Lifecasting (video stream)
Lifecasting is a continual broadcast of events in a person's life through digital media. Typically, lifecasting is transmitted through the medium of the Internet and can involve wearable technology. Lifecasting reverses the concept of surveillance, giving rise to sousveillance through portability, personal experience capture, daily routines and interactive communication with viewers.
Jean-Luc Godard said, "Cinema is not a dream or a fantasy. It is life." In the pre-history of the lifecasting movement, the introduction of lightweight, portable cameras during the early 1960s, as used in the Cinéma vérité and Direct cinema movements, changed the nature of documentary filmmaking. Technological improvements in audio and the invention of smaller, less intrusive cameras brought about more naturalistic situations in documentary films by Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, the Maysles Brothers and others. While filmmakers such as Michel Auder, Jonas Mekas and Ed Pincus created cinematic diaries, the sculptor Claes Oldenburg, in the early 1960s, had theatrical showings of his home movies. Andy Warhol, who once said, "I like boring things," introduced the notion that life could be captured simply by aiming a fixed camera at subjects usually regarded as "boring" and later projecting the unedited footage. The documentary filmmaker Emile de Antonio observed that “with any cut at all, objectivity fades away.”
A milestone came in 1973 on PBS when ten million PBS viewers followed the lives of the Loud family each week on An American Family, a documentary series often cited as the beginning of reality television. Six years later, the series was satirized by Albert Brooks in his first feature film, Real Life (1979).
The first person to do lifecasting, i.e. stream continuous live first-person video from a wearable camera, was Steve Mann whose experiments with wearable computing and streaming video in the early 1980s led to Wearable Wireless Webcam. Starting in 1994, Mann continuously transmitted his everyday life 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and his site grew in popularity to become Cool Site of the Day in 1995. Using a wearable camera and wearable display, he invited others to both see what he was looking at, over the Web, as well as send him live feeds or messages in real time. In 1998 Mann started a community of lifecasters which has grown to more than 20,000 members.
Jennifer Ringley's JenniCam (1996–2004) attracted mass media attention, as noted by Cnet: "JenniCam, beginning in 1996, was the first really successful 'lifecasting' attempt." Ringley appeared on talk shows and magazines covers, and her pioneering effort was followed by collegeboyslive.tv and Brian Diva Cox' MagicsWebpage.tv (1998 - 2013). That same year, the streaming of live video from the University of Toronto became a social networking phenomenon.
Lisa Batey and HereAndNow.net started streaming 24/7 in 1999, continuing into 2001. "We Live In Public" was a 24/7 Internet conceptual art experiment created by Josh Harris in December 1999. With a format similar to TV's Big Brother, Harris placed tapped telephones, microphones and 32 robotic cameras in the home he shared with his girlfriend, Tanya Corrin. Viewers talked to Harris and Corrin in the site's chatroom. Others on camera included New York artists Alex Arcadia and Alfredo Martinez, as well as =JUDGECAL= and Shannon from pseudo.com fame. Harris launched the online live video platform, Operator 11.
Zac Adams' CollegeBoysLive (1998–present) became the first live reality site featuring a group of unrelated gay guys living in a house together. Collegeboyslive chose random people to live in the house and have their lives broadcast 24/7.
DotComGuy arrived in 2000, and the following year, the Seeing-Eye-People Project combined live streaming with social networking to assist the visually challenged. After Joi Ito's Moblog (2002), web publishing from a mobile device, came Gordon Bell's MyLifeBits (2004), an experiment in digital storage of a person's lifetime, including full-text search, text/audio annotations and hyperlinks.
Over decades, Rick Kirkham shot more than 3000 hours of his video diaries, documenting his own descent from nationally syndicated broadcast journalist (Inside Edition) to the drug and alcohol abuse that destroyed his career and family life. His footage was edited into the documentary TV Junkie (2006). OurPrisoner was a 2006 internet "reality show" which featured a man living on camera for 6 months who had to follow viewer directions to win prizes.
In 2004, Arin Crumley and Susan Buice met online and began a relationship. They decided to forgo verbal communication during the initial courtship and instead spoke to each other via written notes, sketches, video clips and MySpace. They went on to create an autobiographical film about it called Four Eyed Monsters. It was part documentary, part narrative with a few scripted elements added. They went on to produce 13 podcasts about the making of the film in order to promote it.
