By The Numbers

When I first started to do live streaming of our show production, I was worried about streaming capacity. I did some research and found that the record for a live streaming audience had been set in 2005 by AOL’s stream of Live 8: 175,000 peak viewers and a stream of 56Gbps. That was the upper limit, I felt, and it seemed highly unlikely we’d ever have to worry about matching that. 

200,000 Uniques!Now, eight years later, I’ve learned from our CEO, Lisa Kentzell, that the peak live viewership for last week’s Google I/O coverage on TWiT was 200,000. Yesterday we peaked at 180,000 for the Xbox One reveal. That peak happened after Microsoft left the stage and during our panel dissection of what we’d just seen. It seems pretty clear that this is the kind of coverage you want from us.

Thanks to Mike ‘bear’ Taylor, our sysadmin, and our streaming partners BitGravity, UstreamJustin.tv, and Flosoft we were able to handle that traffic without a hitch. 

When people ask me for the elevator pitch for TWiT, I always tell them “the CNN of tech” and like CNN our biggest numbers happen when news breaks. We do especially well during coverage of product announcements and big keynotes. I expect we’ll set a new TWiT viewing record during Apple’s WWDC keynote in three weeks. 

But the real story of TWiT’s success isn’t about raw numbers. I use them as a signal to tell me what kind of content you are interested in, but we succeed due to the engagement of our community. One thousand engaged viewers are worth more than 10,000 inattentive viewers. And our community is among the most engaged anywhere. Thank you for making this possible. The TWiT Army rocks!

Read All About TWiT in Monday’s New York Times

Leo on Ball from NY Times.jpgThanks to Jon Kalish for the fantastic article about me and TWiT in the New York Times on Monday. (Page B4 of the December 27, 2010 print edition.)
I especially liked the comments about our community:

During tapings of “This Week in Tech,” as many as 1,500 people are in chat rooms typing away at a furious pace. Fifteen volunteer monitors around the country keep the chat family-friendly. But sometimes the comments can get tough. Although Mr. Laporte is patient with even the most clueless callers, chat room regulars are not as tolerant.

“We’re making comments like, ‘This person needs to have their computer taken away,’ ” said Lillian Banchik, a Long Island surgeon who is known in the chat room as Dr. Mom.

Dr. Banchik, who listens to TWIT programs 20 hours a week, said she once spent an hour in a private chat with someone who helped her solve a problem with her husband’s iMac.

Many other chat room regulars have serious alternative lives, but like to spend time with the show. Amanda W. Peet, a physics professor at the University of Toronto, goes by Kiwi Nerd. Teresa M. Mensing, an associate professor of geology at Ohio State University, uses the handle Darth Emma.

Thanks to Mark McCrery, Dan Hendricks, Lillian Banchik, Amanda Peet, and Terri Mensing for taking the time to talk with Jon. He clearly understood that it’s the community that makes TWiT happen.

Thanks also to Jim Wilson for the very flattering picture (as my daughter puts it). What a great way to launch into 2011!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/27/technology/27podcast.html?_r=3&src=twr+

On The Road To Las Vegas

fear_loathe_.jpgWe’re off on the road to Las Vegas for the 2010 edition of the Consumer Electronic Show, or as it’s known around here, nerdstock.
I haven’t been to CES since 2004 and I’m sure looking forward to it. This is the premiere technology event of the year with 100,000 visitors, thousands of exhibitors, and dozens of football fields worth of booths. I’m bringing the entire staff down along with most of our gear for the most complete coverage TWiT has ever done for an event.

Dr. Kirsten Sanford will join me as co-host and we’ll be getting visits from many of the TWiT regulars including Paul Thurrott, Dick DeBartolo, Scott Wilkinson, Wil Harris, Ryan Shrout, Tom Merritt, Becky Worley, Patrick Norton, Roger Chang, and on and on. Not to mention interviews with CES keynoter and Ford CEO, Alan Mulally and other luminaries.

We’ll be streaming live from the parties Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from the CES show floor, and doing many of our regular shows including The Tech Guy, The Daily Giz Wiz, Windows Weekly, and TWiT and TWiG. Watch live at http://live.twit.tv as usual, or subscribe to our special CES podcasts at http://twit.tv/ces.

Thanks to SYNC, Citrix, and Audible for sponsoring our trip, and the hard work of the entire team for making it possible. See you in Las Vegas!

UPDATE: Here’s how to follow us in Vegas

Podcasts:
http://twit.tv/ces (click the Subscribe dropdown to add the feed to iTunes, Zune, etc.)

