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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Observations: The Livestreamer

There is an already established base of digital social media amongst our media environment. The social profile site Facebook has over 500,000,000 active profiles as of 2011 and the social news site Reddit maintains 100,000+ subrreddits, over 8,400 of which maintain a subscription base of 100+ members. Google reports processing over one billion queries per day. Systems and technologies theorist Kevin Kelly has theorized that the complexity of our digital media environment surpassed that of the human mind in 2007, serving 100 billion clicks a day and consisting of over 1 quintillion individual transistors. Five years later, this system growing ever more complex than the human mind is growing eyes.

Since the 1960’s the mass television broadcast has been commonplace in the American environment. This corporation-controlled technology has brought events as inspiring as the moon landing and as dirty as wars abroad to the living room of middle class America. In 2001 this technology conveyed live the terror which the 9/11 terrorists had intended to inflict across every attentive screen in the country.

The livestreamer is a new form of journalist emerging from a mesh of political activism, digital technology and social networking. They are live videographers broadcasting via laptops, cell phones and mobile 4G hotspots, streaming across the Internet and acting as a visual proxy to tens of thousands of viewers at a time. The livestreaming network Ustream has surpassed 10,000,000 unique viewers of 30+ minutes. Livestreamers spend their majority of their time holding a web-cam or cell phone, responding to live comments from their viewership and answering any questions they have about the streamers environment.

The low cost of the equipment means that it takes only $200-300 to become your own live video producer with the potential to reach a sizable market. The small footprint of a livestreamer's rig provides them with a level of agility far beyond that of the traditional broadcast videographer, and I often find livestreamers right beside me on the riot line ready to dodge whatever comes their way. This allows livestreamers to abide by my personal top rule of journalism far more than someone carrying a 3 foot long, $60,000 satellite connected rig ever could: “be there”.

A livestreamer broadcasts the arrest of two protesters during a relatively small anonymous action of Occupy DC (with less than 10 participants). By the time of this photograph, two and a half hours after the action began, the livestreamer had over 450 viewers after midnight local time.

As with the burst of informational complexity throughout our media environment that came with the introduction of the Internet and decentralized access to the means of mass social text publication, we are currently experiencing another burst of complexity from the decentralization of access to the means of live mass video broadcast. Citizen journalists are able to compete to convey stories in real time, and viewers often have easy access to watching multiple unique streams from a single event simultaneously. At one point in January I was plugged into four streams coming out of Occupy Oakland and one from Occupy Denver and the only problem I had was managing the audio from 5 sources.

All a person needs is a smartphone.

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