Tuesday, March 24, 2009

webcasting the webcaster.

Harvard Law School's Berkman Center has long been the home of ubercool technology movers and shakers. When Wirecast on an Apple Mac platform emerged as its preferred webcasting technology, inquiring minds wanted to know: how's that working out for you, Berkman?

On Tuesday, March 24, 2009, we find ourselves at Berkman with Doc Searls, Berkman Fellow. Doc's bio on Berkman's website sheds light on why he is being webcast today: "In addition to his work here at Berkman, Doc is co-author (with fellow Berkman Fellow David Weinberger and others) of The Cluetrain Manifesto (the 10th Anniversary Edition of which is due out this summer), Senior Editor of Linux Journal, and one of the world's most familiar and inveterate bloggers. His work as a journalist, speaker and advocate of the Internet led to a Google-O'Reilly Open Source Award for Best Communicator in 2005. In "The World is Flat," Thomas L. Friedman calls Doc "one of the most respected technology writers in America." Doc is also a Fellow at the Center for Information and Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where his work focuses on Internet infrastructure issues." Wow.

The incomparable Daniel Jamous is behind the impressive-looking consoles just off-screen. Though the cameras never capture him, he is one of the most critical individuals in the room. Before the crowd arrives, he is testing sound levels and adjusting camera angles, as you might expect.

As soon as introductions begin, Jamous is manually selecting the closest microphones to each speaker. He had previously explained that without manual selection for each and every speaker, the sound is easily lost.

Jamous has also queued up the slides for today, which he also controls. He keeps them faded while the audience shuffles in, manually turning on the dual screens when he judge the speaker ready to start the formal presentation.

This technology is decidedly dependent on jacques' skill and human intervention, is my first impression.

Doc's presentation, by the way, is a fascinatingly simple idea of a website service that simply allows anyone to put out an "RFP" for anything they want, and allows everyone to bid to fulfill the request at whatever price they choose. Like a giant eBay or craigslist, but more flexible. Doc is an interesting speaker with a pleasant, well-modulated voice, and he wisely keeps the formal presentation short, allowing more time for interactive Q&A.

Twice in the first 5 minutes, staffers listening in from the spillover room downstairs pop in and advise jacques to adjust the sound level, he is picking up too much background noise. Jamous cuts back and forth between tight shots of Doc, wide shots of the room, close-ups of questioners, and the slides. Reaching for the controls requires his full-time attention.

With a few clicks, he superimposes titles over the bottom of the screen, identifying the speaker and event. An auxiliary device that looks like a TV remote control allows him to pan accross the room, zooming in on questioners.

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