Category: YouTube (page 1 of 4)

YouTube Thumbnails for Featured Images

dmc screenshot thumbnails

In my new job, I am getting deep into the inner workings of WordPress again. More about that in a future post (promises, promises). However, I will say that WordPress continues to progress towards a wonderful environment of beauty and extensibility. I know, that sounds like a Deepak Chopra quote. In other words, because WordPress has been “open” for so many years (I started working with it in 2004-05), it is increasingly easy to make a website look good and function well.

Because of the great WordPress community, there are many great themes to work with, and with just a short investment of time you can build a brand new site, or revitalize one, in no time at all. The one that I am working on right now is the Digital Media Cookbook site. I started this exactly 7 years and one day ago. It is again in need of revitalizing. The concept, I think, is a strong one. Present “recipes” for digital media tasks in a format that appeals to those who like to watch video demonstrations of how to do something, but also provide step-by-step text instructions. I know that I have often searched the web for how to do something and preferred the greater context that a video can provide, while at other times I just needed that one step in the process to refresh my memory on how to do something. In one recipe, you hopefully get both.

So for those of you thinking about the title of this post, when will I get to the point? Well, the new theme I am using for the site, called Gazette, has, like many modern WordPress themes out there, something called featured images. Depending on the theme (and that is the beauty of WordPress is it’s flexibility), featured images get presented as thumbnail images in different ways on a site. For example, the Gazette theme not only uses them as “preview” images for the posts on the main page, but it uses them as a nice header image for the post itself. It will also use the thumbnails for a featured post header on the site (as I write this I have not specified “featured posts” yet). In my opinion the implementation of thumbnails look great, and are perfect for a site that features different categories of posts.

So what image would I want to use for the featured image of a recipe? Well, I could get cute, break out Photoshop, and dream up some fantastical image that suits the subject matter, but in this context, and to simplify things, I just want a static thumbnail of the YouTube (or Vimeo) screencast video that accompanies the recipe post. How to get them efficiently is the question. The concept is plain if you’ve ever uploaded video to YouTube. You even have a choice of what thumbnail you can use when you publish your video, but is there an easy way to grab that image to use as the featured image in WordPress? Well, you can right click on the small thumbnails on the YouTube site in the “Info and Settings” tab, but they’re tiny. How can I make available bigger versions?

As is so often the answer, Google “thumbnail generator youtube” and get your answer – Vidthumb. Now I’ll confess I wanted to have YouTube thumbnails as well as Vimeo ones, and I started by using the Boing, Boing YouTube thumbnail grabber, and the Get the Vimeo-Thumbnail! sites respectively. Any of them will give you a suitable version to use as the featured image, the sizes and formats will vary.

The next step is to determine the image that you want to use and right-click on it in the browser and choose “Save Image As…”, save it to your hard drive and then upload it to your WordPress site as the Featured Image. The process of uploading all those images is repetitive, but the process of grabbing the thumbnail is certainly simple.

Simple? You might think that’s the end of the story. No, no, and no my friend, for the quest for automation never ceases. What I really wanted, and I should have Googled this from the start is “thumbnail generator youtube wordpress featured image plugin“. What you get is the Automatic Featured Images from Videos plugin, which basically searches your post for a Youtube or Vimeo link in the first 1000 characters and automatically grabs the thumbnail and saves it as the Featured Image. Jiminy! It couldn’t be easier. It doesn’t seem to work retroactively, so you’ll have to go back in and edit posts with YouTube or Vimeo links and hit the update button. It also doesn’t seem to find the video in the old embed code that you might have used. However, you should be using oEmbed anyway – the process by which WordPress takes the URL for the given media (like YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, etc.) and automatically embeds it for proper display/playback in the post. The plugin hasn’t been updated in a while, but their support forum is currently active so hopefully we’re good for the near future. WordPress extensibility continues to amaze, and I think I know what recipe I’ll be writing next.



Fun with YouTube Subtitles

weather is a network

I had a bit of unexpected fun yesterday. One of the things (on my long list of things) to explore this summer is closed captioning (subtitling/transcribing) videos and getting a manageable workflow going. As we begin the Fall semester in about 6 weeks, I want to have a plan for implementing transcriptions as a part of the many videos that we will begin to produce in the new building (you know that ITCC thing I keep talking about?). I’m working on that workflow and hope to have recommendations soon.

Meanwhile, I was playing around with the YouTube Closed Caption tool. It looks to be a great way to start the process of getting automatic transcriptions for video, although, as it is the subject of this post – it’s not perfect.

But, that’s the beauty of it. Let me show you.

