How to Tweet Live Video of Your Presentation with Meerkat

Meerkats-Auckland_ZooNo doubt you’ve heard of Meerkat and its coronation as the next big thing at the recent SXSW conference. If not, think of it as a mobile video streaming app that piggybacks on Twitter. Imagine a live video stream of Romney’s “47% moment,” and you’ll see why Meerkat has caused a stir. 

To quickly check it out, search #Meerkat on Twitter and you will be inundated with “LIVE NOW #meerkat” tweets – followed by a url. Click on the link and most likely you’ll find a screen that says “STREAM OVER. Tune in next time @so-and-so is live.” (Plus an invitation to download the app and follow the Tweeter). I’m guessing that most Meerkasts are people testing it out for a few seconds. But you might also get to watch a live screencast of a band rehearsal or a breaking news story. Time will tell if Meerkat is the next Instagram or Ello.

If you have downloaded the app its easy to sign up with your Twitter account. Don’t be afraid to try your own test Meerkast. Most likely no one will tune in so you can check it out in private. If any viewers start watching you they will appear as Twitter icons at the top of the screen. You can decide if you’re having a bad hair day and it’s time to shutdown.

I recently “Meerkasted” (is that now a verb?) a talk I gave to a small gathering of colleagues at the University of Portland. The app was easy and effective enough to demonstrate to me that Meerkat could be useful for reaching an off-site audience at presentations and other events. Meerkat doesn’t provide an FAQ, so here’s what I’ve learned through experience or research. 

In advance:
Meerkat allows you either begin a live stream immediately, or “schedule” one for the future (no sooner than 5 mins). If you choose to schedule, then others who follow you on Meerkat or Twitter will see your promo tweet (with an image you can upload). They can choose to subscribe via the Meerkat app or simply check back on your Twitter stream at the appointed time.

It could be my bad luck, but I tried to “schedule” a Meerkat multiple times and was never able to get it to work. (If someone knows the trick to that or has any other Meerkat tips, please leave a comment below.) So instead of scheduling it, I just tweeted out an advance notice to tune in to the event with date and time. Then I started a live stream just before I began the talk.

Tech tips for set up:

  • At this point it’s iOS only, but Android is sure to follow.
  • Meerkat is a bit of a battery hog. I suggest having your iPhone on a charger.
  • You’ll need a mount to hold your iPhone. I use a Square Jellyfish “Spring Tripod Mount.” It clamps securely on my iPhone 5s and provides a junction to a standard tripod. It’s adjustable enough to accommodate the larger 6 series and most iPhone cases. With a mini tripod, you could set up your iPhone on your lectern.
  • Be sure to set your iPhone in portrait format. If you try to shoot in landscape, Meerkat will zoom in and convert the image to portrait anyway.
  • The front facing camera works fine and points the iPhone mic in your direction. If you set the camera fairly close to you, it allows you to check your position in the frame. 
  • Stick with a headshot. While you can view a Meerkast on any web-enabled device, it’s really designed for the intimacy of iPhone viewing. I had a Keynote presentation going in the background, but kept it out of the frame. (There’s too much contrast to try shoot video of a person in front of a presentation screen.)
  • If you have the iPhone set up within a few feet of you, its mic should work fine.
  • If you choose to use iPhone’s iSight camera remember that the built in mic will be facing away from you. You’ll be “off-mic” unless you add external microphone. You could use a small directional mic, but you’re making this all it too complicated. Meerkat is useful because its simple. You could use a headphone mic, but do you really want your live audience to think your listening to music? 
  • My experience and some contact with other users suggests that the sound / image sync is more stable when you use your cell network rather than wifi. In my tests, it was always flawless over cell, wifi got out of sync half the time. (Another reason I keep my grandfathered unlimited data plan with AT&T.)  
  • There’s 10 sec delay between you and your Meerkast, so I wouldn’t spend too much time focussed on your iPhone. 
  • Your Meerkast audience can tweet in comments which will appear on your Meerkat app. (That interaction works best when you are doing a intimate Meerkast over your latte). I found them too small to read during my presentation. If you want to follow Meerkast tweets while presenting, you could have another device with you at the podium dialed into Twitter. 
  • You could respond to tweets coming in and do the whole “backchannel” thing, but that can get complicated during a presentation. Unless you have someone else to follow and respond to your Meerkast tweets, keep it simple and focus on your live audience.

After the session:
Since Meerkat only streams in portrait, a YouTube broadcast of your Meerkast will look like it was shot by someone who doesn’t know enough to shoot their video in the desktop-friendly landscape mode. Nonetheless, Meerkat allows you to save your livesteam to your iPhone at the end of the session. You could then upload that to YouTube or use in another context. That save feature seems to work fine for shorter streams. I tried to save a 50 min session and it failed.

Another option for saving your livesteam is to add #katch hashtag in the title of your Meerkast. Katchkats will automatically create a YouTube video and post it back to Twitter with your Twitter handle. (If you forget, you can tweet a #katch hashtag via the Meerkat app anytime during your session and your Meerkast will be saved). #Katch places some limits on lengths of Meerkasts – it failed to save my 50 min session because of it’s length. Note: If you shoot a Meerkast in landscape and save via #katch it still ends up on YouTube in portrait.

Meerkat is easy to use, but the product is ephemeral. If you really want to share a high quality record of your presentation, you should be using another platform like UStream.

