Livestreaming From Your Mobile Phone: An Interview with Bambuser

Posted on December 19, 2011 by Matisse Bustos Hawkes

photo courtesy of Måns Adler, Co-founder of Bambuser

photo courtesy of Måns Adler, Co-founder of Bambuser

The company and the service they provide have been frequently in the news this year as protestors from Cairo to California have made use of the app. It was also just named by Wired UK as one of the “25 Big Ideas for 2012” (the January 2012 will be available online later next week).

I had the opportunity to put some questions to the company’s Executive Chairman, Hans Eriksson.

Q: Bambuser is not the first livestreaming mobile phone app in existence. How does it work differently from other services out there? And why do you think the app has become so popular with activists from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park and beyond?

Hans: There are a number of differences between Bambuser and other services. The three most important are:

  • Bambuser provides a service that has proven to be the most reliable for continuous mobile live video streaming and broadcasting even over weak networks. The reliability has been one of the out-most important aspects.
  • We provide as close to real-time streaming as your connection allows. As my colleague Jonas Vig explained in the Wall Street Journal: “…if you are in an area with a poor connection, the frame rate will drop down, but it will be as close to real time as possible.” The article goes on to explain, “Normal video is transmitted at around 30 frames per second. That requires a good connection. The Bambuser app will drop as low as single figures, so the effect will be jerky, but it will still be real time… once the livestream is over, the app uploads the missing frames, backfilling the video so that the replayed video is of much higher quality.”
  • Bambuser supports, by far, the highest number of handsets. Currently around 360 different models. This includes most models based on iOS, Android, Symbian (Nokia), Bada (Samsung), Meego and Maemo (Nokia), Windows Mobile – this means that if you have a smartphone you’re most likely able to use Bambuser Find your phonehere.

Q: What are the three most important things for people to keep in mind as they livestream from their mobile phone?

Hans: From a user perspective only one thing, and that’s safety. From a quality perspective:

  • Keep an eye on the “stream health”. The Stream health is an indication of how good the viewer experience is. E.g. streaming in very high quality when you have a poor connection generates a poor viewer experience. If stream health is below 60% consider switching to lowerresolution. If the Stream health indicates 100% you may be able to increase video resolution.
  • Audio is the single most important thing. If you’re interviewing someone, make sure to keep him or her close to the phone or use an external microphone. Try to tell your viewers what’s going on in the video, this will help them get a richer context and make them watch longer. Interacting with your viewers enables you also to ask them about video and sound quality
  • Try to keep the phone steady and try to avoid sudden moves. When turning in another direction, try to do it gently as this will give the viewers a much better experience.

Q: Can you share a couple of examples of noteworthy streams on Bambuser from the past couple of months?

Hans:

  • From Syria, we’ve seen some really terrible footage from recent fighting in the town of Deir Ezzor (you may also be able to get live footage from this user).
  • An Occupy Wall Street activist was broadcasting live from the police van – after the arrests at the Winter Garden/Goldman Sachs building (December 12, 2011)
  • A Russian activist who got arrested in Moscow broadcasted his arrest live. Here he is minutes before getting arrested:

Minutes later in the police car. And later in the arrest.

  • Egyptian human rights activist Ramy Raoof broadcasting live during protests in Cairo days before the [parliamentary] election (November 2011). The video stops as he’s being hit by rubber bullets fired by the Egyptian Military/Police. Documentation of violence and wrongdoings will become default and this will enable the outside world to get a much wider picture of the actual situation in places where unrest is present.
  • And some video from new unrest starting last Friday, Dec 16th in Cairo.

Q: Has the app changed as a result of feedback from users, particularly activists in the Middle East? If so, what modifications have been made?

Hans:   It has not changed, but it has evolved – most obvious is that we’ve been optimizing the app for streaming over poor connections. We’ve also recently launched record video offlinemode when you have very poor or no network at all. These have been outright requests from activists. We always listen to feedback and requests from our users and try to include as many useful and great ideas as we can.

Q:  What safety settings are available for users of Bambuser?

Hans: Geo-positioning is always opt-in and it’s up to you as a user/broadcaster to decide if you want to share your location or not. We also allow for anonymous registration. It’s important to remember however, the less information you provide, the harder it is to verify location of the video footage and in the end it’s harder to verify the authenticity. It’s a trade off. The user has to make a choice, but safety is always most important.

Q: The New York Times recently published an article about the growing potential of livestreaming as a way for viewers to be connected to events as they happen. Do you have any predictions or hopes for how mobile livestreaming will be used in 2012?

Hans:  2012 is the year when mobile live streaming will boom. One of the main reasons is that mainstream media is starting to understand the power of the medium as it’s been used by people all over the world, to share exceptional moments and unparalleled stories in real time. From the upraise in the middle east and north Africa, to the Occupy movements around the world  – via child births and wedding ceremonies – everyone has a story to share with their world. More and more people understand how apps like Bambuser can be used in so many ways to interact and communicate with the world as well as with friends, family and followers. The infrastructure is of course important too, with handsets becoming better and better, data plans getting cheaper and the mobile data networks are improving by the day. Many factors coming together will help mobile live video broadcasting going mainstream and spread to the masses next year.

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  3. Matisse Bustos Hawkes December 22, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Another stream coming out of Homs, Syria on Dec 22, 2011: http://bambuser.com/channel/homsnow/broadcast/2230758 where the livestreamer identifies the gunshots, etc. as coming from al Assad’s army and plumes of smoke and shouting can be seen/ heard for about a hour of filming – from a vantage point of a rooftop on what appears to be a point across town from where the siege is taking place.

  4. Matisse Bustos Hawkes December 20, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Thanks to Mobile Media Toolkit’s blog for crossposting this interview to their blog: http://www.mobilemediatoolkit.org/livestreaming-your-mobile-phone-interview-bambuser

  5. Matisse Bustos Hawkes December 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Also worth checking out – this great case study by the smart people at MobileActive’s Mobile Media Toolkit project. It’s a “how to” use Bambuser overview complete with video: http://mobilemediatoolkit.org/how-use-bambuser-live-stream-your-news-content

  6. Pingback: Human Rights Day Series: Resources for #Video4Change Activists : Video For Change

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