While I was in Iraqi Kurdistan in January, my scheduled return flight from Diyarbakir to Istanbul was cancelled forcing me to cut my trip short and cross the border back into Turkey. The upshot was I had a day spare to explore Diyarbakir, meet some Kurdish friends and pick up two kilims waiting for me near the big mosque. But, as it turned out, I also found a good topic for a short radio feature and to use my iPhone as a mobile audio recorder.
Shortly before lunch time on January 23 I spotted people gathering for a demonstration in the square opposite the Veni Vedi Hospital. My hotel was close by, and rather than lugging my large Sony Z1 video camera out on a rainy day, I decided to go mobile and take just a couple of lightweight gadgets just in case anything interesting sparked up at the demo.
So I grabbed a short Sennheiser ME-64 microphone and external mic cable to use with my iPhone 3GS and a small backup power pack. As usual, I also had my a Canon G10 compact camera in a hip pouch.
The demonstration was a good opportunity to talk to some Kurdish human rights activists I had previously made contact with and I asked them about the case of Muharrem Erbey - a prominent human rights lawyer who was arrested in December last year. They offered to take me to the offices of the local Human Rights Association and speak with Erbey's defence lawyer. It sounded like a good opportunity to find out more.
Thinking that I might be able to produce a short radio package, I launched the FiRe audio recording app on my iPhone, plugged in the external mic and got to work gathering audio materials as well as taking photos.
FiRe has a relatively easy interface to navigate through settings and can record in a variety of audio flavours. So far I've only used FiRe's most basic recording and playback functions but there are enough technical settings to tinker with to satisfy most audiophiles. For USD$10.00 it's not a bad app to think about if you're looking at the iPhone for a portable audio recorder.
As for the external mic, I find the Sennheiser ME-64 a little "hot" on sound levels with the iPhone and that took a little care to monitor in a loud crowd of chanting people with megaphones. It was also a windy day so I placed a Koala Fluffy MiniMax on the mic to prevent any wind distortion.
Later, recording interviews in the HRA office was no problem. And, despite making long interviews because I needed to capture translations "on tape", I still had plenty of power left in the iPhone.
The FiRe app offers the option to transfer or upload audio files via wifi to the FTP server of your choice or via SoundCloud. Both of those options are fantastic, particularly to FTP audio direct to a broadcaster. Another option is to use the app's browser access function via wifi. You can either transfer audio from the iPhone to your notebook over a local wifi network or create a 'computer to computer' network. I used the latter method with my MacBook Pro and iPhone in Airplane mode and downloaded the files via the Safari browser and Bonjour.Back in Bonn, and wondering why I bought two kilims, I managed to file this piece for Inside Europe just a couple of hours before escaping to Japan and Australia for a break. In fact I was in such a hurry that I didn't bother to search for a printer but dashed to the studio and read the script direct from the iPhone. Overall it was another good test for using a mobile phone as a reporting tool. Together with apps such as Audioboo and FiRe, I'd certainly use my iPhone to gather audio material for broadcast in the future.
The beauty of ReelDirector is that you can use clips you've trimmed/edited on the iPhone and work with a (very) basic timeline to produce a video story.
But there are limits. You'll need to plan your shots carefully to craft your story. Video and audio for each clip remains linked and you can't add a voice track. It's sort of iMovie Fisher-Price. That might sound a little harsh but I actually think being easy to use will encourage more people to give it a go.
This time I tested the app using the low quality setting and posted a video direct to YouTube, Kyte (and by email to Posterous). I was pleasantly surprised as the file was only 15 MB for a 2:30 video - that's not so big to move from your iPhone. My first attempt with a video of around 4 minutes in high quality produced a file well over 100 MB.
ReelDirector also lets you use clips produced with other iPhone apps. Since my video blog story was Super 8 cameras I produced a short clip on Vintage Movie Maker app using the 60's home movie filter and projector sound and then just dropped it into the ReelDirector timeline.
Something to keep in mind. ReelDirector added the Vintage Movie Maker clip in low quality, but in high quality it popped up an "incompatible" video message. This might just be a bug or the settings for the clips you import from another app might have to be adjusted. If you're a video blogger you might also think about producing a branded pre or post roll clip to store in the iPhone Camera Roll to use with ReelDirector.
I'm still thinking about how best to use this app in its current form but hopefully the developers Nexvio will add more features.
"News Quoyle, news. Better get your mojo working."
- Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
A draft of this post has been loitering in my documents folder for a while. But six months on from when I gave some mojo apps a workout in Nigeria and in Georgia I've got a few more points to share about what a mobile phone offers journalists for field reporting.
April 9 is a date firmly etched in the memory of many Georgians. Any demonstration on the anniversary of the 1989 Soviet crack down would always bring out people, whether supporters of the opposition or people just curious to see what was going on.
For perhaps more of a grassroots perspective I'll be keeping my eye on the blog that Georgian journalism students at GIPA are producing that Onnik pointed out.