Video:
http://live.twit.tv
http://qik.com/twit
http://youtube.com/twit

Text Updates:
http://twitter.com/leolaporte (watch for the #CES hashtag)
http://foursquare.com/user/leolaporte (I’ve decided to focus on Foursquare for location updates)
http://facebook.com/leolaporte

Blogs:
http://twitlive.posterous.com/
http://inside.twit.tv/

Pictures:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/leoville/ – I’ve hooked up my camera to autopost to Flicker via Eye-Fi

Everything I do is also piped to my Friendfeed account.

State of the TWiT 2009

Here’s the latest from the TWiT Cottage. We’ve been pretty busy!

First, Colleen has done it again! Introducing Streamasaurus…

Streamasaurus is a worthy successor to Skypesaurus, and in a similar vein. Skypeasaurus is the four-machine Skype setup I described here last March. This time we’ve created a six-computer setup to support our streaming video. Each computer will serve one stream: BitGravity high and low quality streams (right now that 1mbps and 350kbps), Stickam, Ustream desktop and Ustream iPhone, and a sixth (we’re looking at providers now – your input is welcome).

Streamasaurus consists of six Mac mini computers, two running OS X for our Bit Gravity streams, and the rest running Windows and Flash Media Encoder for our other providers. We use three analog-to-digital converters to convert the S-Video output from our video switcher and analog audio from our mixer (well it’s analog for a few more days – more about that in a minute) into the Firewire audio and video our Macs require. We’re using Canopus ADVC converters: one ADVC 700 and two ADVC 110, each with dual outputs for a total of six streams. The Macs are connected to our symmetric 9Mbps Ethernet-in-the-First-Mile (EFM) broadband connection from Sonic.net.

We built Streamasaurus to give us more — and more consistent — streams. For the first year TWiT Live was streamed on Stickam alone using a Dell laptop and an ADVC 300. In February we expanded to stream on Ustream.tv and Bit Gravity. More providers give you more choices, and provide us with more reliability. But they also require a more sophisticated set of streaming computers. Hence, Streamasaurus.

We are using Streamasaurus to take advantage of a special feature offered by BitGravity. When you watch the stream at live.twit.tv the player will automatically adapt to your bandwidth, giving you our highest quality stream (a whopping 1Mbps) if you can handle it, or a 400Kbps stream if you can’t. If you use VLC you can choose to play either high,
http://bglive-a.bitgravity.com/twit/live/high, or low
http://bglive-a.bitgravity.com/twit/live/low, stream directly. You’ll really see the benefit of this when we upgrade our cameras and switcher to HD. We’re waiting for Newtek to release the Tricaster HD, and as soon as it does we’ll go hi-def. Expect that later this year.

And that leads me to item two: We are making a major upgrade to the studio this week. On Thursday, after Paul and I finish Windows Weekly, Colleen and a crew from Telos Systems will pull out our all our analog audio cables and lovely Onyx mixer and replace them with CAT-5 and an Axia system from Telos. This is an all-digital system consisting of a honking big dedicated computer system called the PowerStation and a control surface that looks like a mixer. All the audio comes and goes over Ethernet, though. The only analog devices remaining in the studio will be the mics, but their output will be quickly turned into bits and passed along into the PowerStation via CAN-bus. This all-digital system will sound cleaner and be much easier for us to use. We’re very grateful to Telos, and Kirk Harnack, Telos’s Executive Director for International Development for making this possible. It’s a major upgrade to the audio for all our shows.

Finally, I would like to welcome two new employees to the TWiT family. Erik Lanigan is a 2009 Florida State graduate who converted the Student Broadcast Center into a podcast production studio, edited some hilarious student videos, and has worked part-time as the IT guy for his dad’s law practice since the age of 13. He has interned for the Colbert Report, is a fantastic audio and video editor, and a great fellow all-around. Erik will be working with Tony Wang on audio and video editing, but like all the TWiT staff he’ll be pitching in everywhere, and you can expect to see him on the air from time to time, as well. We’re thrilled that he survived the arduous TWiT interview process.

We’ve also hired a business manager. Lisa Kentzell started a year ago as our part-time bookkeeper and has proven so invaluable that we’ve asked her to officially come on board. She built her previous business from five people to 150 and has already put TWiT on a much more sound financial footing. Lisa will help us manage our growth as we continue our march to become the CNN for geeks. We’re so glad to have her expertise and twisted sense of humor.

Frankly, running the business was beginning to take its toll on Dane. He’s off this week taking a well-deserved vacation. When he comes back, and dries out, he’ll be taking a larger role in content production and show development.

Thanks to all of you for making this possible. TWiT wouldn’t exist without our incredible community. Remember, before there was Twitter, there was TWiT. And before there was TWiT, there was you. Thanks for all your support!

