Amara blues

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Claude Almansi

Apr 17, 2013, 12:56:47 PM4/17/13
As I was telling Dylan Mahoney a few days ago, I haven't been doing anything for a long while on his two teams where I'm admin, Music Captioning and Captions Requested. Yet I love both teams. But I have the Amara blues.

And that's because Amara staff are once again totally neglecting the community: apart from making unusable Jules Rincón's Removing subtitles or videos thread by changing her instructions on April 1st, they haven't answered a single question on the help forum since February. OK, they're working on the new version of the software - as Jules had announced back in January, when she explained why translations of the site made by volunteers were put on hold.  They still are, in spite of the urgency to translate some parts of the site.

If Amara staff want to have volunteers to crowdsource the subtitling of paying customers' videos to, they'd better address these potential volunteers' questions and issues. I tried to for a while, not because of the paying customers, but because I believe in collaborative subtitling, whether via formal teams or otherwise. I had to change my nick to "calmansi justanAmarauser" because folks mistook me for staff.

Sure, there have been software innovations since Universal Subtitles became Amara a little over a year ago.
  1. Forcing workflows on all teams - rolled back after a month of hell for collaboration in teams that didn't want and couldn't have workflows
  2. Removing the descriptions of teams "projects", which reduces them to mere filter results - still obtaining
  3. Forcing identical syncing on all subtitles of a given video: partially rolled back via the possibility to make translated subs directly from the video, which seems to have caused the glitch that deletes or mucks up former revisions and other subs
  4. Forcing a 3 short-line, without controllable line break, format for subs - rolled back after too many subtitles got mucked up retroactively
  5. Removing the possibility to use a plain transcript - half rolled-back, in that we can now at least upload one, but more complicated than when we could copypaste one (encoding issues)
  6. Removing the possibility to subtitle an audio file - still obtaining
  7. Disabling the player commands in the interactive transcripts (links on time-codes) and in the widget (links on the little arrows above each subtitling box) - still obtaining
  8. Team dashboard with personalized subtitling suggestions based on users' declared languages - useless because declared languages, already too crude data when the dashboard was in beta testing, was made even cruder (no more way to distinguish between languages you can subtitle into and languages you can only subtitle from)
  9. Version for hoi polloi of the syncing a YT account with Amara subs, but amputated of the moderation of what goes on YT that paying customers have, thus creating a high spamming risk, with an unsatisfactory attribution, and no link to an explanation of how to stop the syncing
  10. And a positive one, true: after the rollback of the "3 short line" format, Amara staff eventually did give users the possibility to create their own line breaks in subs, which users had been asking for long ago.

But as to what users have actually been asking for since Amara was Universal Subtitles: no improvement of the comments on videos and subtitles, or of the messaging system. No solution to the absence of subtitles in full screen mode. No way for team admins to show permissions settings to non admins.

So yeah, because of all that, I have the Amara blues. But I seem not to be the only one, from the slowing down of activities, also in teams where I'm just a member, and on the help forum itself: of course, when folks see they can't get an official reply, they give up.

Therefore, pretty please, could Amara staff find a way to communicate with the community, and to address the most long-standing issues raised by the community, instead of concentrating on their own on innovations they deem best for users, without consulting them?

Dean Jansen

Apr 18, 2013, 2:31:33 PM4/18/13
Hi Claude,

I can understand why you might have the blues – our efforts to get the new features (new editor, new data model) launched have taken a lot of our focus away from the community and a LOT more time than we anticipated.

Claude, you've been one of our most active users and are definitely at the center of what I'd consider our "community conscience". As you know, we balance being a non-profit with needing to be sustainable and do work with organizations that help support our mission (eg. TED, Udacity, Netflix, etc) to that end.

About 18 months ago we launched the TED team (and the team system). To be frank, the functionality for teams has been a bit of a bolt-on, but was necessary for the future and sustainability of the platform. We're finally about to launch the new Amara editor which will bring with it a lot of flexibility – it's going to pave the way for a much more harmonious balance between fully open/community subtitles and team subtitles and unlock some of the constraints we've been working under (like always making design decisions that will avoid "forking").

I know we've been talking a lot about new editor and new data model for a long while, so I think it's finally time to share the work we're doing. The caveat is that this is our dev server, so it's under active development. If something isn't working (or doesn't open) or seems funky or not fully baked, it is because the devs are committing code in real time. We'd definitely like to hear your feedback, but please do bear in mind that we've got plenty more improvements we plan to make.

You will need to create an account and log in on the dev server (but won't need any special permissions). Go here to do that:

You can get to the new editor by using the following URL structure.
Note: you can add new videos to the dev server and then copy the ID from the dev server into this URL format to try it on whatever you like – keep in mind that it might not work on ever video format yet.

