Monogamous Media and Korsakow

Korsakow is a system that encourages promiscuous connections between video clips. This doesn’t mean lots of lots of connections (though it might), but it does mean that this clip might hook up with that clip, and that one, and that one. And, not or. A way I characterised some of the confusion, and perhaps anxiety, about systems like Korsakow in a symposium today was around this idea of how promiscuous things become. In linear media it is all monogamy, or more accurately a literal serial monogamy, where that clip will always end at exactly 12 seconds, forever (at least until death does do us apart) and then this next clip will always and forever then appear. And play. As makers we don’t seem to want that order to be fucked with. (And lots of interactive documentary is as strident about these strict connections as heritage media with its single channel of constrained cause and effect always-just-this-way.)

My students, in spite of the nonsense of being ‘digital natives’ (now there’s a misnomer) remain highly invested in this notion of monogamous media (reified as the truly important story I have to make in just that way) and remain bemused, startled, threatened and at at times troubled by the looming promiscuity of connection they are being introduced to. We need to learn how to dance with these fragments of our and other’s media, letting them touch and slide and swoon and caress and bump and grind and abut. (Some students, however, are relishing it.)

Future time based media forms and practices are all about this dance, and while I’m not much of a dancer myself, these young people need to learn to get over their reserve.

A 2010 K-Film Explaining How to Make your K-Films

I’ve made a k-film that is very linear. Well, not linear, you can listen and view the clips in any order you like, but it is not so much a k-film as using Korsakow to collect some screen casts together where I go over some things to think about in relation to making your k-film projects. This was made using Korsakow 5.0.4, and I’ve included a playhead in the interface which shows you where in the clip you are. The advantage of this is that it immediately tells you how long a clip is, since if the playhead progresses very slowly then you know it is a long clip (and vice versa).

So, the k-film. It is commentary on some of the things to think about in your final projects. I made it as a k-film because it was just much faster to talk about this stuff and record it than trying to write it all out. YMMV. Click the pic go there.

Knotes

Korsakow and Hypertext

Found this from a static site from 2010 or 2011. This is about Korsakow as hypertext, not the linear singular link node notion of hypertext that everyone who writes about interactive documentary thinks hypertext is, but the sort of hypertext that hypertext theorists and writers use everyday (for example with tools such as Storyspace or Tinderbox).

Korsakow is software. It lets you make and publish multilinear video (and sound) works online. That is pretty much all you use it for and all it does.

Some questions: why do we use it? What might be learnt from using it? What can we make or do with it?

How to Think Korsakow

The Korsakow System is software that lets you make hypertexts. Unlike traditional hypertext the content nodes here are now video or audio, but all the principles, rules of making and reading are pretty much the same as for hypertext (or I guess more accurately hypermedia).

The simplest way I think of understanding the Korsakow System is that it is a system for making what I think of as hypertext movies. It lets you make links between nodes like you do in HTML, except the links are not written out as HREFs but use keywords. Each clip in your project These keywords can also be attached to time.

This means that you should think of a keyword as being the same as a link, so a video clip while you are making a movie can have links out to other video clips in your k-film. This means any clip can have as many links to other clips as you like (there is even a random option where it will insert any clip for you, think of this as a random link to all the other nodes/clips in your project). Similarly there are links in to each clip from other clips, and you define these as well.

KorsakowasHypertext
Figure One: Standard Links Using HTTP and HTML (HREF attribute).

For example, as Figure One illustrates, the sorts of links commonly understood to constitute hypertext are those written in HTML, and so are anchored on a source page (for instance in text or an image) and when selected have a single destination which is to a legitimate URL. Hypertext however, has always had much more sophisticated notions of linking than this, including the assumption that you could link from the entire object (in the case of Figure One, this would be the entire page), and that any link may have a single anchor, or source, but multiple destinations.

