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CapriUni Tech: writing closed captions for YouTube vids (6) Tech: writing closed captions for YouTube vids 24 Oct 12

There are free closed-captioning tools online, that grab your uploaded video, and allow you to write captions as its playing. But the fiddliness varies, and sometimes, the websites go wonky. So I figured it would be worth my while to learn how to do it myself, offline. And I thought, as a Public Service Announcement, that I'd share what I learned this week.

First: It's simple, and more intuitive than you might think.

Second:: Subtitle tracks can be written in .txt format, in Windows Notepad; When you go to save them, choose "any file" in the "file type" menu, and then change .txt extension to .srt (I recommend saving the file in both formats) and hey, presto! you have a subtitle/closed caption track.

Third: 'Simple' does not necessarily mean 'easy,' however; You do have to mind your commas and colons, so don't proofread while you're tired. But it's no more complicated (and in some ways, far less complicated -- fewer "moving parts") than converting a printed musical score into ABC text format.

Fourth: This is precisely how uncomplicated it is -- here are the parts of a subtitle/caption code (each letter in this list represents a single line):

a) the number of the title (1, 2, 3, ...)
b) the start time (hour:minute:second,millisecond) arrow (-->) end time (hour:minute:second,millisecond)
c) text of the title
d) empty line

[What a closed-caption file looks like:]

Here are the first 14 lines of captioning that I wrote for my most recent video (the first caption appears 7 seconds in, and the last one ends just a smidge over a minute -- click on the little red [cc] button in the bottom menu bar):

00:00:07,000 --> 00:00:11,000
If my grief over Mother's death were a person,

00:00:11,400 --> 00:00:16,530
This would be the year it could buy its first drink

00:00:16,930 --> 00:00:19,270
With friends at the bar

00:00:19,630 --> 00:00:22,220
Slamming the mug down in triumph,

00:00:22,330 --> 00:00:25,130
Froth crowning its upper lip.

00:00:25,500 --> 00:00:28,540
Then, maybe, there'd be singing.

00:00:29,600 --> 00:00:32,860
Or, maybe, my grief, taking after me,

00:00:33,240 --> 00:00:34,850
Would be a teetotaler,

00:00:35,300 --> 00:00:38,900
content to drift on the rising tide

00:00:39,160 --> 00:00:41,510
Of friends' besotted laughter.

00:00:43,080 --> 00:00:46,470
If my grief over Mother's death were a person,

00:00:47,000 --> 00:00:50,410
I'd make a wish that its friends, when drunk,

00:00:51,330 --> 00:00:55,740
would only laugh -- Opening their arms wide

00:00:56,000 --> 00:01:00,940
for tipsy hugs And slurred "I love yous!"

[End of sample-snippet]

Fifth: Things I plan to do, next time, to make this easier:

a) make a boilerplate for the time code line, so I can just fill in the numbers, and am less likely to put a colon or comma in the wrong place

b) open Notepad, and write the captions as I go along with putting the video the together, so I don't have to go back and figure out the timing after the fact.

c) YouTube doesn't measure in milliseconds, just just round up to the nearest second, and don't worry about that bit.

Reasons to go to the "extra trouble" of writing a caption track:

1) It's the right thing to do; the last U.S. Census to include information on deafness or hard of hearing status was 1930. But the most recent estimates from Gallaudet University have about 13% of the total U.S. population have some trouble hearing speech clearly (and that's including all ages, from birth -- it goes up to about 30% when you get into the 60s). And that doesn't include people who can technically hear, but still have trouble understanding the spoken word (not to mention, either, the people who can hear, but may wish to watch your video with the sound off -- such as when they're watching videos in the library, or alongside someone who's reading, or...)

2) Even if no human uses the caption track you provide, Google/YouTube does. Putting a track on your video allows people to find it with greater accuracy in Google Searches -- based on the things you actually say in the video, even if they can't remember the title you gave it, or the exact name of your YouTube channel.

3) Once you have a caption track on your video, Google can provide a translation into other languages. Yes, Google Translate is often dodgy/spotty. But it can do a better job translating my poetry into Arabic (say) than I can. At least, it gives speakers of other languages a sense of the gist of what your video's about.

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