InSite: Open-source Interactive Transcripts

An interactive transcript allows viewers to click text to navigate video, and to copy text to get a sentence-level link along with the text. Share what you copied and it takes just one click to hear the quote in context.

The InSite system

As lead researcher for the Rutherfurd Living History program at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy I led development of the InSite system, which is a workflow for recording, transcribing and organizing interviews, and an open-source system for publishing interactive transcripts. The publishing system also allows readers to share quote lists. Each quote includes a direct link to that quote in the video. The system also allows publishers to annotate interviews and build annotated timelines. You can take a look at several different types of InSite interactive transcripts on my InSite Demo site.

I also helped PBS Frontline implement a similar system and enable interactive versions of source transcripts, and source transcripts connected to video, and in a couple of cases the documentaries themselves. The interactive source transcripts allow anyone to share source material, including video, at the sentence level.

For The Putin Files project we made interactive text or text-video transcripts of 56 source interviews – 70 hours-worth – from Putin’s Revenge. The interactive versions of the documentaries allow viewers to see quotes from the documentary in the full context of the original interview. There’s an interactive version of The Facebook Dilemma and 29 interactive text and text-video source interviews, and an interactive version of Trump’s Showdown with 32 interactive text source interviews. Most recently we enabled 47 interactive interviews for The Choice 2020, 49 interactive interviews for Supreme Revenge, 38 interactive interviews for Zero Tolerance, 39 interactive interviews for America’s Great Divide, and 11 interviews for Amazon Empire, all of them available at the same time as the film debut.

Here are shareable quotes from the demo site (reprinted from the Rutherfurd Living History archives):

This is from a 2016 interview from the Civil Rights collection. Voting rights activist Armenta Eaton is remembering her childhood:

And I would try to sit up, watch for any suspicious activities, and then maybe 7 o’clock, 6 o’clock in the morning, I would lay my weapon down, take my bag, get dressed for school and go to school. And half the time, I would be in school, just about to fall out of my chair. Because I was sleepy you know.

And here are a couple of insights about Putin from The Putin Files interactive transcripts on the PBS Frontline site:

He is a man who is obsessed with TV. He watches tapes of the evening news over and over and over again to see how he’s portrayed, to see how he looks.

What Putin did when he came in was said: “OK, I’ve got a different project. We’re going to make”—if you will, to coin a phrase–“I’m going to make Russia great again”.

Anyone can share any excerpt from any interview in the Living History collections or any of the more than 300 source interviews from the three Frontline documentaries: select an excerpt, click to copy (or click the Facebook or Twitter icon to share on social media) and you get the excerpt you selected plus a link that goes directly to that excerpt. Use the direct link in a story to enable viewers to see a quote in context.

Here’s more information about the technology and the thinking behind it:

I Annotate 2018 talk: The InSite System: Enabling Transparency with Searchable, Shareable Interactive Transcripts (PDF, Slides)

The InSite documents:

Our Research – An overview of the InSite system (Duke site)

The Interview: A Report – How we got there, including the logic behind the system

InSite: A Guide – A guide for recording, transcribing and publishing interviews (Note: this points to the reprint on my demo site, where it is laid out as an interactive file that allows you to copy a link to any given sentence. This copy also has more images.)

Technology to Watch – Technologies that may eventually be used for preparing or publishing interactive interviews (Note: this also points to the reprint on my demo site.)

Colophon The software that’s used to publish interactive transcripts on the Rutherfurd site

If you have suggestions or want to contribute to the open source InSite WordPress template, the active fork is Feel free to add issues or contact if you want to help.

The InSite documents are all published as interactive text. If you select an excerpt you can copy the excerpt plus a link right to that excerpt.

Here are some examples:

From the report:
Here’s what we learned in our interviews with 45 journalists who span a wide range of ages and work for major US newspapers, magazines, online publications, television and radio stations.

From the guide:
Update: FRONTLINE more closely adapted the InSite system to publish the Putin Files, which are interactive transcripts of the 70 hours of source interviews conducted for the November, 2017 documentary Putin’s Revenge.

From Technology to Watch:
There are three particularly tricky steps: transcribing audio into an accurate transcript, connecting the transcript at the sentence level to timecodes in the audio/video, and keeping this connection in the published version.