One of the videos that was transcribed, again automatically by YouTube simply by uploading it, was a video on the Domain of One’s Own project. In the video, you’ll recognize some DTLT staff members, Martha Burtis, Ryan Brazell, and Tim Owens, as well as some UMW faculty, Jeff McClurken, Andi Livi Smith, and Sue Fernsebner, and one UMW student, Jack Hylan.

What was particularly entertaining was the attempt by the transcription service to get term Domain of One’s Own, and LMS, correct. On rare occasions it would get the terms right, spelling out the words “domain of one’s own”, albeit in lower case, and the acronym “LMS”. However, it did struggle. Here’s where it got entertaining. It seems to pick on Martha and Jeff the most. First, Domain of One’s Own . . .

two main ones

munich won Tonys

demand of ones own

dominicans out

YouTube’s struggles with LMS (as in Learning Management System) were equally funny.

in relation to the Alamosa


alum ask

As well as saucier versions . . .

alum ass

elem ass

And my favorite . . .

clothes wellsley Almazan

The actual spoken words from the above clip are “closed walls of the LMS”. See YouTube Closed Captions can even teach you about geographic locations you didn’t know about – Almazán, Spain. And I never knew about it’s association with Wellesley. Oh, and don’t forget Alamosa, Colorado.

To finish up the fun, there were a couple more transcription errors – one just basically silly, and another one fun in a teenage boy kind of way. First . . .

hammock resume

You can guess what the real spoken words are in this next one . . .

the poop i need to jump through

After it’s all said and done, it is amazing what an accurate job this automatic transcription service does. Anyone who has the task of creating captions for a video might find it to be a quite entertaining task. I hope the student aides that I assign to this task think so as well.

A Simple Plea to Subscribe


I’m writing this simple (hopefully short) post to ask something of you. I want you to subscribe to the YouTube Channel known as UMW NewMedia. So far I’ve asked people to just do it, and with moderate success, the number of subscribers has increased. What I haven’t done is told you why. Hopefully, after that, you will be more willing to (if you already have, thank you most kindly!).

YouTube, well, you know what that is. I would waste your time explaining it. One part of YouTube that I’m very interested in is the Live service that they now have. You can now live stream using YouTube, but in order to use the service you need to have a certain number of subscribers. When it first landed you needed 1000 people. Now it is a more modest 100 subscribers. The UMW NewMedia account has 47 as of this writing. So I need your help (again, those who haven’t already subscribed). You DO need a YouTube account yourself. You then need to go to the UMW NewMedia YouTube Channel. Login, if you aren’t already, and hit that Subscribe button! Once we get to 100 subscribers that will enable our live streaming capability and we will bring you more live streaming events (from our own account) like the Minding the Future event we just held at the University of Mary Washington campus.

Now there is no reason not to subscribe. Really, NO REASON. And thank you!

YouTube Downloads – The Sorcerer feat. Torch Browser

From the list of questions that I get on a regular basis, the top one has to be “How do I download YouTube videos to use in my projects?” For the last few years, my top response has been to use Firefox and a plugin/add-on called Video Download Helper. Like Hamburger Helper, only for video downloads. Both are equally delicious. Sorry about that.

Now I don’t use Firefox generally (I know a few people who do), so I have it installed on my Mac JUST for downloading YouTube (and other web) videos. A while back I did a screencast about another web browser called Torch that had video downloading built in.

As I lamented in the video, it was for PCs only. Well recently I discovered that they have made a version for the Mac. Those of you who are familiar with and prefer Google Chrome might really like Torch. It’s based on the open source Chromium browser project.

Once you install Torch, there is nothing else to do. Video downloading is a part of the browser. When you visit YouTube (or most other video repositories) and click on a video to watch, you will see a Video button in the toolbar “light up” indicating that it is available for saving to your hard drive. Clicking that button begins the download process. No muss, no fuss. Once the file is downloaded (I recommend you watch the highest quality version and it will download that file) you can use it in your projects. Standard disclaimer for using YouTube and other copyrighted material applies.

Not a One-Trick Pony

So you might think that you’re installing a program that does just one thing – download videos from YouTube. You would be wrong. Now the other tools that Torch has available may be a bit geeky, but for some it will be quite welcome. It has a built-in Torrent client. At this point you’re either shrugging your shoulders, or I have just pushed you over the edge to try out Torch. From what I know of torrent clients, it works quite well. For those of you who don’t know a torrent from teapot, Wikipedia has an article on BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer file sharing protocol. Just a warning though. Bit Torrenting CAN be “other side of the tracks” stuff, if you know what I mean. Torrenting (sharing) files is completely legal, but sharing CERTAIN files might not. I’ll just leave it at that.

