Friday, December 05, 2008

Update on were VOTV is at

Here is a kind of an update on where we are. Me and Richard have moved to East London and have put in a grant application to do “Hackney TV”, which will be a model example of a local VOTV channel and complete the second stage of work on the CMS.

This is a 2-year project which uses IPTV to grow local democracy via news.

We already have foundation funding to create an IPTV news station (visionOntv), and are bidding to build a multi-faceted but really simple-to-use content management system for this station, so that it can become comprehensively interactive and realize its potential for social change. It is essential that the CMS development be rooted in a local community, so that it can be tested and refined. We are therefore also seeking funding to facilitate Hackney TV, a visionOntv local channel in a London borough undergoing rapid change under the shadow of the 2012 Olympics, which will be this testing ground. If the CMS is successful in Hackney, it can be replicated globally.

Hackney TV will be a mix of local news and views, including rapid-turnaround, “live-edit” studio shows, as well as news reportage.

We will fully exploit the “micro-broadcasting” that IPTV enables. Our cms is based on the award-winning Liferay system, which is open source. It will encourage physical connections between people that traditional media has no power to do, beginning with neighbours recognising each other, through simultaneous chat while playing a film, to the creation of forums and physical groups around important community issues. Personalised adverts and info-verts will make TV into a community noticeboard. The cms will also draw in data from other existing national and global social networks, blogs, corporate news etc, so that it is constantly up-dated with new info. News becomes interactive through “E-decision” plebiscites by text, web voting and interactive IPTV booths in public venues, community cafes etc. Local business sponsorship by automated advertising makes it sustainable.

The focusing of the CMS group on a borough-sized community is the key to grassroots news. However, citizen journalist video production generally lacks the key skills and focus to substitute fully the role that top-down media currently plays. Quality control and fact-checking are absent, while disruptive posts are tolerated. Our cms will include these controls and thus feed relevant and accessible news from the grassroots back to the grassroots.

The 2012 Olympics will bring rapid change for the communities of Hackney in East London, over which they need to have control. A local interactive news service dedicated to their needs will give them a voice and enable them to shout louder.

Our project works both as “lean-back” TV and as interactive video on the web. The huge problem with other CMS's is that they are “out of the box” and designed by techies for techies, whereas we are outreaching beyond this.

We are broadcasting video content to drive interaction rather than relying on people simply to interact in an empty space.

We aim to create real-world communities by virtual tools. Live chat while watching a film will turn into forum posts, relationship links and involvement in outside groups, outside of a walled garden. Physical meet-ups will be pushed, via screenings, action groups or socializing. Local info-verts will be personalized to you. Currently, no other video site has a sense of community like this.

Undercurrents is an award-winning media charity of 15 years' standing, which coined the term “video activism”. We pre-empted the media revolution of the 21st century by putting camcorders in the hands of environmental activists during the 1990s. Popular London magazine Time Out tagged our work as ‘The News you don’t see on the News’. We put views from the grassroots in front of both the wider public and decision makers.

As part of the visionOntv project, we recently ran a studio at the Camp for Climate Action in Kent, England, making 20 shows in the space of a week, syndicated to over 40 streaming sites and our own video player application (a customised version of Miro).

Hamish Campbell, Richard Hering and Paul O'Connor have 45 years of video trainer and producer experience between them.

Hamish is the CEO of visionOntv, which was his idea. He is designing the parameters of the CMS and all other software, and envisioning the trajectory of the project as a whole.

Richard is also an award-winning investigative reporter for British TV, winning the Bill Travers Award for Environmental Investigation '97, the Amnesty International Press Award '98, and the Rory Peck Features Award '99, on subjects such as the illegal mahogany trade from Brazil and the effects of the nuclear test program in China.

Paul is co-founder of Undercurrents, and De Murphy is our financial manager.

Tom Campbell has been CTO for Bertelsmann, American Express, Scholastic & Teleglobal. He is an expert in the Liferay CMS, currently working on mobile-driven interactive TV services.

What unmet needs does your proposal answer?

  1. Internet TV is increasingly dominated by privately-owned walled gardens. Instead, user-friendly open standards are needed.
  2. Local people feel ignored through the Olympics development process in Hackney, and more generally by the lack of any participatory democracy. Lack of focussed social media connection means such communities are atomised and unable to find a collective voice.
  3. Too few projects convert virtual interaction into physical.
  4. No one has yet knocked down the barriers to making frequent and effective citizen journalist video news.
  5. Currently, cms projects are not easily embeddable into other blogs, websites and cms's, so replication, distribution and dissemination are severely limited.

What tasks/benchmarks need to be accomplished to develop your project and by when will you complete them?

0 months

Employ liferay team to customise and develop CMS and create channel template to build onto our basic liferay install.

Start Hackney outreach and training. Consolidate existing contacts and outreach to new ones.

Research on Hackney stories.

Run first of 12 training workshops on video news and using the CMS.

Set up monthly volunteer meet-ups in Hackney with public screening.

Set up weekly support afternoon in the VOTV office for volunteers with practical problems.

3 months

BETA testing of CMS

Encourage Hackney residents to send in stories and trial e-plebiscites via the CMS

We have 20 local citizen journalists

The channel is up and running, with 5 channel embeds on local issue-based websites

6 months

30 citizen journalists

Version 1 (non-interactive) mini-cinemas installed in community venues

Version 1 of the full interactive CMS is launched

Start marketing and publicity for this CMS globally

Roll out local noticeboard advertising to sustain the project

Trial subtitling and open translation wiki.

Set up subtitling working group.

12 months

50 citizen journalists

Tweeks to local advertising.

Version 2 of CMS based on feedback, and we implement smaller geo-areas as focus.

