Over the last 20-years, America’s governing processes have become increasingly voluminous and complicated, having an ever greater effect on our lives. For our democracy to work properly, citizens must now stay more closely informed and engaged than ever before to guide these processes.
Fortunately, technology has done much to assist our democratic process. The 1980s gave us our first taste of affordable video gear. By 1986, Video production equipment that had previously required investments of more than $100,000, could suddenly be acquired for under $20,000. One of television’s greatest ‘barriers of entry’ had fallen!
The widespread proliferation of Cable TV during the 80’s helped to remove the other huge ‘barrier of entry’… delivery. Previously, only broadcasters had a means to distribute video programming. Cable TV offered dozens of available channels! And, their municipal franchise agreements normally included free channels for Public Access, Education and Government.
While still a relatively labor-intensive and complex process, some of the more progressive municipalities and state entities took advantage of these lower costs and alternative means of delivery to start cable-casting public hearings and meetings. For the first time, citizens had the opportunity to stay abreast of local and state proceedings without attending in person! This technological advance introduced a new era in government transparency and accountability. Live and taped video playback allowed citizens to easily see their elected officials at work, something that had heretofore been quite difficult!
The 90s brought even greater cost reductions in television production. Computer based video recording, switching, graphics’ creation, editing and playback had huge impacts on the labor necessary to produce live and taped programming. By the end of the 90s, Internet video streaming began to offer another means to deliver programming. While this technology was still quite expensive in those days, it provided access to an audience much wider than the mostly home-based, cable television subscriber.
Video streaming also began to provide another powerful and time saving feature; Video-On- Demand (VOD). While timed, videotape recording technically provided a form of VOD, the convenience of Internet-based video-on-demand offered a far more efficient process. Viewers could quickly access programming that they missed during a live proceeding and watch it at their leisure, from home or office.
The dawn of the new century brought an even more efficient technology; video indexing. This new feature for streaming video allowed long-format, video programming to be segmented into shorter sections that corresponded to individual items of interest. Some of the more progressive municipalities embraced this technology to divide their video proceedings into individual agenda items. By incorporating video indexing into their Internet VOD programming, citizens now could choose the specific items of interest, without investing hours to view the 15-20 minutes they wanted to watch.
The 2000s also saw huge reductions in the costs of streaming video. Internet bandwidth became a commodity product. ‘Economy of scale’ purchases saw bandwidth costs plummet over 80%. Streaming hardware costs were also reduced by over 50%. Then, even smaller municipalities could afford and justify incorporating live streaming and indexed video. Some groups even leveraged this inexpensive technology to produce regular ‘virtual town hall meetings’ and live ‘talk with your elected official’ streaming events… giving normal citizens access and input never before available.
The mid-2000s saw streaming video proliferate dramatically. Firms like YouTube allowed thousands of Internet users to share video clips with the rest of the world. Viewers could now search through millions of presentations by simply typing a few key words and view the ones of interest on-demand, from the comfort of home and office.
YouTube-type technology has forever changed the concept of transparent government, as the last election cycle demonstrated. The impact of this watershed capability cannot be overstated! Citizens can now find speeches, comments and interviews from virtually any elected official, captured and uploaded by thousands of normal citizens. This technology allows virtually everyone access to important information critical to our society and the democratic process!
In 2008, the next generation of this technology was introduced… ‘viewer-defined indexing’. While tens of thousands of users worldwide have the hardware and software tools to capture, encode and upload videos to YouTube-type Internet sites from satellite, cablecast, broadcast and Internet sources, the vast majority do not have this capability. However, viewer-defined indexing allows any viewer to 1) watch a video, 2) specify the precise segment or ‘video byte’ they desire and 3) create a short Internet link that can be emailed or embedded into a website.
By utilizing viewer-defined indexing, anyone that has the capability to viewing an online government proceeding can easily create and email (or post on a website or blog) a link to a precise segment of that program. This process allows all interested citizens and stakeholders to evaluate and showcase their elected officials work. Government employees are routinely required to create DVD/videotape copies of proceedings in response to requests from citizens via the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). By allowing citizens to create their own links to specific portions of a video, FOIA requests can be almost totally eliminated, literally saving hundreds of hours of labor and thousands of dollars each year.
EarthChannel Communications, Inc. (http://www.earthchannel.com), a leading Internet video service provider to state and local governments is the industry’s first firm to offer viewer-defined indexing. By incorporating EarthChannel’s “TinyClip” feature, its clients can provide viewers a means of creating and extracting a direct link to any segment they choose within any available video presentation. The link to this precise segment can then be easily shared via email or postings on websites, blogs and forums. This break-through technology empowers all viewers of governmental proceedings and videos with a simple tool to share video clips.
Online video and enhanced indexing offer efficient tools to compliment the current local and national trends toward increased governmental transparency and accountability. As these trends evolve, new video technologies will continue to lead us toward better government.