When I Meerkasted my presentation, I stayed focussed on the audience in the room. Meerkat was set up, running and other than staying in the frame, I ignored it. Since I was unable to save the presentation, I have no permanent record of the event. But I had a tech in the room tuned into to my Meerkast checking in on his headphones. From what he told me, it went fine. I had a dozen Meerkast viewers who didn’t tweet much. But that was fine with me since it was a test run. I’m keynoting and running some workshops at Southern Oregon University Ed Tech Summit next month. Tune in on April 17th and see Meerkat in action. 

Image Credit Wikipedia / Vườn thú Auckland

Students Create Augmented Reality History Tour

This guest post is written by Greg Wimmer, Central York (PA) High School. I met Greg at TechitU and was impressed by the projects skillful integration of technology and community involvement into the hIstory classroom. Greg’s guest post follows:

As the Advanced Placement exam season draws to an end in early May, I am always left with a month to explore the intricacies of US History with my students. I usually throw a big project at them to occupy their time and push their thinking in ways that I could not have done during the course. This past spring, however, my ideas were lacking and I was fishing for ideas from other faculty members. After speaking with one of our tech assistants, who is also a board member for the York County Heritage Trust, I reached out to Dan Roe, the educational director for the Trust. My goal was to hopefully devise a project we could complete in May. Through our meeting, I learned that the Trust had desired to push their walking tours in to the 21st Century. We explored several options, but decided that the students could write and produce movies for the Trust’s historic walking tours that could be accessed via – Aurasma – a location-based, augmented-reality smartphone app (or a device provided by the Trust). What happened to Aurasma?

The students were well aware of the project before May, but we unfortunately had no time before then to begin writing the script. In mid-May 2012, Mr. Roe joined my students for two days of collaborative writing. Their scripts focused on two major aspects of York(town) history: 1. York was the political center of the colonies during part of the American Revolution. 2. The Articles of Confederation were completed and signed in York, making it the nation’s first capital. Two groups (of approximately 6 students each) wrote competing scripts for both of the movies. Mr. Roe read the scripts for historical and contextual accuracy and made notes where appropriate. After rewrites were completed, they spent several days writing shot lists and preparing equipment for the shoot. With the exception of a “student on loan” from the TV production class, none of the students had prior experience with equipment or acting.

Students can do amazing things! It’s not until your own students complete a colossal project, that you truly begin to appreciate their capabilities. ~ Greg Wimmer

The first day of shooting took place at the Gates House and Golden Plough Tavern, both built in the mid-Eighteenth Century. Lighting and acting jitters proved to be the biggest hurdles, but we amazingly made it through all of the scenes in about 3 hours. While on set, the students were shocked with amount of detail involved with shooting such a short film. Their respect for film and movie-making increased dramatical over the course of the afternoon.

Filming for day 2 required the students to prep and shoot on the spot with random merchants in Central Market York. Two groups fanned out, asked for participation, and held up cue cards during filming. We also had location shoots scheduled for that afternoon, requiring students to set up and tear down several times. By the end of day 2, the students were exhausted and ready to get back to school.

Making Of Video

They spent the next week tying the project together. Two groups edited the videos separately, one group worked with Aurasma, and the other group prepped for the “making of” video. The groups that edited were shocked with the painstaking process of parcelling the movie together. They ran in to one or two continuity issues while piecing together scenes, requiring creative editing on their part. The two girls who worked on Aurasma ironed out the dilemma of image-based vs. location-based markers. They also took the liberty of creating a YouTube channel for the Heritage Trust as well as other accounts necessary to manage the videos and augmented reality program. The final group helped to create the raw footage for the “making of” video. They devised questions, created a set, and interviewed each of the students in class. They also interviewed Mr. Roe and myself for the video. They spent their final class presenting all of their videos, accounts, and reflections to Mr. Roe. He was thoroughly impressed with their final product and invited future classes to create more content for the Trust.

Lessons Learned:

Jump In – While I am very comfortable with iMovie, I knew little about the movie-making process required to complete “professional” videos. The Trust project gave me the opportunity to learn with the students and collectively tap our creativity. Two years ago, my AP students completed an archaeological dig at an early Nineteenth Century home behind our high school. I worked closely with someone from the Anthropology Department of a local university to organize the event. Going in to the project, I had zero knowledge on the processes involved in such a project. But that’s the point. Showing students that you can (gently) throw caution in to the wind and work together to create something unique and original.

Don’t trust technology and expecting the unexpected – When we returned to the high school at the end of the first day, we needed to download our video from the camera card to make room on the disk for day 2. Much to our surprise, NONE of the video files were there. After much jiggling and encouragement (and 45 minutes later), the computer read the files. I have honestly never watched a file transfer so closely in my life. In that situation, I would not have known how to tell students that their hard work was for nothing. Thankfully, things worked out!

Students can do amazing things! – Like many teachers, I spend a good deal of time looking at blog posts and twitter links to projects created by other classes. It is not until your own students complete a colossal project, that you truly begin to understand the their capabilities. At the same time, the students were giddy about their final product and recognized that teamwork in an academic setting makes for positive results.

Greg Wimmer is the Social Studies Department Chair at Central York High School. He’s in his 10th year of teaching – AP US History and Honors Global Studies. He describes himself as “a husband, father, teacher, and collaborator, I commit myself personally and professional to producing creative avenues for growth. Over the past 9 years, I have searched for new ways to build student understanding through collaboration and ingenuity.” Greg can be reached via Twitter@gregwim

Photo credits: Greg Wimmer

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