(Incidentally – take a look at our cool new comment system, Echo from JS-Kit – let me know what you think!)


TWiT TV for Windows 1.10

Thanks so much to Graphics Point Engineering LLC for writing an amazing Windows app for watching TWiT Live. You can choose from the Bit Gravity, Ustream, and Stickam feeds, chat in the IRC or Ustream chat rooms, visit other TWiT sites, and even listen to Geoff Smith’s anthemic “I’m A TWiT” song.

B36B11B2-A175-4537-BC7A-98DAE8BF3ECA.jpg

Download a copy for any version of Windows here.

For Peter Elst’s Adobe AIR app that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, read on!

TWiT Live Desktop 2.0

The great Peter Elst has done it again.

The TWiT Live Desktop 2.0 is out. It’s written in Adobe AIR so it will work on Windows or OS X…

[airbadge]TwitLive, http://twit.cachefly.net/twitlivedesktop.air, 2.0, null[/airbadge]

If you don’t have AIR already installed the installer will download and install it first, then install the app.

A couple of things you need to know about using it. Double-click on the video to go full-screen. Right-click (or control-click) on the window to get the pop-up menu. From there you can open the Interactive window which has links to chat, the Army, the calendar, and more.


A really nice, minimum screen real estate, maximum functionality app from Peter. Thanks!!!!


The Skypesaurus Story

We’re still working on incorporating Skypesaurus into the work flow at TWiT Live. For those who haven’t seen the beast, Colleen has combined four independent Windows PCs to run four instances of Skype into one monster beast: The Skypesaurus. Rawr!

We had to do this because Skype only allows one video-caller at a time and some of our shows have as many as four online panelists. We tried software solutions like Oovoo and iChat but they didn’t give us good enough audio and video – Skype really is the king for that.

Here are the specs for each PC (with the Newegg SKU numbers and price):

  • 11-234-020 Case: WINSIS|WI-01 RT $43.99
  • 13-121-359 Motherboard: INTEL BOXD945GCLF2 945GC ATOM330 $79.99
  • 20-145-098 RAM: 1Gx2|CORSAIR VS2GBKIT667D2 R $24.99
  • 22-148-231 Hard Drive: 80G|SEAGATE 7K 8M SATA2 ST380815AS $34.99

That’s about $175 per computer. Add four Acer V173B 17″ LCD monitors for $107 each. and a $285 Ergotron Quad-Monitor desk stand and the total rig cost just under $1500, minus Colleen’s time and miscellaneous cabling.

On shows with multiple hosts (like TWiT, MacBreak Weekly, and the Gillmor Gang) we use Skypesaurus to call as many as four participants and put their audio and video on the air. This requires some hairy routing, and those of you who have tuned in in the past couple of weeks have probably noticed an hour of sweating, crawling under the desk, and general gnashing of teeth before each show. I start by setting up the audio. Each machine’s output has to be routed into our mixer, and a mix-minus has to be sent back to it (that’s the full audio mix minus the audio from the particular Skype we’re feeding it back to, so there’s no echo). Our Mackie Onyx 1620 mixer only has four AUX busses so we have to repatch audio each time we want to use Skypesaurus. Something similar happens with video. The Tricaster Studio switcher we use only has six inputs, all of which are used by cameras now. I disconnect four of those cameras and connect the four Skype boxes each time I want to use Skypesaurus. But we’ve come up with a solution. Today Colleen is installing a new mixer: a $1300 Mackie Onyx 1640. It’s a bit bigger but it has six AUX busses and four sub-mixer channels so we won’t have to repatch audio each time we use Skypesaurus. I wish I had bought this mixer three years ago – it’s a beauty. We’ll keep the 1620 for roadshows, but the 1640 is going to be our day-to-day mixer. For a while.

I say “for a while” because Telos called last week after hearing about our issues with Skypesaurus audio and offered to lend us one of their new Axia IP-mixers which automatically does mix-minus to every channel! An IP mixer uses Ethernet to route audio and is fully digital. There’s really no mixer at all, just two IP head units in a rack and a control surface that only looks like a mixer. All-digital production means we don’t have to do the noisy digital->analog->digital conversion we’re doing for all our Skype audio right now. We’ll just take digital audio from the PCs and pump it directly into the Axia. Putting in this puppy is going to require major reengineering for our entire audio chain. Instead of the Firewire audio we’re passing from the mixer into Audition, for instance, the Axia just sends packets to Audition which uses a custom driver to see all the channels. I think a fully digital production workflow will really improve the overall quality of all our audio, but it’s a big change and might take a while. In the meantime, I’m very happy with the Onyx 1640.

