Social reporting kitbag

Last week I covered what online services are good for covering events online – what is rapidly becoming known as ‘social reporting’, thanks to David Wilcox’s evangelism.

It might also be useful to write a few notes about the physical kit need to successfully report an event online – which can be very, very simple to rather more complicated, depending on budget and how large your bag is.

Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments!

1. Cameraphone

At the very least, this is all you need. A mobile phone that can take photos, and preferably video (hang your head in shame, Apple) and has at the very least email to send stuff is perfectly adequate for social reporting at a basic level.

Using something like Ning to publish social reporting media makes this easy, as it enables you to upload content to the site by just emailing it as an attachment to a special address. If your phone has wireless or 3G built into it, then this is made much easier than using the traditional network!

Using your mobile with other services can make things even easier – such as Qik.com for many phones other than the iPhone (unless you have been naughty and jail broken it…) which enables you to stream live video content to the web, which after ‘transmission’ becomes embeddable just like YouTube, Vimeo et al.

If you have an iPhone you can also use it to make audio podcast type interviews, using the excellent Audioboo service which I also covered last week. David used this at the recent World Entrepreneurs Summit to great effect, as written up by Paul Henderson.

The other advantage of using a phone is that most delegates will have one too – so it is easy to show them how to use it to create online content and get them involved in social reporting.

There are limits to using a phone for this stuff though – you wouldn’t want to live-blog too many events using predictive text, for example!

2. Netbook

The next stage up is to take a little laptop with you. This will help when blogging and will also enable you to perform some basic editing on the content you are producing, without having to lug a big laptop around with you.

I find my Macbook a bit cumbersome, to be honest, and my current favourite machine for this task is a Samsung NC10.

3. Camera

Most times, the quality of a picture taken on a phone is good enough for social reporting. However, you might like to take a dedicated camera along to take some higher quality snaps.

This could be a simple point and click digital camera, or a DSLR if you want even better quality images – it really does come down to budget and how much kit you want to lug around. I use a Nikon D40 which is a fairly basic DSLR but is lightweight and easy to use.

Obviously if you use a dedicated camera, you’ll need a computer to be able to upload your images.

4. Flips

Flips are little video cameras that were made for social reporting. Very, very easy to use, they are also cheap and small. It is probably fair to say that they are also less intimidating that traditional camcorders for recording interviews with delegates.

Flips are so easy to use (press the red button to start recording, press it again to stop and, er, that’s it) that you can also lend them to delegates and get them to interview each other, thus combining some digital enabling with the reporting!

Again, you will need a computer to upload your videos, but at least with a Flip, all the software you need is built in and ready to use.

5. Audio recorder

Mobile phones can be used as audio recorders, as mentioned above, but it might be the case that you want something a little better to record either audio interviews or perhaps to capture speeches and talks that are given at an event.

Dedicated audio recorders come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and prices. You need to make sure that the one you choose can pick up a good level of sound, and can exclude background noise. It might be best to choose one that can offer a lapel microphone or similar.

I have an M-Audio Microtrack II, though I rarely get the most out of it – perhaps I should read the manual. I have also heard good things about the Edirol R-09HR.

If you are recording audio using a dedicated device, you might need some half decent audio editing software on your computer – Audacity is a good option, or most Macs come with Garageband which is ok.

6. Camcorder

You might need something a little more professional than a Flip camera to record some video footage – perhaps if you are live streaming talks or speeches.

Things to look out for are having an external microphone socket – as audio quality is so important with online video; and it helps if the camera records to hard disk or a flash card, so you don’t have to spend ages converting the video before you upload it.

With this sort of video content, you might need some video editing software on your computer – which can get costly. iMovie on a Mac is probably all you need though, or on a PC Adobe Premiere Elements is reasonably priced.

7. Powerful laptop

If you are getting into video and audio editing, the likelihood is that your Netbook is going to struggle power-wise. Not only that, but you might need the Netbook for blogging at the same time that you are uploading video.

So it’s a good idea to have a more powerful laptop around to do the grunt work. You can leave it uploading, for instance, while you go away and do other stuff.

8. Other bits

There are a few other odds and sods which are vital to bring along to make sure everything goes smoothly:

  • Batteries – especially if you have a Flip or two knocking about
  • Extension lead – for when stuff needs charging up
  • Memory sticks and flash cards – so you can upload from one while creating more content on another
  • USB cables – to connect equipment to computers. I usually take two.
  • Card reader – many laptops these days have these built in, but Macbooks don’t, among others

5 thoughts on “Social reporting kitbag”

  1. Thanks, Dave; this is a good list. On audio recorders: I currently have two. The Olympus DS-40 is very handy, in a dictaphone format, but the quality is surprisingly good, and if you have the extension cable/remote you can wear the stereo mic on your lapel. For heavier-duty purposes I did look at the Microtrack, but opted for the Zoom H4 instead, which works well with professional microphones with an XLR cable. I have to say that the Zoom’s tiny interface and fiddly controls are annoying, though.

