Thursday, March 4, 2010

YouTube Captions: This is Big.

I don't upload a lot of video to YouTube, but that's going to change. Two nights ago, as we were preparing to launch the FTP Migration Tool, I wanted to do a quick video walk-through to show users how it would work. The video's 8 minutes long, and I was excited to get it done and up ahead of the actual launch so people could get a sense of things before diving in:

I announced it on Buzz, and almost immediately one of our users (someone I've corresponded with on several occasions about Blogger) complained. I was expecting complaints - people aren't thrilled that we've made this decision - but not Rob's. "arrrgh no captions on that video? *sigh"

And suddenly my excitement turned to frustration: yet another thing to tackle. (There've been lots of "yet another thing" when it comes to the FTP shut-down.)

Editing YouTube captions in a text editor

But wait! YouTube announced today that they can now do auto-captioning for all English language videos (with other languages to come). I turned it on for the screencast, and given the technical nature of the words, it wasn't perfect. YouTube lets me download the captions file, however, so all I had to do was open that up in a text editor, and 30 minutes later I had an error-free transcript of the talk (with the timestamps embedded to ensure everything synched up). Uploaded that into YouTube - and bingo: perfect captions, completely synched to my speaking.

It gets better. I noticed that the Captions interface included the ability to upload a transcript, which made me think about the commencement address I gave last year. Unlike other speeches I've given, I wrote this one out in its entirety - and posted it to my blog. I took the text from that blog post, uploaded it, and after just a couple minutes, YouTube converted the transcript into closed captions for the video.

Other than a hiccup with the first few minutes (my transcript begins with my remarks, but the video starts with Rob's introduction of me), the text matches my delivery perfectly. Just like with the screencast's captions, the words can now be translated into any of the dozens of languages YouTube supports.

Here's me in English:

And in French:

This is big. For Blogger, it means that help videos - previously all but impossible to use scalably (we offer Blogger in 42 languages) - can now be more tightly integrated into how we communicate new features. For users, content across languages becomes more accessible. There's no doubt bound to be tremendous search implications (we are Google, after all). And to all the Robs of the world, for whom YouTube was a silent, ever-growing archive of video, I imagine this is indeed huge news.


  1. Certainly is a big thing, makes a MASSIVE difference! :o)

    Glad to see it, considering the deaf ratio (at least in the UK) is 1 in 7 people, a huge chunk of people.

    Thanks for that mention, glad to have pointed it out. ;o)


  2. Rick, Thanks for pointing to this. Too bad Google Video isn't still around for those of us who do longer form content (and can't break through YouTube's minimum monthly views to be come a source that can post longer form content - because we mostly produce longer form content...). - John

  3. kee-RIPES!

    OK. Time to re-think the video angle. Good thing I'm pretty.

  4. I found YouTube's auto-timing from a transcript worked for a bit then totally lost the plot, never to get it back.
    I'm sure it will be better when out of beta :)

    Totally agree with johnkahler about long form video, Vimeo which can do it is sadly lacking in the closed captions department