I also want to stop crawling under the desk to switch the video cables, so we’re going to buy an Matrix Video Router. I’m about to order a $1000 Knox Video Technologies 8×8 Matrix Switcher. This takes eight video inputs and switches them to any eight video outputs so I can just push buttons and switch-in the Skype output for a camera (and out again on the fly if I need more shots). In effect this gives us four more cameras. If there are any TV broadcast engineers who have some suggestions here I’d love to hear them. Everything is S-Video so this seems like the best way to do it but we’re babes in the woods when it comes to this stuff.

So there you have it. Problem: how to get four hosts’ audio and video on the air at once via Skype. Solution: Skypesaurus, a $3500 monster designed and built by the amazing Colleen. We’re pretty excited about it – it’s not the CNBC Octobox, but it’s pretty close and for a heck of a lot less money.


A River of TWiT

twit.pngTWiT started as two podcasts way back when in 2005. Today it’s a dozen shows, a live, nearly 24×7 video stream, a 24×7 audio stream, two very active chatrooms, a microblog for listeners, and a forum for contributors. In short, it’s a large and growing community of tech enthusiasts built around downloadable and streaming audio and video content.
My experience with Twitter, the TWiT Army, the TWiT chatrooms, and the real-time feeds at Friendfeed, plus my extensive conversations with Steve Gillmor and the other participants at Bearhug Camp, have inspired me to attempt one more live feed: a live text stream of links, comments, and notes related to the live programming. The chatrooms offer something similar, but they’re more conversation focused. I see this stream more like the live-blogging that occurs during a Steve Jobs keynote, or the tweets surrounding a major news event, like the recent election. Think of it as real-time show notes created by me, our show hosts, and our community. Let’s call this stream the “river.” This is an experiment, but I think it could be very useful, both informative and entertaining.

176px-XMPP_Logo.svg.pngbear has set up a Jabber server for us at twit.im. That’s the engine that would power this river. Now it’s time to think about how we’ll implement the user interface, both for readers and contributors. I’d like to make it easy enough to use that readers naturally become contributors.

Aside from installing a server and buying the domain twit.im, we haven’t done anything else. So the following is purely speculative. I’d like to get your comments on it before we begin implementation. Consider the following an RFC.

The best interface to this river would, I imagine, be an IM client, but as with any stream there might be other ways to view it, in a Friendfeed room, on a dedicated web site, as a ticker on live.twit.tv, etc. I think these instances can be created by the TWiT community as needed over time. And since the river is just an XMPP stream it should be very simple – the API already exists. I would also like to have a real-time RSS feed of the full-river – that should make it pretty easy to write viewing tools. But initially, any Jabber-compatible IM client, GTalk, Trillian, Pidgin, iChat, or Adium, would work fine.

People post to the river by adding river@twit.im to their IM client. They’ll also get the river content fed back on that channel. I think we’ll encourage the use of hashtags so posts can be categorized: #link, #note, #location, #wisecrack, and the like. We might even want to require that every post be tagged to make it easier to filter the river. Some folks, for instance, might only want links, others might just want wisecracks, and so on.

More importantly, we’d also need some commands.

FOLLOW/UNFOLLOW/FOLLOWING – so users can control whose posts they see
BLOCK/UNBLOCK/BLOCKING – to prevent spamming, by handle and IP address I think
TRACK/UNTRACK/TRACKING – to allow you to watch for particular content on the river

Are there any other commands we need? Ultimately a search of some kind will be important, but we can get this for free by piping the RSS of the river into a Friend Feed room (as an example).

By implementing FOLLOW, BLOCK, and TRACK we can open up the server to anyone who wants to participate, since users will be able to precisely control the content of their feed, just as they currently do with Twitter (only better).

riverindinan.jpgI would also like to be able to create special-use instances of the river. For example, at my Macworld keynote, I’d like to be able to create a one-time use backchannel, say macworld@twit.im, that attendees could post to and follow, and that, perhaps, I could put up on screen.

At this time we don’t have any plans to let users register for twit.im accounts. I don’t want to bog the server down with additional duties. It’s going to be busy enough as it is. But if you have an existing GTalk or Jabber account you’ll be able to use that.

What do you think? Have I missed anything? Is there any functionality you’d like to add? Please add your comments below. Thanks!

Vacation Over

I’m back from vacation – I had a wonderful time – and back to work. Thanks to Alex Lindsay, Sarah Lane, Martin Sargent, Tony Wang, and Dane Golden for holding down the fort while I was gone. I hope you caught This Week in Fun with Sarah and Marty (and I hope they’ll keep sneaking into the studio to do it!). We’ll be producing shows on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day so tune in on TWiT Live and TWiT.am. And happy 2009!