The ‘Second Coming’ of Renditions - Video

Long time ECM veterans will remember the concept of document rendition – a transformed alternative. I think we'll see renditions again.

A rendition is essentially another form of a specific version of a document. There are two common types of renditions based on format and content:

  1. The same information content as the original document, but a different file format
  • For example, a spreadsheet file can be renditioned as a PDF
  1. The same file format as the original document, but different content
  • For example, a MS PowerPoint Document written in English can have a rendition that is also a PowerPoint file, but whose content has been translated into French

Renditions for limited bandwidth in the 90's

In the 1990's, one of the common use cases was to deal with the limited bandwidth available at the time. It often took a long time to download and open a document just to see if it contained what you were looking for. Accordingly, Open Text Livelink automatically made HTML renditions of many common formats such as MS Word that were much smaller files and so could be downloaded much faster for quick review.

I remember presenting the use case to customers: "If you want to look quickly at a file without opening the full thing..." Back then bandwidth was so limited it made sense. Now it seldom does, although there are specific use-cases like renditions that contain added content like secured signatures that still have value.

Bandwidth issues are back

Bandwidth is becoming limiting again – not for 'simple' text documents, but for rich media files such as videos. In fact bandwidth issues are so acute that the shape of the Internet has changed radically in the last few years. The explosive growth of video sharing has lead to the rise of Content Delivery or Distribution Networks (CDN) such as Akamai Technologies, Limelight Networks, CDNetworks and Amazon CloudFront to enable effective distribution.

Akamai recently claimed they handle around 20% or the Internet traffic by volume – most of this traffic is rich media which must be delivered very quickly as users expect pages to load extremely quickly even if they contain a video. A recent Forrester report says the expected threshold to load has become two seconds.

For video files to be useful to end users they have to start to play almost instantly. This is usually achieved by:

  • Locating a copy in close network proximity to the end user
    • CDNs use many distributed sites around the 'edge of the Cloud' to ensure that is at least one site close to an end user preloaded with files that are expected to be required
  • Reducing the size of the video through transcoding and compression
  • Streaming – starting to play before all of the content is received
The increasing use of mobile devices with narrow and unstable bandwidth connections, and different format requirements creates further hurdles to serving users rapidly.

Enterprise needs

So what about the enterprise or corporate user? Trained by the web, he/she expects to click on a link and have a video start playing within two seconds. But most internal ECM systems (e.g. for document management) are designed to download a complete file before it is available to the end user.

A story – Here's a scenario I experienced recently. A Finance department prepared a new expense form. To show staff how to use it they prepared a five minute video. The trouble was that their WMV format video was over 300MB. For most staff in a global company, especially remote staff, downloading a 300MB file to view it is just not practical. What Finance needed was to be able to upload the video, and have the system take care of making a rendition that was transcoded and compressed, made stream-able and hosted on a CDN.

There are just too many manual steps and too many options for most newcomers to video creation. Systems should take care of most of those steps. And one excellent way to execute several steps is to have the ECM system create a rendition of a deposited video that contains embed code to start a player and stream video from a CDN. The consumer users can then simply click on the object name in their ECM system and a streamed video starts to play almost instantly – as they have come to expect with sites such as YouTube.

So renditions have a place in the new enterprise again to deal with bandwidth limitations!

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1 comment:

  1. I imagine somebody in that finance department said "Let's just put it on YouTube, they make it easy." I have heard a lot of interest lately in preview engines to make renditions along the lines you outline. The interest is definitely driven by mobile (and other low-bandwidth) clients. Mark my words: the iPad, not the BlackBerry, is the game-changer for mobile ECM.