Saturday, October 03, 2009
  New Multimedia Study Bible
Mark linked to the promo video (below) for Glo a new multimedia study Bible. If the video is an accurate representation, rather than just slick marketing, then the interface looks cool, and may even be easy to use, and with many maps, loads of "virtual tours" and hours of video as well as huge numbers of photos and dictionary articles this could be a brilliant tool. Priced at US$80 with a prepub price of US$60 it sounds also like exceptionally good value. iLumina an earlier product from the same company also had an excellent interface (for the period ;) however it suffered from poor and superficial information and resources - as I remember it, I only had a few hours to play with a friend's copy. It sounds as if this new product may have fixed that. I wonder who the first biblioblogger will be to get a review copy? I'd love to see some reviews before the cutoff date for the prepub price ;)

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
  Omnisio or nomnisio?
I took a look at Omnisio today. It is a tool that allows one to associate video clips with slide presentations, and then allows users to comment directly on the video. It sounded cool and useful.

I chose to watch Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero talk. Watching him speak, as well as hearing the talk with slides should be so much richer, I thought. And some intelligent comments from other previous watchers would be added value. In fact it is the worst of multimedia meets the worst of "Web 2.0". Since you have good sized video and good sized slides, with OK sound the presentation did not so much stream and trickle with frequent annoying hiccups. Make the video smaller, maybe compress the sound a little more and that combination would be great though (or deliver it from a DVD for real quality). The comments, of course are not intelligent, they are anonymous and crowd out the video with such gems as "Great!!!" repeated 16 times at various apparently arbitrary points. It might have been interesting to know that the chair (that almost appeared in the video) was Ikea, but it was irrelevant and so just another blot on the video. All in all a big disappointment.

Now before you think I am a multimedia Luddite, or a Web 2.0 sceptic, hear me out...

The multimedia aspect is brilliant, the combination of video and slides has the potential to offer so much more than slides and audio alone. Except in this implementation it does not work. Both slides and video are smallish (about 480px wide each) which is unavoidable for web delivery, but they are not small enough (at least on NZ's rather narrow "broadband"). Bigger slides with smaller video in one corner (think Camtasia with a webcam) would download faster and give a fullscreen experience.

Or, deliver it on DVD...

Web 2.0 is great, when users contribute usefully. The "wisdom of crowds" works (at least often) and applications like Google Earth and sites like Flickr use publicly contributed resources brilliantly to provide a growing and useful body of material. But do not give me the folly of "Anonymous" once humans are sure they will not be identified we tend to give reign to our baser instincts - in this case a plethora of useless, annoying and occasionally rude comments. Which proliferate like rabbits, at times almost hiding the presenter behind a barrage of meaningless verbiage.
Microsoft's chief, estimated worth $46bn, is the US' richest man
Make users login, identify them and provide their email address so that particularly crass and stupid "comments" can get the feedback they deserve, and you'd have a brilliant opportunity to interact with the video. (Probably you'd need to put most comments outside the video and only put those which like the "Ikea chair" comment relate directly to some visual element on the video itself.) But you can't do that, because of spam, once again spam ruins a potentially useful tool.
Do you remember back in 2004 when Bill Gates multi-billionaire philanthropist and founder of the world's biggest software company proclaimed that the spam problem would soon fixed? Spam will be a thing of the past in two years' time, Microsoft boss Bill Gates has promised. Nice one Bill!

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Sunday, May 13, 2007
  Sophie: have I seen the future or the past?
There's a story that American journalist Lincoln Steffens visited the USSR and returned, claiming "I've been over into the future and it works!" I have recently begun playing with the Institute for the Future of the Book's alpha release of Sophie, and I have some of the mixed feelings that the Steffens quote elicits today.

Sophie is brilliant, an easy to use editor for complex interactive multimedia. As such it is already superb (though as a pre-release alpha somewhat flaky still), and the plans and dreams of the IFBook people make its future sound even better. If such a tool had existed a few years ago the Amos commentary would have been created using it, and would have emerged very differently from its actual HTML incarnation. Sophie permits rich and varied interactions with multimedia, and will permit comments - creating a community around the media "text". This mix of media with community is evidently the (or at least one) future, and it works! (Or is beginning to work - very well.)

To get a good idea of the possibilities download Mozart's Dissonant Quartet the video with text-over shows some of the possibilities in a timeline based presentation. If you do try it do read the instructions on the page linked above, they will save you (or would have saved me) quite a bit of trying to work out how Sophie works as a reader.

However, to someone used to the free-flowing, largely system independent, world of HTML - and even more so of its more structured and meaningful descendants inhabiting the world of XML - I am frustrated by a system that defines a "page size" (usually a fraction of my screen to accommodate older smaller screens - but pity the user whose screen is too small!) and pages that MUST be turned.

Still, the only demo book I have tried so far Mozart's Dissonant Quartet with its beautiful soundtracks. Here too the ways in which Sophie is "not HTML" can be frustrating, as I said above, till I RTFMed I found the demo far from intuitive to navigate - more of a text adventure with a superb soundtrack than a multimedia experience. Sophie also has a very Macish feel to her, right clicking achieves precisely nothing, though the
interface has Mac's good looks, there are times when Windows comforting convenience is useful! Perhaps when Sophie has her dedicated Reader this will become less of a puzzle. I suspect though it will help if (when IF Book release the "real thing" into the wild) Sophie comes with a firm set of recommended conventions.

Conclusion so far: just one hour in...

Will the limitations of restrictive screen display sizes (so beloved of the graphical designers) be overcome and will the user interface become more intuitive? If so Sophie will make a brilliant environment to produce multimedia instructional materials that can become truly the hub of an interactive communal learning experience... Or is this "future" too restrictive in its polices?

Already - if I was teaching my Bible in an Electronic context course (or in a school) - I can see how students could easily and quickly produce interactive multimedia so easily... I imaging that even some of my IT challenged colleagues could learn to use and love Sophie. And a design that achieves that shows deep wisdom!

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