The other trick up TorchBrowser’s sleeve is the ability to drag and drop links to share and search. For example, let’s say you were browsing in Torch and you had a YouTube link you wanted to share on Twitter. You would simply drag the link in the address bar to the left side an drop it on the Twitter icon. You would then supply your Twitter credentials and your tweet is away. Facebook, Pinterest, Google Plus, and Linked In are other options. There’s a video with more information on drag & drop sharing and searching with Torch at their website.

So now that TorchBrowser supports both Mac and PC, I can recommend it whole-heartedly for downloading media. You might like it so much, you’ll make it your default browser. Just don’t get burnt (ooh, sorry, again).

YouTube Time

In this 2nd post about WordPress embeds (here’s the 1st one), I wanted to point out a simple trick that is part of the API for the YouTube embeds. You may not notice anything special about the YouTube video included above, but if you click the play button you will notice that it does not start from the beginning, but at the 15:10 mark of the video instead.

This is accomplished by adding a small piece of extra “code” to the end of the YouTube link. Again, in the instance above we wanted start this 15 minutes and 10 seconds into the video, so we add the following to the standard YouTube link:


Show the whole link looks like this:

Again pretty easy. Wes Fryer also pointed me to a site that generates the extra time code for you. It’s available at Sure you can type in the code yourself, but laziness is the mother of invention.

Now what if you want to END a YouTube video at a specific time? A little bit of research didn’t lead to any answers using the oEmbed API, but it may be possible that I missed it. What you can use it a site called TubeChop. It will generate code you embed into your posts. Just enter in your YouTube video link and then on the resulting page choose the start and end points for the video. Finally, click the “chop it” button and you’ll see both a link and the embed code for the video. It would look something like this:

The downside to TubeChop appears to be that it generates only a Flash version of the outputted video so it’s a no-go on an iOS device.

So remember when it comes to your WordPress YouTube video embeds, it all in the timing.

This is part 2 of the series of posts on WordPress embeds. Here’s Part 1.

A Mac-like Video Converter for Windows

Many moons ago I blogged about a video converter called Evom. I loved it (still do) for its simplicity and for its unique features. I’ve found something similar for the PC. It’s been available for a while, but a new version (3.0) has just been released that gets close to Evom for the PC. It’s called Miro Video Converter and to use it you simply drag your video file into the window, select what device you want to convert for, and then click the convert button at the bottom of the window. There are tons of choices to convert files to. All of the latest Apple devices are listed, as well as Android devices and even the Kindle Fire. It also allows the conversion to “open” format file types such as Ogg Theora (video) and Ogg Vorbis (audio). There’s even the choice of WebM for those of you still holding out hope for that format to catch on. Though my advice to you would be to exhale.

Now my favorite feature from Evom was that you are able to drag a YouTube URL from a web browser window into Evom and it would begin downloading and convert your video. That feature works much less consistently now, if at all. So I still use Firefox and the Video Download Helper plugin to download YouTube videos. Once they are on my machine I can then use Evom to convert them to an audio MP3 file. I’m happy to report that the MP3 conversion feature works in Miro Video Converter too, though quite a bit slower than Evom. But hey, these are free programs we’re talking about.

So Miro is also available for the Mac, but I prefer Evom, for most of what I do. Mostly because it is faster. However there is one other intriguing feature that Miro has. It can convert into what are known as “ingestion” formats, such as ProRes (what Final Cut Pro X likes), AVC Intra, and DNxHD. What this means in theory is that you could convert videos into formats that are recognized natively in video editing software. How this would work in practice remains to be seen. But it’s interesting to see those options.

I have several students every semester ask how they can get the audio from a YouTube clip into their projects, and now I have a program that I can recommend for PC users.

YouTube Downloads – The Quickening

Often times the most innocent questions spawn a great deal of research for me. For example, I was asked recently what was the best way to download a youtube video to use in a project. It’s a pretty easy question to answer from a technical standpoint. I’ll answer it as part of this post. However, the question allows me to revisit a topic near and dear to us in the Teaching and Learning Technologies division. The idea of repurposing and transforming existing media to tell digital stories.

I’ve gone down this path before after a comment on a previous post led me to look into YouTube’s terms of service. The question is about the breaking of the terms of service for YouTube videos. A few things have changed about the YouTube service in the last three years since, but what has remained constant is the fact that the technology behind watching videos at their site is still “progressive download” and there is a whole raft of tools dedicated to exploit that fact.