The CMS is fully widgeted so local sites start to take the interaction from the IPTV site onto their own web spaces.

Start of global marketing and publicity for the noticeboard advertising

Apply for further grants for global marketing beyond this funding (in 12 months' time).

18 months

Campaigning around the Olympics and other local issues.

Version 2 of mini-cinemas (interactive with e-plebiscites)

Expand the widgetisation to 3rd sector partners' web resources.

24 months

The project is fully running and supported by local noticeboard advertising.

It has introduced new levels of participatory democracy in Hackney, beginning around the Olympics issue, and now much more broadly.

Further funding kicks in to continue the marketing of the project globally.

What will you have changed by the end of your project?

1. Created a fully-functioning cms for the building of iptv projects, crucially one which can easily be transferred in part or whole to any other project, without branding. Liferay is the only open source cms which allows people to embed any part of the project into their blog/website, and vice versa. This makes the project simple to replicate and disseminate, with no need for anyone to “start from scratch”. The cms will have

important innovations for social interaction, such as multi-level chat (if no one else is watching the film at the same time as you, you can interact on the channel level above), and the turning of chat, of its nature more ephemeral, into more useful and long-lasting forum posts.

2. Evaluated the use of an open video and rss metadata standard (

3. Via Hackney TV, enabled local news-sharing, and through it deepened democracy, in an area undergoing massive change (see News coverage will spread out from the Olympics development into other local issues.

4. Created a large body of inspirational creative commons video content. Have been the first to create and disseminate genuinely workable templates for video news production by beginners and non-professionals. At the beginner's level is a template which can be used by anyone with basic computer skills and a camera phone, but producing a professional and watchable result (see

5. Created a completely scaleable form of distribution of this grassroots content, with a model of sustainability through automated classified advertising.

6. Aim to have defined user-friendly open standards as the future of internet TV, as opposed to corporate walled gardens.

How will you measure progress and ultimately success?

  1. Statistically, progress is precisely measured in increasing numbers of rss subscribers, views, comments and active user accounts.

As a “from virtual to physical” project, physical meet-ups are also important to monitor. As a project with low-income outreach, use of interactive mini-cinemas is also important.

  1. Google analytics gives us data such as viewers' geo-location and the content they access, the keywords and links that brought them to our website, and much more.
  2. By focusing initially on one London borough, we can precisely assess our impact on the democratic strength of the local communities which could be served globally by our project. In concrete practical terms, for instance, will the man whose family has run a business in the local market for four generations still have a job?
  3. Ultimately, success is measured by take-up of the cms by communities worldwide to make positive social change. More widely it is measured by projects taking the open source content and standards, or any part of them, and developing their own projects.
  4. The other measure is that of enabling sustainability through “paypal” income from the automated advertising.
  5. Two of the most successful open source projects on the web are ubuntu and firefox, providing real alternatives to closed projects. We aim to be part of an equivalent for IPTV, working with groups such as the Participatory Culture Foundation in the US.

Do you see any risk in the development of your project?

1. The biggest risk is that we don't do it, and allow closed corporate solutions to dominate the world of iptv and video on the web, while other alt-media projects remain ghettoised.

2. There are lots of great projects out there and we all need to support each other. A risk is that other sites are not open enough in terms of creative commons licensing and full rss feeds with downloadable enclosures, so we need to argue persuasively for this.

3. The threat that, in the face of recession, free streaming will close down or become polluted with intrusive advertising is not really a risk to us, though it will shut down many projects relying on streaming alone. Our embeds in other sites would be replaced by links to install our player app (based on Miro), which automatically downloads via bittorrent. We will also use bittorrent streaming when it is stable enough.

4. ISPs may increasingly impinge on net neutrality, favouring fee-paying companies over citizen journalist networks. Our project is relatively immune through its use of off-peak peer-caching. In this way, we also suffer less from ISP traffic-shaping than traditional peak-time streaming video.

5. Broadband metering and capping can be seen as more of an ISP business model than a real technical problem (see

6. The current advertising crash leading to a dotcom recession again affects us less, because our advertising model is people2people, similar to that of craig's list.

7. The greatest risk is that we create a prefect cms, but no one takes it up. This is why marketing and publicity is such a central plank of our strategy.

8. There is finally the risk that we spend all our time completing fund-raising applications rather than doing the actual project! (:

What is your marketing plan? How will people learn about what you are doing?

Half of our working time will be spent on marketing and publicity, in four separate areas:

1. Hackney TV

Network with existing local campaign groups, hold outreach meetings and screenings, plus mini-cinemas (recycled computers showing the channel in community venues). We will also use posters and stickers.

2. Technical

So far the visionOntv project as a whole has over 3 million views with only a trickle of content and without having publicised and launched.

Expand our syndication to over 40 major web portals and search engines.

Increase exponentially our Google juice, including using search engine optimisation with keywords.

Embed in other sites and blogs (extremely valuable for building views).

A team of interns will use link aggregators, bookmarking sites and email lists to draw people to the project.

Initially produce 10 viral video hits from the undercurrents archive (see e.g., all linking back to the visionOntv page.

Add titles and end-boards to all visionOntv syndicated material.

3. Grassroots

Build on Undercurrents' reputation: "ingenious DIY culture at its best" (New Statesman magazine), and “compelling viewing” (Independent newspaper).

Do outreach training tours (already funded), public screenings, mini-cinemas, regular producer/campaigning group meet-ups.

Appear in all the popular web 2.0 IPTV shows such as Rocketboom etc.

4. Mainstream outreach

Use our access to quality news outlets to foster a national conversation on the transition from old broadcasting to new:

newspaper and magazine articles, interviews for national papers

- local radio for geographical outreach

- world social forum and other local social forums

- conferences

- Our films will also intervene in national debates via seasons and studio discussion shows.