Universal Subtitles: Open Source Subtitling for Web Video

Posted on August 20, 2010 by Witness Administrator

Last week, our friends at the Participatory Culture Foundation put out a beta release of Universal Subtitles, an online tool that allows people to add subtitles to any video on the web.

Although it’s still in beta, Universal Subtitles looks really promising as it’s designed to work with videos already on the web. This means you can pull a video from Youtube or Blip.tv and add your own subtitle track. Once the first set of subtitles is complete you can add translations or ask others to submit a translation.

Universal Subtitles has one of the slicker interfaces I’ve seen for transcribing audio. It’s a three step process in which you 1) type in the transcription, 2) set the timing using a “guitar hero” style interface, and 3) review and share the subtitled video via embedding or social networks.

The tool is well laid out and easy to use, each step has a video tutorial which walks you through the process, not that it’s needed since everything is pretty intuitive. I tested it out on the first 25 seconds of one our videos, and it took about 5 minutes to go through the three stages.

One potential drawback is that the Universal Subtitles player uses Javascript to generate the embed code which can get messed up on some wysiwyg editors, including the one used to edit this blog. Overall it looks like a great tool that will make it much easier for people to translate videos. I’m looking forward to seeing what else the people at Universal Subtitles come up with. Some of the features in the pipeline include:

  • Ability to link multiple URLs to a video
  • Discussion spaces on every video and translation (‘talk’ pages)
  • Support on all modern web browsers
  • Caption -> subtitle conversion / options
  • Support for non-latin character sets
  • Machine translation option once subtitles have been transcribed
  • Keyboard accessbility for site and widget
  • Support for translating the interface of the subtitling tool and website
  • Subtitle ratings and flagging
  • Messaging among Universal Subtitles users
  • HTML5 embedding code that includes flash fallback options
  • Compliance with emerging timed text standards
  • Additional import / export subtitle formats


I spoke to Dean Jansen from Open Subtitles and learned that they’re working on a WordPress plugin which will hopefully fix the embed situation with their player. I also just got an email asking me to review some revisions made to my original subtitles.

Universal Subtitles Reviewing Screen

Revisions done by others to your subtitles can be reviewed side by side.

To learn more about Universal Subtitles, check out their demo at http://universalsubtitles.org/demo/

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Pingback: Universal Subtitles Video Editing Workflow: Working With the Subtitle Track : Video For Change

  2. Richard Jenkins November 11, 2011 at 11:31 am

    A great piece of software. The more access people have to subtitled videos the better!

  3. Alin August 28, 2010 at 4:26 am

    Just added Romanian translation!

    I was following the development of Open Subtitles for some time and I am very excited about the project!

    • Bryan August 30, 2010 at 8:57 am

      Thank you Alin, for the Romanian translation!

      Thanks also to dwiRianto for the Indonesian, terima kasih!

  4. Rezwan August 26, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    The Bengali subtitle is now added.

    • Bryan August 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm

      Very cool! Thanks Rezwan, now I just need to figure out the right text encoding to see the Bengali script :-).

  5. Bryan August 26, 2010 at 8:25 am

    And now there's a Polish version too!

  6. Alan August 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Just did a quick Spanish translation of the subtitles. Got turned on to Universal Subtitles yesterday and found this video which needs translating into as many languages as possible.

    • Bryan August 25, 2010 at 2:42 pm

      Thanks Alan! We definitely appreciate the help and will try to use universal subtitles on more of our videos.

    • aboodilankaboot August 26, 2010 at 4:29 am

      Much appreciated for the Spanish translation Alan!


  7. aboodilankaboot August 23, 2010 at 7:20 am

    You're welcome Bryan.

  8. Bryan August 23, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Over the weekend someone came in and finished the subtitles for the video I started as an example. Thanks to user "abood" over at universalsubtitles.org!

  9. aboodilankaboot August 21, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Hi Bryan

    I took the liberty of completing the subtitling job of the video you embedded above and which you have already worked on. I would like you to check it out.

    I'm not sure if your comments moderation allows website addresses to be inserted in here, therefore, I will provide the normal link and lettered link.



    http colon slash slash universalsubtitles dot org slash videos slash ezhyEsZyuiYm slash

    Finally, please note that this is not spam and that I really completely subtitled the video above.


    • Bryan August 25, 2010 at 8:22 am

      @aboodilankaboot Great job with the subtitles! You even managed to get the all cap WITNESS down, as well as spelling Neyra's name correctly. Thanks again for taking the time to do such a thorough job!

  10. randa August 21, 2010 at 7:07 am

    well done

  11. Booger Bender August 20, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Don't forget Booger Bender.

    I'm always down for promoting anyone to encourage accessibility of the Internet.


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