I showed Ustream to my tech team earlier this week. Here’s how it works: you go to the Ustream site and sign up for a free account. Once you have your account and you’re logged in, you can select “Broadcast Now” at the top of the screen. A Flash applet loads, and asks you if it can use your webcam and microphone. After approving this, you’re ready to go. Click “Start Broadcasting” and the audio and video from your microphone and camera are broadcast online.
That’s amazingly easy. You give out the address of your show to people, and they can watch you live. The site also offers the ability to record your video, and it gets archived on their server. People can then access it later, you can embed it in your blog, or you can download it.
When watching the stream, your viewers can participate in a text chat on the same screen, or they can leave comments. You have the option of leaving these features available, restricting them to registered users, or disabling them entirely. You can also password-protect your broadcasts, if you’re concerned about privacy or security.
I first heard about the service a few months ago, when EdTechTalk started using it for some of their shows. At one point, we did a mashup of four video streams on the same screen as we did an EdTechWeekly show. We soon realized that the show was much better without the video (a face for radio?), but Jeff Lebow still uses ustream for the audio. It’s much easier to use than Shoutcast, and it doesn’t have the audio delay traditional streaming packages use.
This is also the service we used to broadcast the Gingerbread Stories last month. With a lot of help from Jeff, we were able to turn a video Skype call into streaming video with a little smoke and mirrors.
From a tech perspective, there aren’t many “gotchas”. To do audio, you have to have a microphone, and to do video, you need a webcam. You could probably pick up both for $40. On the network side, you have to have access to ports 1935 and 6667. That’s all in the FAQ on the site, and you don’t need to worry about it unless you have a problem.
The one problem we had in our district is that it also requires access to ports 80 and 443. None of the documentation says this anywere. Since a lot of schools (including ours) block port 80 because they require web filtering, this presented a problem. Eventually, I resolved it by allowing port 80 access through the firewall, but only to the ustream site. A kludge, perhaps, but it’ll work until ustream responds to my support request.
The tech team was thinking about possibilities and liabilities. They liked how easy it is to use, and they appreciated the powerful nature of this software. At the same time, they’re concerned about keeping kids safe, and protecting privacy, and the liability of giving a student a camera, microphone, and global audience without a delay. So we’ve started having some of those conversations about how we can use this. In the meantime, we have one more item in the bag of tricks.