Users will then be sequencing the sound bites into conceptual sequences (and have the ability to alter the default IN/OUT times).
* I will be exporting these edited sequences back into Final Cut Pro to do further polishing and tweaking.

So I am focusing on harnessing social networking effects within the filtering, clustering and sequencing phases for the Echo Chamber Project.

I am starting with default IN/OUT times for the sound bite segments for users to start building sound bite sequences, but users will be able to alter the IN/OUT times within the sequencing stage. Providing simple building blocks as a starting point will help lower the barrier to entry, as well as the user's ability to copy and build off of the filtering, clustering and sequencing of other users.

Here is the conceptual post-production workflow:
Post-Production Workflow

* Start with the default sound bites
* Cluster sound bites into thematic groups
* Place sound bites within short vignettes
* Combine sequences together to create longer and longer segments forming the arch of the final film:

Here are the technological mechanisms to facilitate each of these stages:
Technology Mechanisms for Collaborative Post-Production

* Sound bites are imported and assigned to a unique URL
* Users filter the good and bad sound bites by rating them, and group them into thematic clusters with tags
* Users place sound bites within a playlist sequence to form the short vignettes
* Finally, playlists can be placed within playlists to create nested playlists and eventually the final film.

This following collaborative editing workflow diagram for The Echo Chamber Project was referenced a number of times throughout the session, and shows how the different steps required for shot-logging, filtering, sequencing and polishing all fit together:
Technology Mechanisms for Collaborative Post-Production

Each of the green boxes indicates user participation.

Now is a good time to define the two end products of The Echo Chamber Project

I have two end products with The Echo Chamber Project, the traditional documentary film as well as an interactive and multimedia experience of the film.

Gathering context and meaning from the users during the collaborative editing stage will be fed into creating the linear film, and this user contributed metadata will also be fed into an multimedia experience of the material as well.

The Internet provides new interactive opportunities for experiencing media, and so there are going to be new ways of collaborative storytelling as well as more "Chose-your-own-adventure" ways of experiencing media.

Some people will prefer to become very engaged and actively involved with experiencing media in these new ways, but there will still be a place for traditional storytelling and easily consumable linear media for mass media audiences.

The linear film will remain fairly static in value once it is completed and distributed -- while the iterative aspects of the interactive website will gain in value over time it aggregates more and more context and meaning through user feedback.

So given that there will be both a traditional linear film and an interactive multimedia website, then how will collaborative storytelling be handled in each case?

Peter Armstrong of emphasized to me that there is no guarantee that a collaboratively edited film will necessarily be a more interesting or compelling piece of art. And he's absolutely correct because there is no guarantee that the participation from many people is going to guarantee a better end product.

It may create an incredibly engaging interactive experience, but an extremely dull final film. Or it may in fact create a brilliant film, but yet a very bad online user experience.

The term "film by committee" is usually used a pejorative description for a movie that lacks cohesion and flow as a whole piece of art. This is a potential pitfall, and why I've assigned myself as the "Benevolent Dictator" of The Echo Chamber Project, which is a technical reference to other open source projects.

This title is obviously informal, tongue-in-cheek, and seemingly goes everything against a collaborative project, but in the case of a film and other open source projects I do think that there needs to be this type role in order to guide a project from the idea phase to the point where other people can get involved. I will also be setting the initial general direction of the project, helping get other people involved, and using my best judgment whenever final calls have to be made.

It is also difficult to give up 100% control for the initial linear film after investing so much time and energy into the planning, production and post-production phases. I will be releasing a fair amount of control throughout the post-production process, and trying to incorporate and sythesize as much collaborative input as possible. At the same time, the final film will have my stylistic fingerprints and a cohesive story holding it together.

The collaborative editing process that I am envisioning is not a wiki model where anyone can edit a final sequence at any time. Instead it is more of a mix between webjay + + digg model where individuals are making individual editing decisions within playlists (ala webjay), their input is being aggregated into social networking effects that can be navigated either locally or globally (ala, and other users are helping rate good sound bites and playlists so that they can bubble to the top (ala digg).