We're getting very very close to having the data model 100% finished and ready to launch, which is the underpinning to this new editor. As soon as data model is out, we'll be immediately using this editor for translations that would otherwise be "forked". This will allow users to test the new editor in a limited fashion on the production server, as we finish off the timing mode and add more polish/features.

Once we launch the timing mode in the editor, all editing will be done from one single interface. We'll also be including a few other oft-requested features: auto-save, the ability to upload/download subtitle files in real-time (right from the editor), etc.

Anyways, we're on the brink of launching this, and not only will it be the culmination of many months of development work and organizational focus, it'll break us free from many of our current constraints with "forking" and enable us to shift our focus to better tools for collaboration for both community captions/subs and work in teams.

I'm also providing a link to a pdf ( best to download and zoom to 100% for viewing) that shows some of our plans for collaboration inside the editor. When we launch the new editor and data model, we'll initially have basically the same workflow for teams, but we will rapidly work to replace the workflow with the concept of "endorsements" from users. It will enable greater flexibility and more of the kind of collaboration that you, Claude, have been pushing us towards.

To answer a few other questions, transifex updates have gotten tangled up in the data model code branch, and haven't been released in months. However, all of the new translations will all go live as soon as the data model lands. In the immediate term, due to resource limitations, we're finding it difficult to remain very active in the forums (for instance deleting/merging subtitles – we'd like to figure out a sustainable long term solution... we're most concerned with not deleting work that other people have been focusing on, and hesitate to enable users to delete things), but are hoping that we'll be able to find more time once the data model is out and we have a bit more leeway on adding new features that will help address some of the known issues with the platform (improved messaging/notification, for example).

For everyone involved: Claude, Dylan, and everyone who contributes to Music Captioning, Captions Requested, and this list, we really appreciate that you've stuck with us through thick and thin. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We hope that our hard work will show through when you see the new editor. We want this to be an incredibly solid base to build better community and  better collaboration off of.

If you have feedback on it, feel free to email this list or me directly – it's still in a fairly early stage, so now is the perfect time for sharing.


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Dean Jansen

Apr 18, 2013, 2:32:27 PM4/18/13
Oh, and one more thing I forgot to mention about the dev server – none of the videos or caption data will be brought back to production, so please treat it as a temporary sandbox.

Claude Almansi

Apr 18, 2013, 7:13:46 PM4/18/13
Thanks for your replies, Dean.

So re:

On Thu, Apr 18, 2013 at 8:32 PM, Dean Jansen <> wrote:
> Oh, and one more thing I forgot to mention about the dev server – none of
> the videos or caption data will be brought back to production, so please
> treat it as a temporary sandbox.

I've been playing a bit in it, with a
Mac OSX 10.6.8
Firefox 20.0

in the
page (and equivalents for other languages). I haven't tried


And I read the
>>(...) pdf
>> (

Now re the editor:

1) it looks very neat, especially clicking on a given subtitle to
start the video there. But, on the above described set up for my
MacBook, although your link apparently took me to the syncing phase, I
couldn't see the syncing tools - perhaps they are not ready yet?

2) Among the Keyboard Commands,
- only the Shift+Space toggle for play/pause works i.:
- Tab and Shift Tab act on the commands of the embedded YouTube
player, not on the Amara commands
- The "Advanced" link is only a place-holder so far, but please, when
you have them, make all the keyboard shortcuts directly
visible/accessible: each unnecessarily added click is a pain in the
neck for everybody, but particularly for folks who have to use
auxiliary tech

3) Among the "rollover" stuff in the subtitle boxes,
- I can only use the "x" that deletes a sub,
- I can't pin down, let alone click, the "+" for adding a sub , nor
the small blurb for adding comments (?)
Can't you get give normal links instead of those darned rollover
things? even when they do work (in the present Amara editor( for
people who can use a mouse, as the Amara support "Solutions" says,
they don't for people who have to use Dragon - and of course they
don't for blind people.

4) The full screen command is still YouTube's, not Amara's: so still
no Amara subs in full screen, yet that's very useful when you have to
transcribe some text from the video.

5) "Highlight unsynced lines" doesn't work.

6) Where are the commands for moving between stages (back to
transcribe, forward to review)?

7) When I intentionally let my session run inactive too long in order
to get the "download" link, the subs were encoded in TTML with no
other option. TTML is beautiful, granted, but a pain to copypaste sub
by sub. What about offering the droplist of formats that appears in
the download feature of the present editor? And having a plainly
visible download button in the editor, all the time?

Re the PDF: it's very nice, but so far it seems like just a series of
screenshots to make a tutorial from. Will the comment answer e.g. the
following question:

In what videos will the phase "3. Review and endorse" be implemented?
All videos? All videos added to all teams? Only videos added to teams
where admins and owners want it?

I'm asking because of "These subtitles will be published once they've
been endorsed by two more team members" in slide 9 of the PDF. This
mercifully seems to exclude "unteamed" videos.

