Created: 16 Oct 2013, last rebuilt: 07 Dec 2015

Subtitlr, crowdsourced video subtitling

Subtitlr was in development 2007-2008 and retired in 2012.

Ever since the first proof of concept in 2007, when I mashed up Jeroen Wijering’s JWPlayer to play flv files from around the net and display them with subtitles, this idea seemed like it had great potential.

I first thought of it when I saw a cartoon illustrating the double-slit experiment; I realized I could never create such content, but I could bring it closer to people I cared about.

The proof of concept used a file hosted on Google Video, which is now long gone, and some subtitles I created and translated manually.

Soon it turned from a single url and a single .srt file into a platform wannabe, allowing anyone to submit or edit subtitles for any flv video file found on the web.

It was well ahead of its time, and plagued by many problems:

  • links were constantly changing; even youtube links that I resolved by following a couple of hops changed sporadically.
  • there was little content to attract users; everything on the site was done by me (couple of “hotlinked” TED talks with manually transcribed subtitles) and translated by me and a couple of interested friends. Far too little to kickstart a revolution.
  • No visitors meant no volunteers to transcribe and translate more content. Chicken and egg.

There was a couple of bright moments, like the one where an anonymous good soul decided to translate an entire 10 minute talk into Hebrew.

00:00:18,951 --> 00:00:20,542
הגעתי לתחום חקר המוח עקב העובדה

00:00:20,582 --> 00:00:25,854
שאחי אובחן כמי שסובל מהפרעה מוחית - סכיזופרניה

00:00:25,904 --> 00:00:29,692
כאחותו, ומאוחר יותר כאשת מדע

00:00:29,738 --> 00:00:34,827
רציתי להבין איך זה שאני יכולה לקחת את חלומותי

00:00:34,851 --> 00:00:39,235
לחבר אותם למציאות שלי ולהגשים אותם

I didn’t even notice it until I got a huge spike of visitors.

Below are some screensnaps of what it looked like. It sure was ugly, although it went through a couple of redesigns in what might be my first attempt at split testing.


Watching video

Editing subtitle

Editing subtitle source

Well, good content was the best part of it and much of that came from TED; when TED rolled out “TED translations”, it basically spelled out the end of Subtitlr. Not to mention Youtube which added captioning, and of course DotSub, a service born at around the same time.

When it was quite obvious its best days were behind it, I had one last shot by converting it to a funny clip subtitle editor (more accuratly, Hitlr Subtitlr (tm)) to have some fun.

Hitler editor