Reshared post from Fraser Cain

+Fraser Cain's crew of astronomers are doing awesome work with their weekly Hangouts. They are trailblazing the developing art of educational streaming, and they are setting the bar quite high. 

I've been putting together a plan for doing some educational streaming of my own starting this fall, and these hangouts have been both inspirational and highly instructive. Anyone interested in the future of online education or the future of streaming online content should be paying close attention. 

Fraser Cain originally shared this post:

What we learned from broadcasting the Venus transit

If you haven't already read my Tips and Tricks for Hangouts on Air, you might want to give it a read (

These are my additional thoughts after running a HoA that had a massive viewership. 😉

As you probably know, we wrapped up about 6 hours of coverage of the transit of Venus yesterday as a live Google+ Hangout.

Our "television show", if you can call it that, consisted of a few live video feeds of the Sun with a black dot (Venus) slowly moving across it. And then some expert commentary and analysis from PhD astronomers.

When we first went live with the Hangout on Air, it was like a dam burst. The number of viewers went to 1000, 2000… 5000… 6000+. Clearly there was a pent up interest in sharing the experience with other people. The total number of viewers tailed down a bit, settling at around 2000 for the duration of the event. The fact that 2000 people stuck around to share the experience was pretty mind bending.

Let me start by saying that the Hangouts on Air technology worked absolutely perfectly. We had some internet problems with some of the participants, and they were dropping out from time to time, but for most people, every part of the system was completely rock solid.

We should have done more promotion
I looked around at some of the other livecasts of the Venus transit, like the NASA one, and they were getting about 60-90,000 simultaneous viewers. If we had done a better job of promoting the feed (like… at all), I'm sure we would have gotten a much better response.

Part of the problem is that a Hangout on Air doesn't exist until you start it up. You don't get the actual URL until the Hangout is live. It would be nice to reserve a URL in advance, which you can give people details for the upcoming event. You can then distribute that URL, and it'll shift to the live event when you actually start broadcasting.

You need to stay on top of every place for comments
Once you actually start a broadcast, you're going to get comments on the original broadcast post, over on the YouTube live page, on any blog that has the live video embedded, on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

We didn't realize how many comments were getting generated (1,000+) over on YouTube until after we wrapped up. I know +Gerwin Sturm has created a cool plugin to help with that, but I haven't got that figured out yet.

So I had a bunch of tabs and services open, and I was trying flip back and forth staying on top of everything.

Get the viewers onto Google
We were embedding the live video into Universe Today and other sites, but the massive amount of traffic was just taking the site offline, over and over again. So I was having to nurse my server, while answering questions, while  providing the actual entertainment of the transit. Once we directed people over to YouTube and Google+, that helped lighten the load on the server.

People love live events
There's something really special about a live event that just doesn't translate once the event is over. I guess that's why people don't like to record the Superbowl. Some of the magic is gone once it's not live any more. We could feel the enthusiasm of the crowd watching us, and then really helped give us energy. I was tired at the end, but honestly, it felt effortless while it was happening.

If you want to do your own Hangout on Air, try to capture some kind of live event. 

Connect with the audience, get them involved
A hangout is more of a conversation with your audience, than a show. If people actually go to the effort of typing up a question, try to answer it if you have time. 

We also learned a trick in our previous hangout broadcasting the solar eclipse, where we got the audience to link their photographs. The amazing photos provided a whole new dimension to our coverage and helped us connect with the audience.

Casual, natural, unscripted and human
I think the current overproduced television environment is unnecessary. People want to see real human beings interact in a way that feels natural. A Hangout can make it feel like you're listening to a really fascinating conversation at a dinner party.

Don't try to make things overly slick. Your natural interaction is what humans really enjoy watching.

Everything is a television show for somebody
If you asked most people if they wanted to watch 6 hours of Venus transit coverage, they'd roll their eyes and laugh at you. But for a select group of people, there's nothing they'd rather watch.

There are people out there who would absolutely love to watch someone program a computer, or tune a guitar, or prune a tree, or discuss philosophy or play a role-playing game.

And I think this is the real magic of Hangouts on Air. 

Anyway, we'll take all these lessons and be better prepared for the next transit in 2117.

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