In San Francisco, in early 2007, Justin Kan founded Justin.tv, a platform for live video streaming online. Wearing a webcam attached to a cap, Kan began streaming continuous live video and audio, beginning at midnight March 19, 2007, and he named this procedure "lifecasting," apparently unaware of the accepted use of that term for a sculpting process. Kan announced that he would wear his camera "24 hours a day, seven days a week." The novelty of Kan's concept attracted media attention, and resulting interviews with him included one by Ann Curry on the Today Show. Viewers accompanied Kan as he walked the streets of San Francisco, sometimes involved in both pre-planned events (trapeze lesson, dance lesson) and also spontaneous situations (being invited into the local Scientology Center by a sidewalk recruiter). What viewers witnessed was all from Kan's subjective POV as seen from his 24/7 portable live video streaming system developed by Kyle Vogt, one of the four founders of Justin.tv. Vogt recalled:
I moved to San Francisco so I could be closer to the rest of the team. I mean really close. The four of us lived and worked out of a small two-bedroom apartment. I spent my time becoming an expert in Linux socket programming, cellphone data networks and realtime data protocols. Four data modems in close proximity just don't work well together, so packet loss was as high as 50%. I fought with these modems for weeks but finally managed to wrestle them into a single 1.2 Mbit/s video uplink. The new camera emerged from the pile of Radio Shack parts, computer guts and hacked-up cellphones that had accumulated on my messy desk. It uses thousands of lines of Python code, a custom real-time protocol, connection load balancing and several other funky hacks.
Vogt's mobile broadcasting hardware consisted of a proprietary Linux-based computer in a box, four Evolution-Data Optimized (EVDO) USB networking adapters, a commercially produced analog to MPEG-4 video encoder and a large Lithium-Ion battery with eight hours of running time. The setup currently used is one wireless EVDO networking card and a wearable computer (laptop in a backpack) the video is streamed at ten frames per second from Kan's location using a commercial off-the-shelf product from On2. The computer takes an encoded video stream from the camera and sends it to the main website.
On May 29, 2007, Justin.tv introduced a second 24/7 feed, hosted by designer iJustine in Pittsburgh. Ezarik took a different approach, often aiming the camera at herself instead of just showing what she was seeing. Attending various tech and media events or working on her design and video projects, she also spent much more time than Kan in communicating directly to her audience.
Kan's cryptic references to "the big rollout" became clear in the summer of 2007 when Justin.tv became a springboard for more than 60 different channels as it made its technology available to a continual flow of applicants. This included a wide variety of participants, from a Christian family and radio stations to college students, graphic designers and a Subaru repair shop. By August 2007, channels were being added at an average rate of two a day.
In September 2007, Justin.tv added a visual Directory at the top of the screen that worked in a manner similar to iTunes' Cover Flow. In that Directory one can scroll horizontally past each lifecaster and tell from the audio/video whether he or she is broadcasting, has walked away from the camera or has shut down. On September 30, 2007, reviews of channels and lifecasters began appearing on various Justin TV-related gossip blogs.
By the fall of 2007, Justin.tv had expanded to nearly 700 channels, generating 1,650 hours of daily programming, but frequent regulars stay in the forefront because hundreds of other lifecasters are on infrequently or rarely. Past regulars have included Australian shark hunter AussieBloke, 24/7 LifeCaster E-TARD, 18-year-old Meagan of I'm a Plastic Princess, culinary expert Justopia, San Francisco promotional model Krystyl Baldwin, 22-year-old "Roxie" in San Luis Obispo, "everyday housewife" Silver Lining, Jane, a 21-year-old musically inclined Texan. Florida radio personality Whitney Laney, and the youngest lifecaster at the time, 13 year old Jack Bromby from Billingham, England showing his life in the UK.
On October 2, 2007, Justin.tv became an open network, enabling anyone to register and broadcast his or her life. By October 13, Justin.tv had signed 3200 broadcasting accounts. Sites such as Justin.tv and Ustream.tv make it possible for anyone with a computer, a webcam, a microphone and an Internet connection to lifecast to a global audience. Some angle their camera to show themselves sitting at a computer, and they may or may not choose to communicate with viewers. either by speaking or typing in a chat area. Some leave their cameras on while they sleep. In some situations, a camera might show an empty room as the lifecaster walks around the house doing chores, totally ignoring the viewers.
As the beta testing of Justin.tv shifted to a full launch, Randall Stross examined the business aspects in The New York Times (October 14, 2007):
This month, after seven months of beta-phase broadcasting, Justin.tv formally declared that it was open for business to one and all. In its first five days, the company said, it created 18,500 hours of video and pulled in 500,000 unique visitors. What those statistics do not show is how long anyone stuck around. In a sampling I did last week during a weekday, only 44 viewers, on average, could be found at each of the eight most heavily visited channels.
Far horizons: Lisa Batey, Sarah Austin, Dylan Reichstadt and Justin Shattuck
Some lifecasters, such as newscaster-vocalist Janelle Stewart, use the technology to stage performances at a regular scheduled time, interview the live audience and plan a US and world tour around justin.tv viewers location. Lisa Batey, however, broadcast her entire life, talking constantly to viewers and informing them of her every decision in her Brooklyn apartment. Batey supplements her 24/7 streaming with entries she posts in her LiveJournal, not unlike the diary entries written by JenniCam. In August 2007, Batey did extensive technical research so that she could continue to broadcast without interruptions or equipment problems while she vacationed in Tokyo and Kyoto during September 2007. The following year, she moved to Tokyo and continued to lifecast from there before moving to Brazil in 2011. A pioneer in the field, Batey has been lifecasting since 1999 when she was 20 years old.
