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More Thoughts on The Open Subtitles Summit

On September 29/30 I attended the Open Subtitles Design Summit in New York. I posted the basics of the event here if you’d like the intro. In this post however I wanted to delve in a little more into the sessions, and what some of the outcomes might be, both for EngageMedia and more generally.

Firstly why is subtitling important to EngageMedia? The translation of content is integral to our role as a regional project that aims to connect similar issues across borders and languages. The diversity of language in the Asia-Pacific region is a wonderful asset, however, it also limits the sharing of struggles and thus limits the development of greater collaborations and learning. Climate activists in Thailand could learn an enormous amount from the video work of Indonesian activists, if only they could share their work more effectively without having to rely on English.

A lot of the discussions revolved around Universal Subtitles. If you haven’t tried it, give it a go. You can already use it with videos from EngageMedia; grab the ogg version of the video below the flash player on any video page. You can’t watch the subtitled video inside EngageMedia yet, we still need to write some code to do that.

Open Subtitles Summit

Back to the SubsSummit. The key sessions for me were really the two “managing subtitle communities” sessions, they seemed the most productive and certainly the most relevant for to our work at EngageMedia. There were a number of key ideas and outcomes from this.

  • Rather than building a community on our own, we should be intersecting with organisations like Global Voices (who were at the meeting) to develop a shared community. Global Voices have been particularly successful at developing translation communities through their lingua project, they have 140 people in 15 teams. Universal Subtitles could again provide the infrastructure here to manage and develop these communities.
  • A lot was shared around strategies for developing and scaling translation communities, such as ensuring there is personal contact, mentoring, hooking into peoples personal motivations such as expressing a sense of purpose, getting exposure to other languages and cultures, contribution to something larger than yourself etc.
  • Other points included making sure you have multiple entry points for participants – eg. ensuring people can come and just do a 5-minute task, or take on a feature-length movie.
  • Beyond the obvious human elements, well-structured workflow and a clear way to get from A to C via B is critical. Subtitling workflows are fairly well established but the right kind of open system online need to be developed that allows communities to freely form, collaborate and scale.

There were a lot of other points I haven’t teased out here, if you are interested further you can check the notes for session 1 and session 2 here.

Overall the meeting was very effective, it certainly helped to have Aspiration facilitating to draw it all together. My feeling is that there will be real tangible outcomes from the event. EngageMedia is already discussing how to integrate Universal Subtitles into the site. Watch this space and we’ll certainly keep you update, or if you are interested in helping out, contact us!

Details of all the sessions can be found at
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