Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Media Encoding Tools for Mobile Learning

My friend and colleague Brent Schlenker posted a Tweet yesterday that both caught my attention and also quickly made the rounds through the SoMe ecosystem which read:

Making Video Encoding Easy and Affordable with This is VERY cool! #mlearning #elearning

 The offering cited in the post is for a new cloud-based application/service called from a company of the same name. Their mission, as stated on their corporate web site, is as follows:

"Until we launched in the summer of 2008, video platform operators had two choices: inflexible encoding software or expensive hardware encoding appliances. Now, there's a third and better option — encoding in “the cloud” wrapped within an “on demand, pay as you go” delivery model... Site operators can now focus on content and the user experience while allowing us to ensure that content is available to all users on the most popular Internet and mobile devices."

As a techie actively involved in mlearning content production every day - much of that media-based - I can fully appreciate the benefit this sort of service can offer mlearning content producers and practitioners. In fact, we've spent over 2 years working to develop an efficient  way to streamline all of the necessary media conversion processes and business work flows our mobile customers/partners face prepping and deploying content both to the web and out to mobile devices.  As anyone who works in an environment where "device diversity" is a challenge (where you've got RIM BlackBerrys, Apple iPhones, Android phones, Windows Mobile, Symbian-based smartphones, netbooks, whatever!), a video format that's ideal for one device is likely not ideal for others in your population, and even older devices from the same company (e.g., RIM) may not play (or prefer) the same encoded media files as their newer siblings.

Brent's post piqued my interest and so I decided to do more than just RT the same news to the same people and see what this new service had to offer.  Here's my quick take.

The Pros
  1. This software-as-a-service application is well conceived and polished.  It uses an installed "desktop client" (though PC only) to help you organize your files for conversion and nicely packages, delivers and manages secure file uploads and downloads for your media.
  2. Customers can select/utilize a set of predefined conversion templates that make it easy to "transcode" a master/source file from one format into a variety of different output formats.  Or they can change/edit these core templates to meet their own specifications.
  3. Uploaded files are processed and returned back to the producer's desktop computer where they can then be prepared for deployment out to the web or destination mobile devices.
  4. Pricing for the service can be handled via a monthly plan or can also be usage-based. 
The Cons:
  1. This sort of cloud-based offering is ideal for single authors but not necessarily great for content creation teams.
  2. The predefined encoding templates don't offer as many options as some of the other higher end offerings.  And actions like automatic insertion of DRM information isn't possible and will need to be added manually after the fact if required. 
  3. While the output files are nicely delivered back to your computer, most of them will need to be uploaded back into the cloud for distribution to your web site, LMS or mobile devices. Given decent looking videos for mobile devices can run from 1-2MB/minute, producing long form videos in multiple formats will result in lots of content shuttling.  In comparison, an enterprise transcoding process (like the one we have integrated into our CellCast Solution platform) will automatically post the output files onto the destination servers and can even streamline your efforts to package your new media files for automatic distribution to all your target mobile devices.
  4. While the pricing options are generally fairly reasonable, the cost of a mid-level to professional media encoding software suite -- which you can also configure to run in your own cloud -- is probably cheaper and can serve a bigger production team.  
Bottom line: As an enterprise mlearning platform provider, our requirements differ from those of most T&D teams just starting to get their feet wet in the mobile space.  However, I do think this is an innovative and novel approach for encoding media files.  And as mobile devices get more capable, the appetite of your mobile learners for compelling content that's professionally encoded for their devices will surely increase. And thanks to Brent for bringing it to my attention too!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for leaving your comments. I will try and respond directly to any positive ideas or active discourse as soon as possible.