But if it means that subs won't be translatable, nor visible by non
team members until such endorsement, that's a feature that only the
present workflowed teams should activate, and only after seriously
pondering its effects. The video example you have in the PDF is Pres.
Obama's 2012 State of the Union. 1:11:41.

The NewsHour team subtitled the same speech in
but that's not a good example, because when nuncho rolled back the
English subs to revision 4 on 01/27/2012, all translated - and being
translated - subs got replaced by a version "uploaded by retired
user", thus impeding the use of the translation widget (1).

Take instead Pres. Obama's 2013 State of the Union speech as subtitled
by NewsHour volunteers:
roughly the same length: if you look at the activity stream, it should
be pretty obvious that "Review and endorse", if applied to the English
subs, would have been a hell of an obstacle for translations.
Collaborating informally on subs, asking for help if needed on
comments, works way better for us volunteers of the NewsHour team.
Please don't impose that "Review and endorse" to all teams.



(1) Though that's quite interesting too: I hadn't realized that , and
triggered the Infamous Amara Bug of Uploads and Rollbacks was so old:
its first report on help forums I was aware of was Ambrose Li's
on March 21, 2012, of a case where the bug struck because of an upload
- didn't the NewsHour team admins report this 01/27/2012 instance of
the bug to the developers?

Claude Almansi

Apr 19, 2013, 3:24:49 AM4/19/13
Oops: I mucked up my note (1) with a hasty (and sleepy) copypaste
transfer. Here goes again:

(1) Though that [i.e. the mucked up translations in
is quite interesting too: I hadn't realized that the Infamous Amara
Bug of Uploads and Rollbacks was so old: its first report on help
forums that I was aware of was Ambrose Li's
on March 21, 2012, of a case where the bug struck because of an upload
- didn't the NewsHour team admins report this 01/27/2012 instance of
the bug to the developers?

Claude Almansi

Dean Jansen

Apr 19, 2013, 2:28:53 PM4/19/13
Hi Claude,

I appreciate your feedback. Here are some quick notes:

We're still working on the syncing tools, and I think the instructions in the sidebar area are static. The hotkeys aren't final and we're still finalizing the layout/functionality for some of the buttons and options. Plenty of polish remains to be done, of course.

Yes, the PDF doesn't really explain the details...the new collaboration model will be pretty gentle – you will be able to leave it open, so that things are published/visible from the beginning and remain so as they accumulate more endorsements (so basically it's like users being able to add their own "gold star" on captions/subs, and you'll be able to glance at a team and see what's endorsed and what isn't). Teams will also be able to set it to be more restrictive, so they'd require x endorsements to publish a video. We're hoping it'll strike a good balance between openness and more restriction for teams that require it.

Curious to hear thoughts/feedback on the collaboration model idea, as it stands.


Claude Almansi

Apr 20, 2013, 6:51:27 AM4/20/13
Hi, Dean,

This idea of a review-based folksonomy is tempting, but it would be
darned unfair on people who make subtitles in languages that only few
members of a team master well enough for reviewing them. And the
languages added to members profiles are far too crude an indication
for team admins to go by when deciding whether or not such an
assessment could work for all languages.
E.g. think of Dwi Rianto, a most dedicated subtitler in Indonesian: in
how many teams he subtitles for would there be enough other members,
not only with Indonesian in their profiles, but knowing Indonesian
well enough to formally review his work?
Other case: Darren Bridenbeck tried to apply that reviewing criterion
to subtitles for fiction movies of the Gravitas Ventures team, in
particular to Italian subs that had been completed for one. Now, I
added Italian to my languages, because I know it well enough to make
or even co-review Italian subs for lectures or for political
discourses. I can even attempt a first version of Italian subs for a
fiction movie, but not final subs - let alone review such subs,
because my Italian range is too limited for dialog. So I didn't even
attempt to review these Italian subs.

Deciding with any seriousness whether such an assessment by reviewing
could work in a team would mean checking, for each language, the
previous activities of all participants who have listed it, to see if
they've actually produced subs in that language, and in the 2nd case,
assess if the subs they've produced are good enough to indicate a
capacity for reviewing subs for any genre of videos added to the team.
TED can do that, because they have heaps of participants, and their
subtitling structure also uses several external tools. But in how many
other teams would owners and admins be able to do this?

So, if you want to implement this, you must first allow people to
refine the language indications they add to their profiles. And that
also obtains for team dashboard suggestions: see what I wrote in
<>, the thread
about the preview of the dashboard, from my first reply. Instead, you
made the language indications even cruder than they were before.
Please invert that.

Or in both cases, just give us the info about the video and its
existing subs, as in the droplists of the Watch page, and trust us
humans to be better able to know what we can do in what language than
a bunch of algorithms, and to informally organize collaboration with
other humans. It works swell in the Newshour team. Even TED's
hierarchical structure is primarily human-decided, and could work
without the Amara teams' hierarchical tech tools: that's what the
Zeitgeist project does, for instance.


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