Capturing Critical Content

Sep 05, 2007

In these days of exploding numbers of podcasts and YouTube videos, companies everywhere and many small organizations are asking, "where do we get the interesting content to fill these new communications channels with our corporate messages?"

One source of valuable corporate content is the constant stream of presentations made every day, whether selling a product, training an employee, briefing management, or teaching new team members.

In my case, I attend dozens of meetings every year that I wish were archived somewhere for future reference. I take excellent notes on my meetings and these are a main source for my research. Occasionally I take a video camcorder to a meeting, so I have a more complete record than is possible with pen and paper. I have encoded perhaps 80 hours of these meetings and posted them to community CMS websites for CM Professionals.

While video may sound like a great solution for capturing critical content, it has serious limitations. The average video on the web cannot produce readable words from a PowerPoint slide or an application program. I try to zoom in the camera to follow the mouse movements, but find it difficult.

Tools for the Task
Now I am trying to improve the quality using screen capture tools like TechSmith Camtasia Studio 4 and Adobe Captivate 3. These tools promise high resolution and low file sizes. In principle, they only add data to the file when something changes on the screen.

Some of the most valuable content in any company today is the work done in meetings by global teams, whether engineers, designers, or marketers. Attended virtually by people in multiple locations, the one thing they have in common is a screen and an audio channel.

Can we record these meetings easily? Of course the leading conferencing and collaboration tools like Adobe Connect, Microsoft Live Meeting, and WebEx can do this recording, usually for a hefty additional fee from the hosting service for capture, storage, and subsequent on-demand streaming. Online marketing presentations are increasingly available on corporate websites as "webinars."

However, I am testing various approaches for recording meetings of DITA User Groups around the country. In June the Central Texas group recorded a meeting using a camcorder and posted it to Google video. Last month I attended a meeting of the Silicon Valley group from my desk in Cambridge, MA. We used an application sharing program (Elluminate) so the PowerPoint slides were visible clearly on my desktop. I succeeded in recording the visual presentation, but lost the audio.

Share and Share a Life
One futuristic sharing environment is the online community called SecondLife, where everyone has an "avatar" that can walk and fly around and talk to other nearby avatars. With an average population of 40,000 online at any moment, SecondLife "residents" spend a million US dollars a day there building and selling virtual properties and products. A member of the OASIS DITA Technical Committee has set up a DITA Island in SecondLife, where DITA vendors can rent office suites and exhibition space. Some of us TC members are being trained to fly to meetings in a virtual conference center.

One of the great benefits of screen sharing and application sharing is that meetings such as this will have attendees from all over the world. The great value in a community of practice is the sharing of expertise among the practitioners. What better way to enhance the sharing than opening up live meetings via the internet and recording them for later study as well?

Whatever our technical solution, it has to be lightweight and portable. Our schedule of meetings this Fall for the Boston DITA User Group will take us to IBM, Information Mapping, PTC, Sun Microsystems, and XyEnterprise, among others. The internet connections needed must therefore pass through corporate firewalls.

We hope to be able to bring in a laptop computer that can capture the critical content. Our current plan is to use one laptop for the presenter, with a downloaded Elluminate session, and a second laptop for the meeting recorder, also logged in to Elluminate. This means that attendees in remote locations need only login to the same Elluminate session to view and hear the proceedings.

The next problem is to record the presentation. Our options are Camtasia and Captivate. Can these tools capture mouse moves from the second recording laptop? Can we then post-edit the files easily? We would like to add instructional design elements to them and turn them into tutorials. Both tools offer multiple output formats. Which will be the smallest size files that maintain legibility for the content?

Stay tuned. I will report to you in upcoming columns and post captured content to our DITA Users and DITA Tutor websites for public consumption.