In such a system (see Figure Two) a link may come from an entire node, or from any part within that node (and a node may contain text, image, video, and so on) and may have multiple destinations. In many traditional hypertext systems this is realised through a link with some sort of dialog or directory window opening when a multiheaded links is selected to let the reader choose which of the destinations they would like to arrive at. Alternatively, such systems may also institute rules so that the system, rather than the user, determines the destination from those available (Storyspace is an example of such a system). Such rules usually rely on state information (that is the system records what you have been doing, and so knows what nodes you have in your history, which word you just selected to follow a link, and the like) and so make links available on the basis of reading history (what you have, or have not visited) and text strings (what bit of text you have selected.

However, technicalities aside, what is of importance here is the difference this sort of hypertext has to plain vanilla HTML with HREFs. In the latter links are singluar with a nominated and visible source (the link anchor) and a single destination (a URL). This means links can be thought of (and mapped) as complex, recursive tree structures, but the connections are all fixed and visible, whether they are followed or not – this web page has n links with n1 destinations. In Figure Two though we don’t have such tree like structures (I should stress that ‘tree’ really is a misleading analogy, since a web link can link to any other URL and there is no necessary hierarchy required, which the tree analogy suggests, but I do want to provide a strong sense of the way in which these sorts of links are ‘flat’ compared to more complex hypertext structures, are easily discoverable (ie you can just see them) and so describe and create a fixed topography whether they are followed by a reader or not. This is, after all, how a spider like Google can index webpages as it follows links, it is premised on them being explicitly declared, described and able to be followed). I like to think of them as clouds, or as fuzzy links.

KorsakowasHypertext1
Figure Two: Multiheaded Links in a Hypertext.

Clouds and Fuzzy Links

These are quite informal terms, but that’s OK. They are fuzzy because in Figure Two the link that has four possible destinations does not need to be made up of four different links (as would be the case in HTML) but can be a single link which has a condition or rule attached to it where that rule is satisfied (in this example) by four destinations. This lack of specificity, where a link does not absolutely go from here to there, is what makes it fuzzy. It might go to N1, but it might also go to any of N2, N3, and N4. As a consequence of this the structure is not fixed as in HTML but is cloudy, there is a soft constellation of potential destinations, and they are potential not because it is a web page with ten links and the reader may decide on any of the ten (or none) but because the destination is actuated by the system in response to the user as a feedback system.

Now, let’s return this to Korsakow. Korsakow uses the model described in Figure Two. The link is not a link in the technical hypertext sense (though it is, after all a hypertext system such as Storyspace is, like Korsakow, a database application with a particular sort of presentation layer for authoring and reading) but a keyword which enables a search. This search will, in the simplest scenario, match all other nodes that contain this keyword and so make them available for selection – in the first instance by the system and in the second by the user. In a k-film the set of possible destinations to a key word is constrained by a) the number of nodes containing that key word, b) the number of lives each node has (which limits the number of times it can be played, which in turn limits how often it can appear as a result of a search), and c) how many thumbnails have been allocated to present the outcome of the search.

For example, in Figure Two we have four nodes that have links, so as a k-film that would be four nodes that contain the same key word that we are searching for (keeping in mind that this could include the same node that is the source of the search). However, in defining the parameters for the first node in this series it is possible to limit how many results to return for this search, so while there may be four that meet the condition only two (for example) may be displayed. Similarly the designer of the k-film is able to determine how many thumbnail panes to present in the project, and this can also affect how many nodes within this ‘cloud’ may actually appear to the user. For instance, a k-film may only have three thumbnail panes, so if there are four nodes that match the search criteria, one will not be displayed. Finally, it should be obvious that as more material is added to a k-film project the set of nodes that matches a search may change as more nodes with the same key word are included.

So, we have links that are fuzzy because they are rule defined, and what meets the conditions of these rules varies due to a variety of author defined constraints. A problem remains though, as an artefact of our visualisation, which suggests a linear passage through the material (from left to right, and implicitly from beginning to an end). This is, in fact, not the case.