The Georgian Young Lawyers Association is another independent group that's useful to get a picture of what's happening between demonstrators and police/security services. I bumped into the chairperson Tamar Khidasheli late last night outside the Georgian parliament.
Her group has monitors observing the demonstrations. Here's what she had to say.
So, you've brought your smart phone with you to a country like Nigeria, brimming with all your favourite apps for social media and live video streaming. Will everything work? Well sort of, inshallah.
Recently while training radio journalists in Kano in Nigeria's north, I used a variety of applications to get an indication of how practical they might be for mobile reporting, micro-blogging/blogging in a country where 3G networks are gradually expanding.
My mobile weapon of choice at the moment is the Nokia N82. Here's what's in my toolbox of applications.
Twibble - for Twitter and Twitpic on Nokia symbian smart phones
Bambuser - mobile phone video streaming
Qik - mobile phone video streaming
Kyte Producer - upload mobile phone video and photos
Tumbla - tumblr blog upload app
Wefi - wifi detector
I really wanted to know before travelling to Nigeria what network would suit my needs. I asked the local tech bloggers on Mobility Nigeria for some advice on networks. They suggested going for MTN, one of the bigger Nigerian mobile networks, and gave me the going price for a buying a pre-paid SIM card.
This is the sort of information that saves a lot of mucking around when you arrive. I'd love to find a blog or a wiki that keeps track of all those things.
Upon arrival I bought a new pre-paid SIM card from a street hawker for 600 Naira (c.3 euro). Recharge cards are available literally on every corner for 1500 Naira (c.8 euro).
MTN's website also explained that an ordinary pre-paid SIM card is ready for data services. There's no need to visit an agent to manually register the SIM card for accessing the internet or fiddle with settings.
I was a little skeptical but sure enough the internet and my (MobileMe/Mac) email launched immediately. If only it was that easy in every country.
So, getting started was a breeze, but the biggest challenge was getting a reliable 3G connection. (And under the umbrella of "3G" I'm not sure what MTN's network and kbit speeds supports across UMTS/GPRS/GSM.)
Personally, I found MTN's 3G signal was a little erratic in Kano to connect for faster data services.
I did however find that early mornings were the best time to connect. Maybe there's less usage across the network as people are on their way to work?
When I managed to log on to MTN's 3G, Twibble worked very well keeping me updated on everyone I follow on Twitter and uploading photos to Twitpic.
Of course, updating my Twitter stream by SMS was the most reliable method. And, sending a direct message (eg D @blogschau) on Twitter by SMS was also a good way to stay in touch with colleagues. Twitter still emails direct messages to the recipient - a useful little service they've maintained.
Erratic 3G connections ultimately dashed my hopes of regularly streaming live video via Qik. Delays caused by the slow connection speed always built up even when shooting video in low quality. Chatting live to viewers did not even get a look in.
On the upside, my Qik and 12seconds accounts are connected. So as a compromise I decided to only shoot short video clips to suit 12seconds. I think these worked quite well and they weren't expensive to shoot. Both Qik and 12seconds can update your Twitter stream with a link to the video. If you use the html code that accompanies the video (look at any links to "share" "embed" or click on the QIK logo in the bottom left hand corner of any video), it's potentially an easy method to embed video into a blog post and save a lot of hassle trying to upload and convert video from scratch to a share site such as YouTube.
The drawback will always be whether there is enough bandwidth to upload a good quality video. You can also adjust video quality and delay in settings for QIK and Bambuser.
Trying another video tactic, I shot a couple of short videos of around 30 seconds and then used the Kyte TV Producer app on my phone to upload. That way I would always have a good mp4 copy on my phone memory card.
On the blog front, I thought better of accessing Typepad from my phone but tried to use Tumbla to send material to my Tumblr blog. Unfortunately, Tumbla was a casualty and would not work.
Outside of using data services I also sent an audio message to Utterli. This is a great social media phone service. Just call up from your mobile phone and leave a message. Utterli then sends an update with a hyperlink to your audio message to other services such as Twitter or to your blog. You can also add photos and video. My only grumble with Utterli is their decision to withdraw a local call number for Germany - you have to dial a US number. However, it's also possible to use Utterli cheaply by making calls using a local calling card.
So, how practical are some of these social media and video streaming thingies to use in a country such as Nigeria?
At the moment, that's all going to depend on your needs, patience and budget.
Any application that lets you update or receive messages on your phone by SMS or email is always going to be the most practical and the cheapest.
A new service I've been testing to receive @ replies and to track tweets from Twitter is Twe2 - so far I find it's quite useful, and it's free.
If anything, 3G services across Africa are only going to get better. On a recent trip to Dar es Salaam I was able to stream live video far better than in Kano. The main drawback was a lot of fiddling with phone settings to log onto the local Vodacom network. I almost gave up.
With a little thought towards planning, you can use your phone to great effect. Just look at how the AudioBoo app for the iPhone has taken off for mobile reporting during the recent G20 demonstrations in London. Though for now problems in connectivity in some African countries may prove to be frustrating hiccups in your social media and mobile video streaming happiness.