Want to stream you life horizontally? There’s an app for that!

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above and below: Roller skaters check out opening night at the RiverRink in Philadelphia. I grabbed these moments from my stre.am broadcast.

I like vertical videos and I am not alone. “Vertical videos are here to stay,” according to engadget.com. And digiday.com says: “It’s time to take vertical video seriously.”

There’s even a new app called Verdid, which journalism.co.uk says is setting out to become the “YouTube of vertical videos.”

And as I said in one of my earlier posts, watching Periscope streams on my big screen at home left me wishing that I had my TV mounted vertically.

3But of course I do not. Cable and satellite signals and just about everything else come in horizontally. And more than a century of Hollywood movies would have to be drastically cropped or downsized for viewing on vertical screens.

And there are lots of reasons to continue producing horizontal videos. Verticals still look ridiculously compromised on YouTube and on broadcast TV.

Citizen journalists using vertical video might find themselves starting with one strike against them if they want to make sales to news organizations, and will certainly be at a disadvantage if another producer has the same content in horizontal format.

Fortunately, we have stre.am, or #streamwithadot, which promises to help you “Share you world.”

streamI glanced at the app while gathering information for my first post on this site last month, but with much of the news coverage focused on competition between Periscope and Meerkat, I kind of forgot about the third option until one of their staffers reached out to me on Twitter last week.

That’s when I finally tried sending a test stream with the app, and guess what? It’s horizontal!

So, when I went down to the Delaware River to check out Philadelphia’s new roller rink last weekend — and found decidedly horizontal visuals — I decided to give stre.am a try in the field.

And I loved it for lots of reasons:

• First of all, the app saved a clean horizontal copy of my stream to my iPhone’s Camera Roll. I’m a journalist and producing horizontals just makes more sense for me.

• And stre.am enables easy Twitter AND Facebook sharing at launch.

• Tapping an aperture icon while streaming captures clean still photos to your camera roll, although there seemed to be a brief delay in the process. (I can do the same on Periscope by clicking my iPhone’s home and power buttons simultaneously, but that will also capture the hearts and comments. And sometimes I inadvertently put the phone to sleep if I get those keystrokes out of sync.)

• Finally, you can also post text comments while streaming, which can be helpful if you want to communicate while covering an event such as the solemn Ride of Silence, which left me whispering while Periscoping last week.

There’s one big problem but there’s a solution in the works and some pretty cool alternatives in place already.

• Unfortunately, you can’t yet title your stre.am stream before broadcasting; so, your tweet and Facebook shares will leave your friends and followers wondering. However, two stre.am staffers have promised me that will change in an upcoming version.

UPDATE: Stre.am CTO Jeremy Martin tells me they: “just submitted a new build with titles to the App Store today!”

Meanwhile, you can share more deliberately once your stream is underway:

• While you’re live, the top left menu displays your stream’s duration, likes and the number of current viewers. But if you tap the tiny icon in the top left corner, it opens a vertical menu with more options.

• There, you can turn on the flashlight or switch to your front camera but you can also craft and send a more precise tweet or Facebook post while maintaining the stream. You can also send a text or an email.

Some other observations:

• Viewer count compared favorably with my engagement on Periscope, but almost nobody commented. This could be due to any number of reasons but I am suspecting it may result from the fact that viewers need to tap a bubble icon before they see the comments.

• You can “Like” a stream by clicking a thumbs-up icon. It’s a lot more subtle than pouring your hearts out on Periscope but time will tell what users prefer.

• Instead of streaming, you can also opt to record a video clip for your “reel,” which will be attached to your profile for 24 hours. I haven’t figured out the point of this process but I will give it a try soon.

Tweeted streams seem rare; so, I have not been able to establish whether live web viewing is possible.

Update: Another stre.am staffer messaged me to confirm that live web viewing is possible.

Of course you can also rotate your device horizontally while streaming on Periscope, but the comments and hearts will display sideways.

Stre.am reminds you that your “Portrait Orientation Lock” must be off when using their app horizontally. Otherwise, it warns that you will be creating a “sideways experience” for your viewers and implores you: “Don’t be that person.”

Finally, since none of the new streaming mobile video apps presently enable embedding, I have been experimenting with capturing streams from my screen and redistributing them via Ustream, which produces an embed code but also sends out video in a horizontal box like we get when using YouTube. Stre.am solves that problem too.

Have you tried stre.am? What do you think?

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Weekend reading: Latest reports on streaming video

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: I covered the Ride of Silence with Periscope earlier this week in Philadelphia.

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Photojournalist Joe Kaczmarek reports live from Amtrak crash scene in Philadelphia using Periscope

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: Frame grabs from Kaczmarek’s Periscope report.

Note: Above all, my thoughts are with the victims of last night’s Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia. We also need to recognize the remarkable work of our first responders, including many members of the local news media.