Tristan Couvares is the most publicized life caster yet, Tristan teamed up with Seth Green to take life casting interactive in Control TV. They packaged the interactive media with major corporate sponsors: Ford, Sprint Nextel, and Snickers. The show was streamed live 24/7, and short, re-cap episodes were posted every few days. The fans of Control TV had been dubbed "the controllers" and voted on various aspects of daily life such as what Tristan would eat, when he would wake up and what he would wear. At one point, the majority of the viewers voted for Tristan Couvares to have an hour off camera. The show had over 105 million press impressions from 31 outlets including Variety, ESPN, and CNN. In total he had over 14 million viewers and users stayed ont the site for an average of 27 minutes.
Sarah Austin began her media career as a tech news producer and DJ for three years at UC Berkeley’s radio station, KALX 90.7 FM, moving into video with her d7tv.com series Party Crashers which displayed her exploits crashing Silicon Valley parties. She started lifecasting in San Francisco during the spring of 2007, and when she moved to New York in August 2007 she continued to lifecast. As a video journalist, she began attending a variety of events, including the Halo 3 launch, the Ground Zero Memorial service, New York Fashion Week and Comic Book Club meetings. She sometimes would chat with her viewers while having breakfast, and more often, left the camera on as she studied her college textbooks. She amplified her video journalism with reports in the Sarah Meyers blog. In November 2007 she began tests of her 2008 Pop17 show, an Internet series of tech news, cyber commentary, interviews and unusual video clips.
Dylan Reichstadt, a teenager from Minnesota, started broadcasting his life in 2007. Reichstadt was featured on KARE 11 television in December 2008. He uses justin.tv and broadcasts by using his laptop, an EVDO card, his camera, and his hat for the Hat Cam.. He has multiple sponsors that help pay for costs associated to broadcasting including: Boston musician Nick Consone and Wirecast. As of today, Reichstadt has over 5,500 fans and the views on his broadcasting page are over 2 million.
Justin Shattuck took lifecasting to a new level in July 2007 by using a GPS unit. He picked up real estate entrepreneur, Mark Timms in Charleston, South Carolina and attempted to travel to the 48 continental states in seven days. The GPS unit made it possible for viewers to follow their exact location as a moving dot on a map. The 48/7 trip ended with exhausted Shattuck with a late night confession from a Brooklyn rooftop. Shattuck gave people rides to wherever they wanted to go, no matter how distant the destination.
Pivoting pictures: The mobile music of Jody Gnant
Others lifecasters, such as singer-songwriter Jody Marie Gnant, have used the new media for promotional purposes, gaining both viewers and press coverage as she began video streaming her life seven days a week on Ustream.tv. This lifecasting strategy boosted sales with preorders for her album Pivot:
Less than a week after starting her broadcast, she had the No. 3 video on MySpace with 186,000 views. Her music is also being showcased as part of ScreenVison's pre-show entertainment in 4,000 movie theaters nationwide... "It's an exciting combination of interactive and non-interactive media," says Gnant. "People can choose to tune in and just watch the events of my life unfold, or they can log on and have an immediate effect on my career."
Patrick Cornwell is the owner and manager of Camstreams, a streaming service located in Sheffield, England. It features such channels as the Online Piano Bar and Trucking with Ken. Cornwell recalled how his fascination with webcams led him to develop and launch Camstreams:
- Webcams fascinated me from the moment I read about them in a Sunday newspaper in the summer of 1997. It was an article about JenniCam – a website by a woman called Jennifer Ringley who chose to show her life to the world, warts 'n' all. She had inadvertently created the first "Reality" show – it was definitely the start of an era.
- I spent my student years with the camera turned on me, maintaining a Big Brother-style website (way before Big Brother, the TV show, began!) with six live webcams in our student house. My housemates and I were sucked into the media frenzy and were even the subject of a documentary on the BBC for precisely 15 minutes. With Camstreams, I want to give people a chance to get their 15 minutes... Camstreams allows you to put yourself in the frame with our completely free video and audio webcam streaming service. We love playing with webcam technology and wanted to start something new and easy for people to use.
Other labels for lifecasting and related have occasionally surfaced, including cyborglog, glog, lifeblog, lifeglob, LifeLog, lifestreaming, livecasting and wearcam. However, during the summer of 2007, Kan's term, lifecasting, escalated into general usage and became the accepted label of the movement.
In 2008, a mobile live video streaming software called Qik was launched. It gained popularity among lifecasters with famous people like Ashton Kucher and Kevin Rose being frequent users of the software. Also in 2008 lifecasting found its way into Social Networking at Next2Friends with their introduction of live streamed video from mobile.
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