So first the tools, because that is probably the most likely reason that you would be reading this. Let me first say that there is some secret sauce in YouTube’s implementation of progressive download technology. I believe it has to do with balancing the idea of using a technology that provides the best experience, but uses a few tricks to hide the video file that is downloaded to your computer.

My favorite and most consistent tool over the last few years is the Video DownloadHelper plugin for Firefox. The big advantage with this method is that, in my experience, it works the most consistently with the most number of videos available on YouTube. Relatively recently, YouTube has moved away from Flash format video and toward MPEG-4 video. The reason being that iOS devices don’t support Flash and the push of HTML5 compatible formats has pushed h.264 technology to the forefront. Video DownloadHelper will allow you to see both the FLV and the MP4 format files for a given video. The downside to this method is that Firefox might not be your browser of preference, and there is the plugin that needs to be installed. It isn’t terribly difficult to set up, but I do recognize that I only use Firefox when I want to grab a YouTube video.

Another tool that I have used for acquiring YouTube videos is MPEG Streamclip. While MPEG Steamclip’s raison d’être is to edit MPEG video, it has a built-in YouTube downloader that allows you to immediately begin to trim a video down to what you need for your project. It’s downside is that it doesn’t always allow you to get the video you want. It will display a “File open error”.

This would have been the space where I talked about a cool new tool called Adapter. It HAD a built-in web browser that allowed you to surf to your video and then would queue it up to start the download. Well, the latest Flash download (11.4) broke this program’s functionality to such an extent (it only would download videos that were 720p and 1080p mp4s), that they have pulled that feature indefinitely. A nice screencast would have gone here.

So what of the ethics of downloading YouTube videos? Well, the caution is that most of the videos on YouTube have full “all rights reserved” copyrights. You can’t obtain YouTube videos and do with them as you wish. There is a Creative Commons (CC) licensing system, but it’s rare that the average uploader takes advantage of this. What has changed over the last few years is that you can select CC licenses as your default copyrighting choice when you put a video up on YouTube.

The paradox is that YouTube’s terms of service states that “unless you see a “download” or similar link displayed by YouTube on the Service for that Content”, you aren’t allowed to download. However, the technology is based on the browser technology downloading the given video every single time. It is part of the definition of “progressive download”. Now in browsers such as Google’s Chrome, and Apple’s Safari, the secret temporary storage is quite well hidden. With Firefox though, it can be proven that the video is saved in a cache folder and therefore the user is breaking the terms of service every time by watching the video.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Faculty Academy 2011 Videos

Recovering from the 2011 Faculty Academy this year has been better/easier than other years – Because it was so good. We implemented a new system of streaming ( and it has the advantage of directly uploading to YouTube. Depending on your account, the videos will either be broken up into 15 minute segments, or will remain the original length. It depends on how long you have had a YouTube account and what “standing” your account is in (any copyright violations?).

Based on the length of the videos from Faculty Academy, it’s not a bad thing to have them broken up in smaller more digestible chunks. Not that all of our speakers weren’t SUPER compelling 😉

The other nice touch of having the direct YouTube connection is that a playlist is automatically created if the videos are broken up. So, without too much fuss you can watch the “chunks” one after the other. If you decide to take a break, you can pick up where you left off quite easily.

So here are the videos, embedded as playlists from Faculty Academy 2011:

(Note: the Michael Wesch video is available at

Visions of Students Today

I’m getting back on my feet after a busy live-streaming week, and a bit of a hiatus from posting in this space. Anyway, here’s a quick post about an interesting follow-up to a great video from Michael Wesch’s Digital Ethnography project.

We’re working on a new video, tentatively titled “The Visions of Students Today.” We are hoping that a few students all over the world will be willing to show us how they see their world and how they learn.

The post giving the details is a call for submissions of a two-minute video of “critical learning moments” from the students perspective. Hoping some of the “ds106-ers” will see this and run with it.

Update: Here are the videos on YouTube tagged with vost2011.

Super Happy Fun YouTube Downloader


A while ago I mentioned a cool program that could download and convert YouTube videos. It was a Mac only program called Evom. I lamented that I wished there was an easy program for Windows that could do what Evom did. Well, it’s here in the form of Fastest YouTube Downloader. I know, what a great name 😉

It’s not quite the drag and drop goodness of Evom on the Mac, but it lives up to its name. IT IS FAST. Almost magically so (you hear that Apple?). There is also a version for the Mac, so this might be that elusive cross-platform beauty I’ve been looking for. It does what you expect, and after downloading the video, gives you a wide selection of files types to convert to – including MP3 audio files. I’m putting it through its paces, but it looks like a good one. The creators even have a quick video for further enticement.

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