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The Case for Closed

January 18, 2018

Image from James Royal-Lawson CC BY-SA 2.0

Captioning has long been a difficult sell for librarians creating video tutorials (or raising the issue with other faculty members). The landscape of options merely 7 years ago was bleak, requiring by-hand adjustments of the timings down to hundreds of a second and typing out each line with many clicks between. Sometimes these options came without a preview so that the captions would have to be exported, inserted, checked and then back to the original glitchy interface to fix and, often, repeat.

This changed with the introduction of Amara (then called Universal Subtitles) in 2010. Amara was aimed at crowdsourcing translations, but the central insight of the interface made captioning much easier. Instead of requiring fingers to leave home row to click around after each part of a sentence, Amara had a fully keyboard interface allowing the setting of timing with key press and reducing greatly the amount of time required. This was true, at least, for touch typists. Otherwise, the amount of time required to caption a video was a high multiple of the video length.

The situation today is better. Google finally updated it’s captioning interface in YouTube in the last few years to one strikingly similar to Amara with elements of crowdsourcing and a fully keyboard interface option. YouTube’s automatic captions are now approaching usability without editing. A workflow for captioning videos:

  • Have a transcript -> upload to YouTube (check the automatic timing)
  • Own the video -> upload to YouTube, fix the automatic captions
  • Don’t own -> use Amara or YouTube’s crowdsourcing option

With the possibility of fixing automatic captions instead of typing all the speech, folks that are not touch typists are now looking at an equivalent amount of time spent. The excuses for not captioning are now fewer than ever.

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