NBC News hopes to take advantage of smartphone-wielding eyewitnesses to news events by streaming video from their handheld devices straight into NBC's news room. The news organization announced Monday it had acquired Stringwire, a new online service currently in private beta.
Stringwire lets you take multiple live smartphone video feeds and turn them into an online news broadcast. The person controlling the webpage can switch among camera views and invite others to stream video as well.
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The Stringwire purchase appears to be largely an "acqui-hire" for NBC News, a term usually reserved for online services that buy smaller start-ups for the team behind it, not necessarily the technology. Stringwire's founder Phil Groman will join NBC News' Digital Group in San Francisco as Product Lead.
Some of the biggest news stories in recent months didn't break on a news website or a 24-hour news channel, but on social media. Whether you're talking about the tragic Asiana airlines disaster in San Francisco, the Chelyabinsk meteor, or the pursuit of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, these stories all appeared online first thanks to eyewitness tweets, photos, and YouTube videos.
There are already a number of ways news organizations try to harvest these first-hand reports beyond combing through Twitter and Facebook posts. CNN has offered the iReport feature on its Android and iOS apps for some time. Fox News has a similar feature called uReport, and NBC News offers another iReport clone called FirstPerson.
But all of these eyewitness reporting tools aren't live. Instead, you upload captured images and video to your favorite news organization a few minutes or hours after the event. Stringwire, on the other hand, will send a live video feed directly to NBC.
How Stringwire works
We can't be entirely sure how Stringwire works since the service is in closed beta right now, but here's a basic explanation based on Stringwire's teaser video.
Let's say there's an Occupy Wall Street revival protest in New York City. You would start out by creating a new "channel" on Stringwire to cover the event called "OWS Revival." Then you would reach out to Twitter users and invite them to become "stringers." In the news business, a stringer is a freelance journalist that news organizations use to help cover a news event. As people agree to become stringers, their smartphone or other camera-enabled device will start streaming live video to your channel.
As you invite more people to film for your channel, you can start switching between views and voila, you've got your very own live broadcast. You can also chat with your stringers to direct them during the event.
Stringwire is an interesting idea, but will people witnessing news events first hand be willing to pull themselves away from Twitter long enough to become a video correspondent for NBC News?
I guess we'll find out soon enough.