Digital Researcher Science Communication

Headliner Video, a podcast tool that could help botanists produce video

One of the problems botanists have creating social video is a lot of the time the subject is static. Headliner Video is a tool that helps with that problem.

WNYC had a problem promoting their podcasts. They wanted to share them on social media, but sites like Twitter and Facebook are geared to the visual instead of audio. Their solution was to convert their podcasts into video clips and they created a tool for this Audiogram. It’s proven very successful for them.

More recently Sparemin has developed the concept and developed a website Headliner, which can take audio files and make them into video. With some added features. From my point of view, the most interesting feature is that you can reformat the videos from landscape to square or portrait – and that way you can share in more social media friendly proportions.

What interests me is that it’s taking something with little or no visuals and creating shareable video. With recent changes to Twitter, that would be tedious to discuss here, being able to create video clips is very attractive.

Another feature of Headliner is that it can create captions for the audio. This is vital for social video, as so many people browse with their speaker off. So, for a botanist, you can record an audio clip, add an image of what you’re talking about and get captions and a little animation to share online. It can be an alternative to a photo and caption, and also allow you to share something a little longer than character or space limitations would normally allow.

When you have the video you can then download it and share anywhere from YouTube to Instagram and any other social network you fancy – if you’ve created a version of the video in the right proportions.

There are a couple of drawbacks.

The first is that the captions are created using text-to-speech and this is patchy in quality. YouTube have found a way round this by allowing people to upload a text file, and letting the server work out what words go where with the audio. That might not be so practical for podcasts, so it’s not a huge surprise that Headliner doesn’t have this as an option, but it means you will need to tweak those captions. On the plus side, the system chops the captions up into manageable chunks and you can go over and over changing the transcript one chunk at a time.

The video editing screen

You can change around with the look of the captions to a degree, with a choice of fonts and size. If you do this after setting your timings, then all that effort is probably lost as the site will chop up the text into new blocks to fit the new caption style into the video. So captions are fiddly, but not excessively so.

The second problem is it’s free. Right now that’s good news, but it’s not sustainable. Sparemin should be earning something from this in the future, but that means future costs are a bit of a shadow. Some competitors cost $30 a month or more. A subscription cost near this would easily torpedo using the site in the future. I can sympathise with the developers if they feel a little exasperated that I’m complaining about the site being free.

There are other options, not least buying a full-featured video editor, but the beauty of Headliner is the simplicity in getting something usable out on the right proportions. It tackles its job, making socially shareable podcast clips in a simple way, very well. However, getting the simplicity right makes Headliner a surprisingly adaptable tool.

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