One aspect of the interactive experience of the material is going to focus on helping people navigate through the social consensus that is aggregated from the cumulative personal input. There will also be other interactive aspects that will emerge as the project evolves.

So how is this ecosystem of participation going to collect and make sense of all of this individual input?

The first step towards creating a functional ecosystem is to look at other successful models -- particularly other open source projects.

Most successful open source projects have a large number of programmers who submit small patches and bug fixes, and then they have a much smaller team of more involved leaders who are able to commit these patches towards the core project.

The core committers either usually initiated the overall project or were active enough submitters to work their way up the hierarchy of responsibility.

I imagine that The Echo Chamber will also have a similar dynamic where there is a large set of participants who are contributing granular nuggets of contextual meaning that is aggregated into some sort of larger collective intelligence, and then a smaller core team of participants who will be helping digest, filter and make sense of the input and be incorporating these insights into the final linear film.

Each submitter will have their own space to filter, categorize and playlist sound bites, and they will be able to build off the work of other editors at each of these stages. The social consensus of all of the submitters will be made explicit through identifying the most popular sound bites and playlists as well as through weighing the most interesting media elements in search algorithms to make them more findable.

I imagine that the core committers will emerge from the process of participating heavily in the phases of rating, tagging and playlisting of sound bites. These would be people who are have dedicated a lot of time and energy, and built up trust within the community. They'd also be interested in the challenge of helping synthesize and interpret the input from all of the submitters.

I intend to assign film credits and profit sharing to the core committers as well as the dedicated submitters, which will help provide some incentive.

I also hope to build in social capital incentives for both submitters and committers by keeping track of an attribution trail as well as giving a lot of attention to their work to the audience of onlookers.

I also hope that the project will be an intellectually stimulating experience for all of the participants. They will learn about the traditional mainstream media as well as help invent new ways of creating collective meaning.

I'm hoping that initially that this type of project will be new and exciting enough as well as have enough political relevance to encourage broad and diverse participation. For the long-term sustainability, there are many open questions for how to provide even more incentives and kickbacks to the participants.

I do intend on releasing all of the interview source material under a Creative Commons license after I complete and release the first linear film, and so users will be free to create and market their own versions.

But even with this, there is still the challenge of balancing the top-down control with bottom up participation. There is an interesting dynamic in open source projects between the core development, the contributed modules, and those who want to "fork" the code.

Another distinction to be made is between core developers who are focused on the main framework versus the developers who are making specialized contributed modules that are supplements to the core release versus those who want to fork the source material to take the project down a completely different path.

Open source software code deals with objective functionality while open source media deals with the communication of ideas and concepts.

Core Development = Linear Film
The core software developers are focused on developing the baseline functionality that is applicable for all users. In the case of The Echo Chamber Project, the core project will be The Echo Chamber linear documentary that will shown to a mass audience.

Contributed Modules = Multimedia Website
In software, contributed module developers implement functionality beyond what the main project providing. They often have a very specific itch that they're trying to scratch that isn't general enough to be included within the core project. With the Echo Chamber Project, the interactive and multimedia aspect of the project can serve as an outlet for a lot of these more niche and specialized messages.

There could also be niche "narrowcast" versions of the film that could be created for specialized audiences.

Forked Code= Iterative Remixes of Source Material
In the cases where neither the core development or contributed modules addresses the needs of a developer, then there is a "forking" of the source code where a group of users takes the project down a completely different development path.

Most open source projects are given a chance to mature before they are forked, and so I will not be releasing high-resolution versions of the source material until the initial version is completed and distributed. I do this to avoid the forking of The Echo Chamber Project before I complete the initial 1.0 version.

Selling copies of the linear film will be the main source of revenue for the project, and so it doesn't make sense for me to invest a lot of time and energy into gathering source material to then give it all away for free and have someone beat me to market before I complete my first version.

At the same time, I do want to include as much diversity and different points of view as possible within the first film, and let the participants help collectively guide and form the strategic intent of the project. I will clearly be limited by the degree of diversity of the participants that I'm able to recruit, and I'm hoping to leave the process as open as possible throughout this collaborative process.

So what are the different steps of increasing levels of participation?

