Witness.org uses Deepstream to curate livestreams and videos from protests in Rio. Above, a video curated from Mutirão Media’s YouTube channel

Deepstream: Newsroom tool turns the chaos of livestreams into curated order

By Gordon Mangum

Participants in major breaking news events are increasingly broadcasting live video on the web to provide a source of on-the-ground information to the world. As the attempted coup in Turkey unfolded, hundreds of people started livestreaming from the streets of Ankara, Istanbul and other cities. These videos provided essential first-hand information, such as how police and military were interacting with civilians, and how road blockades were being enforced.

Livestream screenshot of a parked car that had been run over by a tank in Ankara. By Teskilat-I AK via Facebook Live.

But livestreams have problems. There is a lack of context, making it hard for people to figure out what is being shown, why it’s important, or sometimes even where the streamer is located. It can be challenging for viewers to find livestreams on topics of interest. If I think someone might be broadcasting from a Black Lives Matter protest, I may have to search a half-dozen platforms to try to find a livestream from the event.

Our answer to a few of these problems is Deepstream. It makes it easy to remix one or more livestreams by adding context and background using embedded media.

It solves the the problem of lack of context by introducing a new role into the livestreaming ecosystem: the curator. Deepstream allows curators to easily embed live video into a player that includes context cards. These cards can be set up with just a few clicks to feature news stories, polls, maps, tweets, free text and more to help you explain what the livestream is about and why it is important.

The curator can group multiple livestreams together to provide different perspectives on an event. Once the livestreams are off air, there is a video playback experience if the streamer has elected to archive their video. The entire Deepstream experience can be embedded on any website, so that newsrooms can capitalize on traffic to their own homepage.

Deepstream also enables collaboration and community participation. We included a feature that lets a curator invite other people so they can create a Deepstream together. We also let viewers suggest context cards to the curators, which can be approved or denied, so that any viewer can participate in the activity of explaining a subject, potentially creating richer narratives about the event.

It works well. And now it’s open to newsrooms. It’s an effective tool for translating what can be a chaotic live event into a newsworthy experience for viewers. It is well suited for breaking news, and other events where on-the-ground, first-hand experience and information is valued. For newsrooms, this might include protests, marches, concerts and festivals, conferences, and major weather events. We hope news organizations interested in livestreaming will try it out.

If you are interested please email the team at deepstream@media.mit.edu.

Deepstream is being used by Witness.org to curate livestreams from activists at the Rio Olympics, and has been piloted by Fusion for live political coverage and conferences.

Deepstream works because it connects viewers to real events. I’ve interviewed livestream viewers and learned that they often feel an emotional connection with the event or broadcaster they are watching. It can be a powerful experience to view the world through someone else’s eyes in a live and unscripted way. Viewers also often feel that livestreams show us events on the ground that are otherwise difficult to see.

Viewers see livestreams from newsworthy events as authentic, in contrast to highly produced television news. Part of the “crisis in journalism” today is related to a loss of audience trust because of the perceived inauthenticity of the journalistic stance of objectivity. Livestreams from newsworthy events are inherently from a point of view, and there is no pretense to, or expectation of, objectivity.

Deepstream helps newsrooms use livestreams to quickly and easily create a meaningful video experience that includes other media assets, which can include resurfacing important content the newsroom has already produced on the topic. At the same time it helps viewers by providing context and background to breaking events, which is an essential function of journalism.

We have focused on building a tool that is fast and extremely easy to use, because delays are the antithesis of live coverage. For example, our search engine indexes several livestreaming platforms at once, reducing the time required to find relevant livestreams. We want newsrooms to be able to create and embed a Deepstream on their site within minutes, not hours.

Our goal is to enable people to create engaging, informative live video experiences that tell a deep story about a topic. We hope that through viewing and creating Deepstreams people will feel more connected to global events, more informed about the world around them, and more amazed by the human desire to share our experiences with each other.

Gordon Mangum is a graduate from the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media. He was previously Country Director of Internews Sudan, which built a network of six community radio stations in South Sudan and border areas of Sudan. His interests include developing and improving information systems, participatory civics, and music. Gordon holds a dual BA from the University of Virginia in philosophy and religious studies.