First, to experience this post to the fullest extent, switch your browser to Chrome (for now), or watch the YouTube clip below on your smartphone using the YouTube mobile app.  Trust me, it is cool.

We talk a lot in oral history about “shared authority” and about co-creation.  Oral history, by definition, involves, at minimum, an interviewee and an interviewer.  When we talk about best practices for recording audio interviews we have always stressed the importance of utilizing two microphones to best record the two participants in the interview engagement.  The point is, the questions are just as important as the answers.

The aesthetics of video interviewing have changed over the years.  We used to record video interviews television or “Oprah” style, where both interviewer and interviewee appear on camera.  To do this most effectively, however,  one utilizes multiple cameras, complex lighting, multiple camera operators, as well as post production to mixdown the camera angles. “Oprah” style interview video recording is expensive.  Not surprising, the dominant aesthetic for video oral history interviews has long been leaning in the direction of documentary-style, single camera interviewing.  While the single camera is a far more cost- effective approach to using video to record oral history, it completely ignores (visually) the interviewer.  I could reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of this for pages, but that is not what this post is about.  This post is about finding a different (and super cool) solution for using 360° video to to document the video interview.

Back in March, 2016, I had a tremendous visit with Chuck Kazilek, the Chief Technology Innovation Officer at Arizona State University.  Although we talked about many, many fascinating topics during my visit, we both obsessed about his new 360° video camera and mused on the possibilities of this camera for documenting oral history.  I had been aware of these cameras as a “VR” approach to immersive documentation of skiing or mountain bike adventures, or for creating virtual  tours of cool spaces.  I completely blew off the possibility of using cameras like this for the oral history interview. I am no longer discounting this, thank you Chuck!

Recently, I got my hands on the Ricoh Theta S camera ($350) and thought I would give this a try.  Because I wanted to focus your attention on the video, I stripped out the audio (which was not the highest quality).

Let me set the scene:

  • The little camera was mounted on a table-top tripod that was placed in between the interviewee and interviewer.
  • The camera connects (via wifi) to your iPhone utilizing the Ricoh Theta app.
  • The video has to be edited on the Ricoh Theta editing app, otherwise it loses the 360° capability.
  • The clip was uploaded to YouTube. YouTube launched support for 360-degree video in March, 2015.
  • The interview clip starts off focused on the interviewee.  If you are in Chrome or are using the YouTube mobile app, use the mouse (or your finger) and change the camera angle.   You, the user, can change the camera angle and dynamically turn the video around to look at me, the interviewer.  Actually, if you want to see the Nunn Center studio, drag the interview around and take a look a the room.
  • Remember, the audio has been stripped, there is nothing wrong with your computer.

I think that the 360 degree approach to interview recording is a game changer.  I truly thought it was a gimmick until I really experienced it as a user.  The 360° video documentation approach documents the interview context more completely–not only recording all of the interview participants, but documenting the room as well.  The user is empowered as the “editor” and “produce,” empowered to decide what camera angle they they want to to watch, when they want to watch it.

Admittedly, this camera has great visual capability, but the audio is not great.  While the video on the Theta S is HD, I would prefer more professional capabilities.  That said, it is $350, which is remarkable.  I am betting on the Nikon KeyMission 360 4K ultra HD camera that is expected to be available October 2016.  Also, there are limitations.  You have to use particular software.  For now, the video work best in Chrome and the YouTube mobile app.  I have a feeling these limitations will erode very quickly.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Theta S is a great solution for recording oral history at this time.  My enthusiasm stems from the affordability and malleability of this technology.  I never like to “crystal ball” technology, but I think that these cameras, this approach to video documentation, will become incredibly popular for documenting oral history.  You will be seeing more from me on this, I promise.  See the video clip below (using Chrome or the YouTube mobile app), and stay tuned.

If it isn’t working, you are not in Chrome or using the YouTube mobile app!


Oh, by the way, I tried this clip using the OHMS Viewer and it works.  The OHMS viewer delivering 360° video, now that is pretty cool.  See below.  What are your thoughts on this? Passing fad or game-changer?


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Douglas A. Boyd

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