A Pipeline to Nowhere
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
More than a year ago Krista, Mitch, and I drove to rural Maryland for an interview with Jean Vanier. When we arrived I assumed we would be setting up in a retreat center with modern amenities. Nope. We were directed to a small, old farmhouse that had been converted for group meetings. It wasn’t much, but most of the power outlets worked, and it had a weak wireless signal.
'Why not experiment and stream the interview live?' I thought. Krista was game and Mitch was cool with it too (although you can hear an occasional squawk in the audio from me tip-toeing between the two cameras). We hadn't promoted it and there probably wouldn't be much of an audience, if any.
As many of you know, weak wireless often means a drop in signal at times and uploading anything crawls. I was sure our test balloon was going to fail. It didn’t; we piped the full 90 minutes through a free third-party service without a glitch. And, we did the same for Krista’s interview with Columba Stewart in the heart of Marcel Breuer’s concrete walls with another weak WiFi signal.
You know where this is leading. Me making excuses. That’s right.
When I found out Krista would be interviewing David Brooks and E.J. Dionne in a well-equipped auditorium on the campus of a major university, I was convinced this was an opportunity to give our audience a front-row seat for a high-profile event. I promoted the live discussion in our e-mail newsletter; I created an event on Facebook and invited all our SOF group members to attend in person or online; I tweeted about it (@trentgilliss). People showed a healthy amount of interest.
The auditorium was lovely, and, as luck would have it, I was able to get a wired Ethernet cable for a dedicated connection for streaming. Then I lost one of my cameras (the downside of sharing equipment), but I thought, ‘well, at least we’re doing a live stream.’ For five hours before the event, I tested the connection. Success. Uninterrupted video streaming. Then the doors opened.
For five minutes, we were piping high-quality video of the conversation while the crowd filed in and took there seats. Then it dropped. I’m receiving tweets from colleagues; viewers start asking what happened on the blog; my wife phones me. I’m frantic trying to switch to the wireless connection, which was also at a dead halt. Georgetown’s Internet connection was so slow that loading the front page of The New York Times took nearly 10 minutes — without the images loading.
In the end, I failed. I let down our audience and I hate doing that. All I can do is apologize and say we’ll do better next time.
I needed a back-up plan, but I’m still not certain what that is without spending some cash. Cash that we don’t have. If you have any suggestions, I’m game on hearing how others work or ways of making this happen. Post your comments here. And, if you want to let me have it, post your comments here too.
(photo: Marc Zielinski for Speaking of Faith)