KorsakowasHypertext2
Figure Three: A Sketch of the Structure of A Completed K-Film

Figure Three provides a concpetual link structure for a simple k-film. The coloured lines are different key word links between each of the nodes. The point of this third figure is to begin to suggest the complexity that can be built through only a few nodes (SNUs, lexias) and keywords, and that the structures (the sequences) are recursive, circular, and ‘ill formed’ in that they are not explicit like in HTML but lie there, as a virtual set of possibilities.

Korsakow, Field Notes

These are notes from my teaching in 2011, and are the various strategies and things I’ve learned through using Korsakow that make using the program simpler, or at least easier. They are a mix of tech and conceptual things. Am dusting them off for the new subject and realised worth reprising here.

  1. Dense nodes. One way to make connections between clouds in your k-film is to use dense (dense in the sense of thickly linked with keywords) nodes that work like ‘hubs’ that join or connect different clouds together. I’ve written about this in more detail nearby.
  2. Export as you go (the quick way). Korsakow now lets you do a low res export, or the usual export to web. A tip. Ignore low res export because if you choose to do this it exports everything, every time. You are much better off setting your compressing settings to the lowest quality, doing an export for the web, and then as you add more media do the web export. That way you get the dialog box that asks you if you want to redo everything or any the new additions. Choose new stuff and things export much much faster. This is also how you can easily test interface changes, and make minor changes to keywords and so on. These changes don’t require video to be added or recompressed, so are exported very very quickly and you can then look at the work to see what differences your changes have made.
  3. NAME YOUR PROJECT. Yes, that is yelling. Why have no title for your project? Why publish it as ‘untitled’. It is your work, give it a name. Also the title of a work can do.
  4. Transcoding. Transcoding is what Korsakow does when you export a project. It takes the media you have added to the project and recodes (recompresses and changes the file format) to FLV using what you have selected under File – Project Settings – Export. This takes ages, literally if you have a lot of video it can take hours. So be prepared for this.
  5. Export a project but nothing appears. If you load up a project with video, but have not added any keywords in or out (‘snuified’) the clips, then when you export your project to the web and go to play it there will be nothing visible. Your video will be transcoded, but nothing appears because it needs clips with rules (keywords) attached to build anything.
  6. Compression settings for export (File – Project Settings – Export). H.264 medium currently provides the best compression options (file size versus quality). If you want to be low rez (compression artefacts, etc) then use the low resolution H.264 project settings.
  7. Thumbnail videos. Don’t use the video you add to provide thumbnails. They are large files and it is very (very) inefficient to use these as thumbnails – people will be downloading something the size of an elephant when it should be a mouse. This matters because we all pay for bandwidth, so please don’t expect people to have to pay for elephants to buy a mouse. If you want video thumbnails then compress your video a second time to the size of your thumbnails.
  8. Start simple. Complex structure is created by the repeated application of simple rules. Use this when thinking about keywords. Don’t use 20, use 4, build, export, test. Then think about what changes you might need.
  9. Korsakow is only for authoring. This means you make content – video, still images, audio, outside of Korsakow using whatever software takes your fancy. What you bring into Korsakow is your media already to go. You don’t make video edits in Korsakow (well, in my terms you make edits possible via the keyword link structure, but that’s a different kettle of fish entirely to editing a movie in the usual sense of the word). So all the media your bring into your project should already be the right size for your project, the right compression, and in the format and data rate that you want. You NEVER bring in something bigger and then make it smaller within Korsakow (for instance a video that is 1280 x 720 that you then present as 640 x 360). This slows things down since heaps more is being downloaded to be played than necessary, and is, well, the digital equivalent of picking your nose at the dinner table (seriously, that is how uncool it is).