At the same time, we saw some groundbreaking journalism from Philadelphia freelance news photographer Joe Kaczmarek, who managed to stream a couple of brief Periscope news reports while covering the Amtrak crash as a still photographer working for The Associated Press. Here is an excerpt:

More than 2,000 people watched the second stream, and many shared their reactions:

Disclosure: Joe Kaczmarek and I are longtime friends and colleagues. We previously cofounded the Gun Crisis Reporting Project.

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Handlebar reporting: Counting cars in the bike lane

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: I spotted one couple out on Philadelphia’s new Indego shared bikes at left, but I also watched as other cyclists were forced into traffic by cars parked in bike lanes.

Shortly after launching this site, I shared the impediments I discovered while “Pedaling while Periscoping,” after mounting my iPhone on my handlebars and taking a spin around Philadelphia on my bicycle.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I went out again to try to do some actual reporting, using Periscope to show the number of cars I found parked in bike lanes in Center City.

A lot of us fancy Philadelphia as a bike-friendly city, where one study showed rush-hour cycling up 260% between 2005 and 2013, we have 435 miles of bike lanes, we just got cool new bike sharing program and the city even paved over some old trolley tracks recently to make some intersections safer.

But if you like cycling on Sundays, you might find many bike lanes blocked near houses of worship, where congregants are permitted to park with the city’s permission, based on a program which long precedes the like lanes.

The problem is that the parked cars force cyclists and passing traffic into narrowed lanes, creating an uncomfortable and possibly dangerous squeeze for blocks at a time.

To share this experience live on Periscope, I pedaled back and forth on Spruce and Pine Street in Center City, covering about 40 blocks of bike lanes.

I counted more than 160 cars parked in bike lane spaces which would be otherwise illegal — if not for the provisions made for worshippers.

Now, I don’t expect the city to change the parking program after all these years, but I think it would be safer for everyone if we could simply close the bike lanes to through traffic during the same periods. What do you think?

Here’s a time-lapse look at my trip, below. The right lane is supposedly reserved for bicyclists.

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First person, Part II: False starts, restarts and new viewers

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: I grabbed these moments from my Periscope coverage of the Broad Street Run last weekend.

Timing is everything when streaming live news. As I explained after covering the #PhillyisBaltimore demonstration last week, deciding when to start your stream can be tricky enough.

But while reporting from the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia last weekend, I learned more about when it might be best to stop and restart the process.

Sooner or later, you will find your viewer numbers dwindling during each stream, as more exit at a rate faster than newcomers arrive. At least that has been my experience each time to date.

However, you can pick up new eyeballs by simply concluding one stream and starting another, although I am not sure why.

Maybe the timing was better for some viewers who just picked up their devices or perhaps they feel more likely to check in when they see a second alert — either via Periscope notifications or Twitter.

Obviously, changing the search terms in your title could have an impact as well.

But there are also hazards: After streaming while the wheelchair leaders passed me, I decided to restart my stream with at least a minute to go before the lead pack of runners seemed likely to arrive.

I’ll never know why, but my Periscope app kept stalling at “Initializing Video Stream” and wouldn’t let me “Start Broadcast” until after I missed the big moment.

I have only been experimenting, but that’s the sort of failure which might become a very big deal for someone assigned to cover an event.

Maybe the crowd was sucking up all of the broadband capacity as the leaders approached. But the obvious lesson learned is that you should keep rolling when big moments are impending.

However, the restating process worked well throughout the rest of the time I spent on location.

After each restart, I would see some new viewer names mixed with others who followed me from the previous stream.

So, I would take my narration from the top, explaining each time where I was and what I was showing — but I would also voice a very brief apology for those who had heard it all before.

And whenever I stopped a stream with a plan to restart, I would explain why I was signing off and how viewers could find me again via Periscope and Twitter.

I would promise specific search terms and also remind viewers of my Twitter and Periscope username — in case they had found me randomly the first time.

During some of the streams I would ask viewers to retweet me if they were using desktops or laptops, and explain how to re-share my stream if they were using the Periscope mobile app.

And I would remind everyone to follow me on both platforms — again explaining how to do so for new Persicope users.

Looking back later, I spotted a few retweets and some Persicope sharing but I did not find significant follower bumps on either platform. I may have picked up a follower or two, but that’s not much in return the effort involved.

Meanwhile, I came across some of the same challenges I had previously discussed with sun and wind. But I also had to shield my phone from a few showers as runners sometimes threw their cups in the air after taking a quick gulp at the water station where I was standing.

Next, I tried capturing part of the race from a high vantage point and pinched the stream to zoom in on the runners. While iPhone zooming can diminish the quality of photos and videos in many other situations, it had little impact on the Periscope stream which is already highly pixel-ized.

However, I suspect that the zoomed shot might have looked ridiculously shaky if not for using the tiny tripod and phone clamp that I had been carrying in my back pocket — to test out on just such an occasion.

Finally, I got caught on an island in the middle of the street for a while as thousands of runners took over extra lanes to beat the traffic backup caused by those stopping for a drink.

