Multi-Media Storytelling (= MMS)

I never thought much about MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) until now – just a way to send pictures to phones and email addresses, right?. But after playing with it over the last couple of days, I think this may have a lot more potential for Mobile Voices.

First, sending a picture is just the beginning of it. Each MMS can contain multiple parts: a subject, a picture, a voice recording describing it, and a text field to add tags or other information. The several phones I tried (Samsung, Nokia, Motorola mid-range phones) can create MMS’s that contain several such ‘pages’ or ‘slides’ – each with a picture (or video if the phone can do that), a sound recording, and a text message. The result can be a mini slide show with commentary and tags. They’re a bit cumbersome to produce on a phone, but not that difficult.

It’s unclear how large the whole MMS can be. At least 300k it seems (on AT&T/cingular), but that apparently depends on the phone as much as the carrier. And there seems to be multiple ways to increase the limit. Cell phones typically produce half-way decent pictures and sound clips in the 10k-50k range, so 300k isn’t bad – enough for three or four narrated slides.

Second, while carriers typically charge about $0.25 per MMS (both on the sending and receiving end), most offer message packages that are much cheaper. For example, on ATT’s pre-paid GoPhone plan, you can buy a 1000 MMS package for $10 – that’s 1 cent per MMS.

Phones that receive an MMS usually have an option to “Play” them – watch the slides as you listen to the commentary. When sent to an email address, MMS’s arrive as multiple attachments (from ATT: wav sound files, jpg pictures, 3gp videos, and txt files). It’s not clear whether they include metadata that says which sound file goes with what picture. If so, it should be possible to configure mailhandler on our drupal site to receive the various pictures and sounds, and display them as an embedded slide show (maybe such a plug-in already exists?)

This suggests a few possible activities/research projects for the VozMobClass:

  • Produce MMS MultiMedia Stories with your current phone, and get a good sense of what can actually be done.
  • Collect discarded camera-phones from colleagues and friends. GSM/TDMA phones are probably the easiest to re-use: unlock them, get a (free) pre-paid SIM card from an ATT store, load it up with $25 – and you have a phone can send over 2000 MMS’s during the next 3 months. If we could get a dozen of these and make them available at one of the IDEPSCA centers, that would be terrific.
  • Work with the programming team to develop a drupal module that can receive and display these MMS’s. We’re half-way there with the ability to embed pictures and sound files sent as attachments.
    (it also looks like the mailsave module does some of this, and I see Mark has been involved in fixing some pbs with it… so that’s probably on our radar)


2 thoughts on “Multi-Media Storytelling (= MMS)

  1. I love the idea that the digital stories could be composed entirely on the phone. And I really like NOT having to create video files, flash or otherwise, out of still images and audio clips. It seems like we should be able to use jquery to do things like display the image slideshows in the browser, without creating a flash movie file.

    However, based on our experience at the last workshop, I’m also a little wary of making the storytellers compose MMS inside their phone. This should work fine in some situations, like recording pre-written or workshopped material. However, I’m having a hard time seeing someone taking the time to compose the MMS in a ‘live reporting’ situation, where the easiest thing will be to just call in a voice report, (and after that, the next easiest thing is to take some photos and send them).

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t explore this, only that we should see how well it works before deciding on whether to focus on composing stories on the phones, or the current model (send in the media elements from phones, but combine them later on a computer to create the stories). Also note that with jquery, we can probably do drag-and-drop story creation directly in the browswer (!)

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