  10. Use this as part of an iterative process. This means do not think you can plan your Korsakow project on paper, or somewhere else, and then you will just import your media and link according to your plan. You can try to work like this, but that is a bit like thinking you can write music by writing each instrument and not listening to them all together, and not actually playing music while you’re writing music. Or it is like writing something in Word, then exporting it as HTML, and then telling yourself that you are writing hypertext. No. You need to work within the medium to be working in that medium. And you need to work in that medium to learn how to work in that medium. You don’t learn how to play a piano by reading about it, watching others, watching a DVD, or writing out instructions on paper. You have to play. So it is with Korsakow. But there is more to it than just having to use it to learn it. There is a logic to the tool which you can only use if you work in the tool. So the way to make a project is to add some media, add keywords, export, and play the work. How’s it going? What happens? Does it do things you didn’t expect? Good things or bad things? This is really much easier to do when the project is small, when you can try things out easily, and then as you develop an understanding of the shape,patterns, and behaviour of your project you can add more media, and keywords, and then export and evaluate the work. This is what I mean by an iterative process. You add some stuff, you evaluate, you make changes. It is built up through small steps, small increments. This might be unusual for mamy of you. In TV you are taught to script, storyboard, and then use that as your plan. In essay writing you prepare an essay plan and use that to build from. Here it is much much more organic. Personally I’d describe it as more like writing a song. Add a line, sing it, fiddle with it a bit more, back to the music. You sort of have an idea of what it is about, or where it comes from, but there is no strict plan or map.
  11. Do low res exports. Part of this iterative process is to add, keyword, add SNU ratings and so on, and then export to test and see what is going on. (Again, think of this exporting and viewing as what you would do in radio or TV, you do an edit, then you look at the shots, or listen to your piece, with your new edit. You don’t just keep editing to the end then check that the edits are OK, same process for making a k-film.) So, exporting can be slow since the Korsakow engine will take your video and audio, and then transcode and recompress it. This is slow work. So for work in progress when you export go into File – Project Settings – Export and choose FLV Low. This will export much more quickly, and yes it will be low quality but this is drafting. The final export or for publication of work in progress you will change the Export settings to a higher quality and re-export. But remember, if you have a lot of material this will take a lot of time. (And this is also why you must always have your original media, if you have moved it, deleted it, renamed it, then there is no way for Korsakow to export and render a better quality version because it can’t find the source media.)
  12. Complexity comes from the iteration of a simple structure (or rule). You build complex structures (patterns) in a k-film not by using a lot of keywords but by defining and applying a simple set of rules, consistently.
  13. What happens if the source videos are different dimensions? A mess. In a word, well two. The software is designed to support video that, more or less, is at the same dimensions. Being smaller might not be a problem, it might just be presented larger, or you can put a background behind it to make it fill the frame. I suspect (but haven’t tested) that the default behaviour will be to fill the video screen you have defined. So if it is a different aspect ratio (which is a much bigger problem than a different resolution) then it will be stretched, or squashed to fix. Work arounds would probably be to use Compressor to crop the video to get it to the right aspect ratio and/or dimensions.
  14. Read the error messages. Yes, Korsakow is low budget software so you can’t export the sort of design, support and so on you get for either very large open source projects (WordPress for example) or commercial software. However, pay attention to error messages you get, while cryptic they usually point to what is going on. For example if you get an error message about a file type being not supported or corrupt it will tell you which file. Remove the file from your project. If the export now completes there is something wrong with the file. There are a lot of examples like, this, so read the error as it does give good clues as to what might be going on.
  15. Thumbnails can be video or jpegs. Video thumbnails are very cool, because when you mouse into them they play. But this seriously increases the bandwidth demands of your project. If you are going to use video thumbnails then it is essential that they are recompressed to a suitable size and data rate. This means they get recompressed to the size of the thumbnail. You NEVER compress video to, say, 320 x 240 if it is going to be displayed at 160 x 120. Why? Because the larger video requires four times as data as the smaller. It is about bandwidth which becomes about how much data has to arrive at your viewer’s computer before they can do anything. The more you can minimise this (the less data that has to arrive) the better off you are.

video blogging, et al.