In the end, I had shared a series of five streaming videos, ranging in duration from about five to 15 minutes each. And I just patched them together and posted them on YouTube in case you would like to check out the experience:

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First person: Streaming video news alone is a juggling act!

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: Frame grabs from my Periscope coverage of the #PhillyisBaltimore march.

I hadn’t been out there for a while but I must have covered hundreds of demonstrations during my previous career as a newspaper and wire service photographer. And I used to be cool under pressure, having seen so much.

Then last week, I tried my hand with Periscope for live reporting during the #PhillyisBaltimore demonstration — my city’s latest response to the recent justice movement.

It was never easy to cover a march. As a still photographer, you have to look for critical, storytelling moments, choose the right lens, check your focus and other settings, try to hold the camera straight and steady, and look for a clean view — all while walking backwards in a crowd.

For one year, I also covered news with a video camera, which complicates the formula, requiring you to hold every shot for a few seconds — at the very least.

But when streaming live — instead of alternating between capturing images and walking at times — you have to remember now that your camera is always on. There’s no time to walk or run between shots, or to climb to a high position without leaving your audience watching some very shaky and confusing images.

And you have to think about sound too. The professional standard practice calls for monitoring your audio, which is not possible with Periscope, at least not without adding a lot of accessories.

You also have to decide when to start your broadcast; too early and you might bore your audience into next-ing you; too late and you might miss the action.

The first surprise — as the rally began to take shape as a march — was that I got flustered. You have to type a smart title, full of effective search words — and none of this gets easier if you let the adrenaline of the moment take you away. Trust me.

The screen serves as your viewfinder but was rendered useless when I walked through late-afternoon shafts of sunlight.

Next, I found it surprisingly difficult to simply hold my little iPhone steady, without the heft of the cameras I was accustomed to handling. I think I might try weighing it down next time with a monopod; which would also enable high shots.

Delayed by the many challenges, it was a few minutes before I even began to read and respond to commenters, and I felt bad about those I may have missed, and for losing audience attention to this important event.

Pericope works better when the producer welcomes everyone, but that was just so much more than I could handle. And comments literally fade from the screen; so, you can’t scroll back and catch up.

And what else do you say to the audience while narrating your stream? It seems redundant to tell them what they can see; so, it’s nice if you can add some context. But again, it’s not always easy to stay calm with all this juggling.

I also learned that the video image resolution seems to plummet with complex visual content; such as when both you and your subjects are moving; perhaps due to compressions algorithms.

And did I mention that the Periscope app takes over your phone completely? You can’t simultaneously tweet or do much of anything else. You can’t even see the time of day.

Finally, about seven minutes into the production, I got a phone call — which I then discovered will terminate your stream.

In other scenarios, such as when I use my phone to make presentations, I have learned to block calls with the “Airplane Mode” — but that also blocks the broadband signal, which would make streaming from the street impossible.

Since last week, I have already tried streaming from more events and hope to share those lessons in upcoming posts.

Please share your experiences in the comments section or get back with us on Twitter and Facebook.

Below: I spared you the shakiest moments, but here are some quick video excerpts from my Periscope coverage of #PhillyisBaltimore:

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Periscope users follow justice protests across the nation Wednesday night

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Jim MacMillan

Independent Journalist at jimmacmillan.com
I am a solutions-oriented independent multimedia journalist, based in Philadelphia.
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Above: Journalists were streaming across the states Wednesday, from left: @micnews in NYC, @AtwaterWCVB in Boston and @JMichaelsNews in Baltimore.

This site was launched to take a comprehensive look at the intersection between journalism and live streaming video platforms. But it’s difficult to ignore the lessons we can learn from Pericope coverage of the broadening justice movement over the past few days.

For the first time Wednesday night, both mobile and desktop Internet users could follow video reports from demonstrations across the US — live and unfiltered — and without the support or control of traditional cable or network news programming.

And rather than communicating on back-channels — like using Twitter hashtags while watching the news — users can now converse in the same place at the same moment, right inside the mobile applications.

In addition to the protests shown at the top of this post, other users tweeted their coverage from the streets of Washington, Minneapolis, Seattle and Albuquerque — and possibly other cities.

Periscopers also streamed coverage from gatherings in Indianapolis and Tulsa, but there were no Twitter links to be found, possibly due to user settings. So, there could have been more.

Unfortunately, Periscope links go dead 24 hours after streams are completed, and the videos are lost  — unless users or viewers make other accommodations to save them. (A future post will take a good look at the full spectrum of present shortcomings.)

While Pericope uptake among journalists appears to be accelerating, there are still very few others streaming from the demonstrations, as we discussed in the last post.

Next, 1,800 people have RSVP’d on Facebook for a “Philly is Baltimore” demonstration planned for late Thursday afternoon— here in the City of Brotherly Love.

To find streaming videos, search Twitter for “Live” plus “Periscope” plus “Philadelphia,” “Philly” or “phl.” “PhillyisBaltimore” seems too long, but time will tell.

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