Live streaming with an interactive audience is hard

Bridget Willard and I started WPblab as a way for her and I to answer people’s questions about WordPress and to be able to share our knowledge with our viewers. We started this show on blab.im a new yet now sunsetted live video streaming website with some new features that we couldn’t find elsewhere. It reminded me of the early days of WPwatercooler and our use of Google Hangouts On Air to stream our show to the masses. Blab.im had the potential to do some amazing things with their platform but in the end I think other projects they were building got the best of them.

The things we liked about blab.im were:

  1. Artificial limit to the number of people who could be on the show
    Limits are good and not having too many people on a show (talking over one another) is a good thing.
  2. Everyone on the screen at the same time
    I love the idea that they used a 2×2 grid allowing just 4 people total to be on the show at any given time.
  3. “The Hot Seat” – Anyone can join in that had a webcam
    This is what we called the available seats that we could lock or even unlock allowing our “studio audience” to take a seat and interact with us.
  4. / slash commands for asking questions or shrugging ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    These were great and made for some interesting interactions with our audience.
  5. Save the show for later use
    The ability to upload directly from blab.im to YouTube and/or download audio and video versions of the show.

Things that we disliked about blab.im

  1. Social Media “Paywall”
    Requiring users to login with Facebook or Twitter to watch our content, they did have a way to login without this but the text was soo small and at the bottom of the screen. We lost about 3/4 fo our viewership when this was implemented this.
  2. Support
    Having to be in a live blab and use the chat to type /help to get someone to help you “publicly” just seems dumb.
  3. Features randomly not working
    The /q question feature stopped working randomly one day and ever came back. Running a show where you are answering people’s questions and not having a queue of questions was annoying.
  4. Pinning a comment’s link only worked on https sites
    The devs refused to add a way for non https links to have their content cached and then displayed as a pinned featured image. The feature was great when it worked but not all websites are https… yet.
  5. Echoooooooooo
    We tried every setup known to man to cut the amount of echo that the show would have, nothing seemed to work.
  6. Unable to switch sources mid show
    Once you selected what audio and video device you were going to be using you were stuck using that device until you quit and come back in again and be prompted to select a new device.

Make live streaming great again (move to a new service)

Bridget and I have been doing WPblab for a few months now and we’re slowing seeing the chipped paint and the small cracks form, the carpet not cleaned and the janitor not picking up the trash anymore. I started looking at other solutions (and a new name of the show… never ever name your show after a technology, your show WILL outlast the technology)

We’ve looked at a few options so far:

  • Firetalk
    I love the user interface for this, allows for some interesting things such as monetization, embeds and other things.
  • Google Hangouts On Air
    We use this for WPwatercooler, you can’t get the audience to join the show without some pre-planning, not sure we’d go this route.
  • YouNow
    Just no… this place is over-run by people paying to see one another strip using what I could only call a Millennial’s version Chuckie Cheese. I can see Blab doing that same thing at some point if they would have stuck around.

What we moved to

Moving away from Blab.im to Google Hangout On Air (now called YouTube Live) and not looking back has been tough for Bridget and I. Having that spontaneity of allowing people to join our conversation when they see fit is something we miss and is hard to reconstruct using Google Hangout On Air. We’ve changed the format a bit bu utilizing the YouTube live chat as our way of interacting with our viewers. It’s available on YouTube and on our website (using the embed code they offer) and made it easier for our people to talk with one another during the event. we’ve also brought on scheduled guests to talk about topics they know a lot about which as made the show more interactive for our viewers.

Takeaways

Whatever you do when working with a new video service is run some tests to see if things are going to work your way. I’d say don’t be the first one to the party, let a software or online service mature a bit before switching to it and make a backup plan for when things don’t work out.

  1. Test
  2. Test
  3. Give a software or online service time to mature, don’t be the first to the party if you can help it.
  4. Have a backup plan
  5. Don’t feel married to a solution, your show should still work regardless of how people interact with it.

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