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    William Cowan

    • Indiana University
    • Twitter: wgcowan

    I am the Manager of Software Development at Indiana University’s Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities (IDAH), working with IUB arts and humanities faculty on the development of digital projects. Prior to this I managed software development for the Ethnographic Video for Instruction and Analysis (EVIA) Digital Archive Project, designing and implementing the Annotator's Workbench (AWB), a tool for the segmentation and annotation of digital video.

    My Posts

    Digital Media is dead — There is Only Software.

    Saturday, April 30th, 2011 | wgcowan

    According to Lev Manovich (http://lab.softwarestudies.com/2011/04/new-article-by-lev-manovich-there-is.html)

    “Depending on the software I am using, the “properties” of a media object can change dramatically. Exactly the same file with the same contents can take on a varirty of identities depending on the software being used.

    What does this finding means in relation to the persisting primacy of the term “digital” in understanding new media? Let me answer this as clear and direct as I can. There is no such thing as “digital media.” There is only software – as applied to media data (or “content”.)”

    Do we need to think differently about “digital media”? Manovich uses the example of a photo. Is a digital photo (perhaps especially objects “born digital”) the same as a physical photo. The physical photo is produced once; if you have the negative and create it again, perhaps to lighten the photo, then you have a new physical object with it’s own characteristics. The digital photo, to lighten it, you run software to show it lighter. You may or may not create a new file and even if you do, this new file can be transformed by software to look like the old one. For the digital object, the software used, define the object revealed.

    Is Manovich right? Is there only software?

    Digital Video for Research and Teaching: Annotating, Accessing, Archiving

    Thursday, April 28th, 2011 | wgcowan

    I have worked on several projects involving digital video and audio based on field work, collected by ethnographers and oral historians. And while at times this material can be compelling, for the most part, these academics are not film makers. So often there is not a story to be told. It is the ritual or the musical performance or the language that needs to be described. And often the most straight forward way to do that is through annotation. But annotation is a time consuming process. Segmenting and annotating several hours of video can take several weeks.

    And when the annotation is complete, how do you get this annotated video to your colleagues, your students, your department head? Most of the faculty that I have worked with are extremely interested in sharing their research with their students. But streaming video requires more infrastructure than the average academic either possesses or wants to have to deal with. And the skills necessary to make both the video and the annotations available online are also of little interest. So why not YouTube? From what I can see most online services have limited metadata and limited file size. Consequently, it is difficult to place the small segments you upload into the context of a larger research project.

    And, especially if you have started with analog materials, while you are digitizing, you might as well make the best copy you can. Uncompressed seems to be the way to go and while the price of disk storage is low, an hour of uncompressed video is at least 100 gigs or more if it’s HD. And then add on top of this all the other issues with creating and maintaining the metadata for your archived materials.

    So creating, using and storing digital video in an academic research environment is not as simple as it may seem. You need tools to do the segmentation and annotation. An infrastructure to support streaming digital video and displaying corresponding annotation. And large amounts of disk storage.

    At various times I have thought that I had the answers to the problem of digital video in the academy. I am less sure of myself now. But I think there is a lot to discuss. And I keep thinking there is a solution out there.