Marty Kearns posed the following question at the 2005 Personal Democracy Forum: "How do you create a system that allows citizens to drop by and participate for 5 to 10-minute intervals, and still be able to productively contribute to the overall project?"

This is one of the characteristics of what Kearns describes as Network-Centric Advocacy, and it is also what The Echo Chamber Project aspires to achieve with its collaborative editing workflow.

The trick is to have a number of different simple tasks that many people can participate in, and have it add up to some sort of collective intelligence that transcends any individual user.

Ross Mayfield has made a great chart describing the "Power Law of Participation" with a continuum ranging from low threshold to high engagement.

Power Law of Participation

The power law metaphor is interesting because the purple section roughly maps out to the large number of submitters compared to the smaller number of blue section committers as described above.

Mayfield describes the aggregate of the lower end of the submitter tail as "collective intelligence" and the higher end committers as "collaborative intelligence."

I've tailored Mayfield's descriptions for The Echo Chamber Project, and added a few as well.

* Read / Listen / Watch -- The audience simply listens to and watches the various sound bites or playlist items. These are the "lurkers" who are paying attention to what is going on without actively providing any type of feedback. But because there are ways to track which items are being most watched, then there are ways to capture this passive feedback.
* Favorite -- Having lots of people vote in a binary Up/Down manner allows the interesting and popular items raise to the front page like Digg or Videobomb. This could be a simple way for users to shine a spotlight on playlists that deserve more attention.
* [Rate] -- Rating an item on a quantitative five-star scale does a fairly good job of determining the really good and the really bad sound bites or playlists. There could be ratings for both overall production quality as well as for accuracy.
* Tag -- Tags place an item within a qualitative category and context that has both local/personal and global/social effects such as the way saves personal bookmarks and can at the same time determine the most popular websites. In the case of the Echo Chamber Project, then tags are a way to group sound bites within thematic clusters before they are placed within a playlist.
* Comment -- Comments are is an indication that a playlist or sound bite is interesting, and it also allows for richer communication and interaction. This will be an important feedback mechanism for playlist creators.
* Subscribe -- When the best playlists are promoted to the front page, then they will also be sent down an RSS feed for the users who have committed to paying attention over a period of time. The more subscribers that there are, then the more of an incentive that will be provided to have playlists promoted and seen.
* Share -- Each sound bite or playlist has the opportunity to provide a common context for people to connect, and it is certainly desirable for users to share playlists with their peer group. The sharing and communication is the social glue that will help keep the community alive, and yet it is probably one of the harder aspects to track and quantify since most of it happens "out of band."
* Network -- Users will make personal connections, but will also use other users as filters to help them sort out the signal from the noise. Allowing users to create buddy lists will help them create these trusted human filters.
* Blog -- When users either want to start broader conversations or shine a bigger spotlight on specific items, then they can write blog entries. Each user will have access to their own blog within The Echo Chamber Project, and using external blogs is fine as well.
* [Playlist] -- Users place audio and visual sound bites within chronological order. Adding the time dimension allows for media to be juxtaposed next to each other and for additional meaning to emerge. Adding additional layers of audio and video and music will also add increasing levels of context and meaning.
* [Nested Playlist] -- As playlists are placed within playsts, then longer and longer sequences can be created. Longer sequences become more sensitive to changes within the beginning playlist subelements since changes will alter the remaining context and holistic meaning of the entire longer piece.

The more involved tasks that Mayfield describes are Refract, Collaborate, Moderate and Lead. These would be the roles of the core committers and benevolent dictator of The Echo Chamber Project and will evolve as the project evolves.


* Collaborative Notes from the Iterative Media session by Josh Kinberg, Dee Harvey and Joshua Dickens

* very interesting iterative media process by Thomas Kriese.

* VIDEO: An Overview of The Echo Chamber Project

* Building a Theory of Collaborative Sensemaking

* Study of anime music video editing community by Ryan Shaw

* Constructive Media by Jon Garfunkel

Wonderful presentation

Definition about interactive media presented here is wonderful. I didn't see these kind of excellent presentation. Pictorial representation is very pleasant and reduces time to understand. Keep up the good work.

My Personal Blog