The perils of automatic captioning

Aimee Phillips finds the comedy moments in YouTube's automatic captioning (and then removes them).

I've been reviewing and adding captions to the videos on our YouTube channel, thanks to a gentle prod from our friends over in the University's Digital Marketing and Communications Team at one of their show and tell sessions.

We'd already added captions to our older videos, but the newer ones were still waiting to be done. In the interim, we'd been relying on the automatic captions, but these can be far from ideal. For example...

Video with the caption "as well but you're eating less what often include Jan articles if the

Which was actually: "...as well, but your reading list will often include journal articles"

And...

Video with caption "each of whom offer the channel you need check the dates of the fight to provide

Which should read: "...each of whom offer the journal you need. Check the dates offered by each provider"

It's important to get this right, and not just so we don't look like we've lost the plot...

As Dan Wiggle pointed out in his presentation, captions are useful for a number of reasons, including:
  • they help our users with hearing impairments
  • they're useful for overseas students who may struggle with regional accents
  • people don't always want to have the sound turned up in open plan offices (or of course the Library)
  • in general they can be handy for anyone who might have missed a word or two

So how do you add captions?

It's pretty straightforward. YouTube have provided a step by step guide for adding captions to their videos.

They do a pretty good job of automatically matching up the timings, but if it's a bit out of sync, you can easily drag the text to the right place in the video:


My life was made easier by the fact that for most of the videos, we'd got a copy of the transcript saved, so I could just copy and paste it in.

For the ones where we didn't, it was relatively quick and easy to use the "Transcribe and set timings" option to type the captions myself. There's a tick box to choose to pause the video as you type, which I found very useful as my typing skills are distinctly average. Again, it automatically syncs the timings for you.

However, if you've got a lot of videos to transcribe, another helpful tip from Dan was to pay someone else to do it (he recommended CaptionsForYouTube). When you factor in what you've paid to have the videos made, it's actually a relatively low cost to outsource this work. Definitely worth thinking about.

If you haven't seen our YouTube channel yet, take a look:
We've got short how-to guides, a Library tour, and my personal favourite, a look into the world of the IT Support Office.

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