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ISSUE 120 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 4/27/2007

Webstream gains attention, viewers

By Emelie Heltsley
Staff Writer

Friday, April 27, 2007

Thanks to growing interest, both national and international, in St. Olaf events, the College is looking into increasing bandwidth to give more people a connection to campus life. Currently, approximately 80 to 100 unique computer connections can access live streaming of campus events such as lectures and concerts. If experimental plans for outsourcing the bandwidth go through, the College may soon be able to host as many as 800 unique computer connections.

According to “Sing for Joy” Communications Coordinator Jennifer Rowe ‘'01, the website has hosted quite a few more listeners than years past. “"We had to shut down the campus streaming during [Boe Chapel’'s] Dedication Weekend,”" she said. So many outside listeners tried to access the live audio and video webstreams during the weekend of Feb. 24-25 that the maximum amount of bandwidth was used. “The Dedication service really opened our eyes,” she said. Last weekend, the system again reached its maximum bandwidth capabilities during the St. Olaf Orchestra concert. This weekend’s Oratorio concert, featuring Chapel Choir and the St. Olaf Orchestra, is expected to reach similar numbers.

Macintosh Systems Administrator Perrin Bishop-Wright explained that, during the Organ Dedication weekend, the desire for live streaming “used up all the present outbound traffic.” While less outbound traffic may not affect the college community in a huge way, Bishop-Wright said that “it can still make an impact.”

Both Bishop-Wright and Jeff O’Donnell, producer and music director of “Sing for Joy,” said that the College is experimenting with a new program called Streamguys to outsource bandwidth. “This would preserve bandwidth for student and academic purposes,” Bishop-Wright said.

O’'Donnell stressed that the experimental webstreaming services use “still-emerging technology,” and are still in the testing stages. “"We hope to work through these issues,”" O’'Donnell said.

If all goes as planned, the College will use Streamguys to stream the Science Symposium plenary lectures live on May 4. “We’ll also be using this increased capacity for the St. Olaf Choir spring concert, as well as all the concerts during Commencement weekend,” O'’Donnell said.

Most problems with the live streaming occur on off-campus connections, when people try to load the stream on a computer not capable of handling a high-speed connection. Also, the live feed includes both a video and an audio component, posing a problem for some slower, older computers.

Praise for the availability of live streams outnumbers the complaints. “People are incredibly appreciative of the sound quality,” Rowe said. O'’Donnell expressed a similar viewpoint, also stressing the “improved audio connection.”

Currently, there are no concerns that increased attention to live webstreaming will lower attendance at campus events. “The experience isn’t the same,” O’'Donnell said. For him, even though a person can see and hear a performance or speech on the Internet, sitting and experiencing it live and in-person cannot be beat.

A live stream of St. Olaf’'s annual Christmas Festival is not in the works, and, according to O'’Donnell, probably will not happen. "If the experimental Streamguys technology is successful, there could be room for an estimated 200 to 800 computer connections to in-demand campus events. “If we outsource, the main benefits would be to people off-campus,”" Bishop-Wright said. “"Students, staff and faculty probably will not see a huge difference.”"

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