Did I miss the Amara memo? Easy subtitling!

Amara (Universal Subtitles) is great stuff! Apologies to everyone for whom it is old news: I had heard of it before but not bothered to check it out, assuming it would be super-hard and fiddly. I really didn’t find it so.

How it works: you find a video on a popular video website (Youtube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, or several codecs downloaded directly for that matter) that doesn’t have subtitles. You submit the URL into the Amara website and a tool opens up that lets you enter subtitles for the video, in three steps:

  1. type in all the subtitles a line at a time as you pause and restart the video (assuming you need to, professional closed captioners may not need to)
  2. sync the subtitles with the speech (by pressing a single key every time it’s time to start a new subtitle)
  3. review and publish

I am especially amazed at how easy it is to get a good-enough (I think?) sync of subtitle and speech when playing the video at full speed and just hitting the down arrow to advance to the next subtitle. Amara also provides embed codes that allow you to embed their subtitles with the original video in another webpage, which is crucial because I want to embed videos more often than I want to link to them. Finally, you can pull your subtitles out afterwards in text format, which means you can create a more complete transcript for separate publication.

Last of all, it is not a for-profit enterprise, it is a product of the Participatory Culture Foundation and the Amara code is itself open source. So it is not hostage to a commercial motive but is genuinely created with the central motive of providing more subtitled video on the web.

It does have some limitations: most noticeably for me, the controls over rewinding are a bit coarse-grained (go back 4 seconds and… that’s about it) and they don’t seem to have a facility for slowing the video down, which can help me transcribe fast speech.

They have a short introduction video about themselves (subtitled!):

{“video_url”: “http://vimeo.com/39734142”}

As a demonstration of what user subtitled content looks like, here’s a subtitled version (not by me) of Karen Sandler’s keynote at linux.conf.au 2012, about medical devices and source code (in her case, trying to get the source code of her pacemaker):

{“video_url”: “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XDTQLa3NjE”}

The text version of the subtitles is also available.

Why subtitle stuff? You can provide a translation into other languages, as most people are familiar with. But subtitling things into the written form of the language they’re spoken in is also very useful. Several reasons:

  • it makes the video accessible to hearing-impaired people;
  • it makes the video accessible to anyone who can’t listen to the sound right at that second; and
  • the existance of the text version of the subtitles makes the video at least more accessible to readers who can’t watch video or don’t have time to.