    My favourite batteries are the red and green NiHM rechargeables from Uniross, which can be bought at Maplins in the UK. Unlike most NiMH cells, they lose charge very, very slowly in storage, and in fact you buy them ready-charged.

  2. This is fantastic, Dave. Sounds like there’s a real emerging methodology coming together here. Looking forward to your social reporting at our event next week!

    What about a post describing some of the tips and tricks for capturing the vibe of the event? Seems to me that getting to speak to interesting people, juggling audio, video, images and words – as well as monitoring the online discussion and trying to upload some of that in more or less real time, is quite a tall order. What’s your secret?

  3. An excellent list Dave. I think the only bit of hardware I’d add might be a portable mixer if you’re running a number of input streams/devices at any location. On the audio recording side, I’ve used the Zoom H4’s little brother, the H2 and it performs really well and appears as a USB drive when connected to your PC, so taking the recorded audio off for editing, etc is very easy. There’s lots of audio editing software to choose from and Audacity is a good choice, Wavepad is another one that gets mentioned quite a lot. Another very useful tool is Levelator http://www.conversationsnetwork.org/levelator which evens out the sound levels across the whole recording very effectively.

    Just to move away from the ‘kit’ slightly, I think another important aspect of any reporting that you intend to do is to have a plan of what you want from it before you do it, rather than do it and then wonder what you can do with it. I don’t think this planning needs to be burdensome, but it should help you check you’ve got everything you need and are organised when an opportunity arises. For example, if you’re intending to produce podcasts of the content then a resource like ‘How to do Everything with Podcasting’ from the FIR team of Shel Holtz @shel and Neville Hobson @jangles which I bought is excellent and gives you a comprehensive view of all the aspects that need to be considered, along with information about hardware and software, etc. If you’re more interested in doing something for broadcast media then ItrainOnline http://www.itrainonline.org/itrainonline/english/index.shtml has a lot of excellent training content and resources in the Multimedia section, covering audio, video and community radio.

  4. Thanks guys.

    Conrad – there are definitely some good, cheaper options out there for audio recording. I went for the Microtrack because of Neville‘s recommendation and because it had lots of exciting buttons and sockets on it.

    Steph – I think there are some clear steps emerging, at least around the ‘easy’ technology stuff. In terms of the actual doing the social reporting – as you say, there are a lot of roles to be filled – you need bodies. One person can’t do it alone, unless you manage to recruit reporters from the delegates, which happened for me in Sweden in December with Cisco. Even then, though, I was taking photos, recording on a Flip *and* blogging all at the same time at one point.

    Tony – thanks for all those tips and links, I’ll be following them up.

  5. Dave – great list of kit, and thanks for the mention. It feels as if social reporting is going mainstream. Maybe we can get a bunch of social reporters together to collaborate on further developing the DIY kit from your own advice, plus the guide Bev Trayner and I put together @tony – there’s more there on planning.
    Minor additions –
    One piece of software I’ve found invaluable for editing video on the day is the free cross-platform MPEG Streamclip. You can very quickly trim start and finish if necessary, and then quickly export an MPEG4 that is well compressed and consequently uploads faster. Hat tip to my son Daniel J, who recommended some settings I’m happy to share.
    I still occasionally use Qik.com, but there’s an underlying anxiety that the streaming upload won’t work if the wifi or 3G connection is flaky. In the past I’ve managed to get videos off the phone – where they should save. But it can be a bit tedious, and the other day when reporting at the World Entrepreneur Summit with Paul Henderson I couldn’t find the files after a streaming failure.
    You mention Videoboo in your previous post and it really works for me. The great advantage is people feel they are in control, they add their names and descriptions, and instant uploads work. If not, there’s a .mov on the hard drive. But of course you need a Mac laptop.
    The other camera I use for capturing – for example – speakers from the front row, is a Sanyo Xacti with an external mic on a bracket, and a monopod.
    @Steph – as you indicate, the real challenge is capturing the buzz. As Dave and Tony imply planning and collaboration is really important. If you just turn up alone on the day you can spend a lot of time trying to establish a base, miss lots of stuff, and end up with a load of rather unrelated content. I think social reporting (rather than just reporting) has to be integrated into an event, with the commitment of the organiser, a good base, the right kit, and a team. Maybe one person concentrates on the formal stuff (great if you have streaming video to create an archive too), someone elsewhere interviews key participants (with intros from an organiser to speed things up), and ideally others are just looking around for conversations, happenings. Then someone needs to be twittering, blogging, editing video, uploading etc, Some roles combine, some don’t so easily. And, of course, the best thing is for event participants to be part of that mix.
    A couple of years ago no-one had heard of social reporting (outside reporting society events). In a few more years I hope people will be say … “social reporting? But don’t we all do that?”
    The real added-value of the dedicated social reporter will, in my view, increasing revolve around helping organisers and others in an event think through and realise what extra benefits blending online and offline can achieve. I think we now know pretty much how to do it. We also need to keep asking why. What makes it worth the effort … for the different interests involved? Social reporter evaluation kit anyone?

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