Saturday, March 3, 2012

Added a new page to this blog: LiveCast Presentations...

Howdy everyone!

I've added a new page with a Livestream widget on it to my blog called LiveCast Presentations. That's where you can go to join in on my Livestream presentations most weeks. The date and time varies depending on my attendees' schedules, so check my twitter feed @cacallahan, or join my Facebook group  "Callahans SPF 4 Admins Events".

Now, for some backstory as to why I created the page, apparently out of nowhere...

I've been doing a lot of free, live, online webinars and livecasts for my SPF 4 admins group on Facebook. The "channels" I've been using to do these sessions changed over time. I started by using the LiveMeeting account that Microsoft gave me as an MVP. But, the moment I didn't get renewed at the beginning of 2011, all of my recordings (about 7 of them, really good ones I was proud of) were deleted. There was no way to download the recordings locally (or to record a copy locally while broadcasting).

That left me distrustful of using LiveMeeting. People had kindly offered to let me use accounts on their servers, but none let me control my recordings, which left me grateful but uneasy. I decided to explore other options just in case.

But since I have to use free offerings (none of these session generate any income), that left me with a lot of work and experimentation to find a product that wasn't LiveMeeting, but would be good enough for all of my users to use, without the interface (or its advertising) being too distracting.

I started with a product called "Freebinar," which worked pretty well, and was very dependable. I could also download the recordings to a local drive for backup, which I appreciated. Then it had a change in management, "direction," whatever, and was "rebranded" as "Anymeeting." They made changes to their service, that made it, in my opinion, harder to use. In addition, it just didn't seem as dependable as before. However, Anymeeting did (still does) have some really, really great features like customizable invitations, registration pages, and surveys. I just had issues with crashes while I was trying to teach stuff.

During all this, I had been messing with Livestream, a site that hosts live streaming events. The learning curve is a little steeper, the software a little more challenging, and it's primarily for broadcasting- so no webinar focused mechanisms like invitation mailing lists, registration pages, or surveys. Also, the advertising can be annoying. (Think hulu, or the many videos you see on sites that have ads you have to watch before you can see the show)

I really wanted to make Anymeeting work, but I did have a Livestream page just in case. Then one day, mid-session, when I couldn't get screensharing to work in Anymeeting, I simply had my viewers join me at my Livestream page. I set up a different microphone, started the encoder, and simply started streaming from my laptop. The attendees could chat using the livestream chat window, like they were doing with Anymeeting anyway. The video and audio quality seemed pretty good, and overall it was a success. It automatically recorded a local copy as well as one for the site. I can also have much more control over the video and audio quality (although that's still a work in progress)- which is an improvement over Anymeeting.

I have been using Livestream for a number of sessions now, and I think I really like how it works, despite the loss of some cool features. My attendees seem to be able to become comfortable with the interface pretty quickly, and I think the quality of the video streaming has improved, and the recording quality seems to be better too (although I am not sure of that, not enough people have given me feedback on that yet).

Now, I mentioned being annoyed, personally, by the advertisement that sometimes is shown in the video area before you get to watch the presentation. I have been messing with blocking ads and cookies and stuff because of the whole Google is being evil thing lately, and discovered that if you use an adblocker, like adblock plus I use as an extension in Firefox, then you don't get any ads in the video (I thought it just blocked ads on pages, silly me)- so ad problem solved.

Because I plan on doing more work in livestream, I thought I'd make it easy for my audience to access my streams. 'Create a page that I had more control over than the Livestream page-- or at least a page my audience can use more easily if they choose. Thus I've added a page to this blog, and stuck the code for a Livestream widget pointing to my streams on it. I will keep you updated on how it's going here on the home page, but at least now you know why this blog has a listing on the top, right side that is titled "Pages" and only lists Home and LiveCast Presentations. Please let me know if you're interested in any particular topic, I'm always wondering what people might need.

And feel free to check out the presentations I've already recorded at or click the Videos button in the widget on the LiveCast Page to be taken to my Livestream channel's video library.

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