Tips for Making R User Group Videos

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Today's guest post is from Ron Fredericks, videographer and co-founder of LectureMaker, LLC  ed.

I was initially surprised to find R user groups (RUGs) so popular. I filmed my first R session during the 2009 Predictive Analytics World in San Francisco. I filmed several more R user sessions over the past three years along with business/science clients and TEDx groups to name a few. I found the R user crowd to be very enthusiastic and rooms fully attended.

Here is a link to my most popular video hosted on LectureMaker’s web site:

Click to view video
RHIPE: An Interface Between Hadoop and R, presented by Saptarshi Guha

I discovered that San Francisco is one of the most popular locations for R Programming Language discussions – so it is no wonder that Bay Area R User Groups are so popular. Here is a Google Trends report showing San Francisco’s unique place in the R community:

Figure 1: San Francisco is the most popular city in the world for online searches about the R Programming Language.

Read on to see how to create high quality videos from your user group sessions, and how to get them seen by others as you publish your videos for online viewers. I will show you how to learn from your online videos through google analytics as well. User behavior over time can tell you, your group, your presenters, and sponsors some unique aspects about the topic(s) discussed during your session. For example, here is a social network touch graph showing how fits into the R/Hadoop community as a result of hosting the above video:

Figure 2: LectureMaker plays an active role in the R user online community as a result of effective cross-linking partnerships and use of its own Cross-domain Video Hosting Platform.

Note the large size of the circle and the many links to LectureMaker’s website related to R.

How to Prepare for a Video Event

Your video will probably be secondary to your live event so you probably won’t be stopping and refilming each section of the presenter and audience performance as a Hollywood filmmaker would like to do. So almost everything about the video preparation is best managed in advance:

  1. Select presenters that have some verified speaking background. Check out their previous videos if possible. New public presenters should rehearse.
  2. Give the presenter some clear instructions on room layout, slide projector presence, expected audience background, and advanced questions if possible.
  3. Do a video lighting and sound check with actual wireless microphones at the same time of day or night as the meeting.
  4. Get slides in advance and attempt to host any demos from your own laptop and screencasting software to capture the demo as a video if possible during the event.
  5. Test local wi-fi or land line for video streaming if you would like to invite global users to watch, chat, and tweet about your event in real time.
  6. Consider assigning a twitter hash sign to this event so your users can assemble their notes to a common location. Let your group and presenter know this hash sign and what to do with it in advance.
  7. Consider asking your presenter to sign a video release form before the event. Outline expected usage beyond free and open as needed. Suggest some language about your policy on use of copyrighted content.
  8. Ask your presenter about his bio and other key points to be introduced on his/her behalf during the event.
  9. Decide in advance how questions will be recorded. For example will there be a roving hand held mic. Ask the presenter to repeat the question, let your audience know in advance for their own comfort and ask them to think about cool questions.
  10. I recommend the TEDx website for a video recording primer:

I prefer a two camera setup, with video switcher, recorder, optional phone to audio stream for user call-in to video recording, and flash media encoder for live streaming. Here is a basic block diagram of my setup:

Figure 3: LectureMaker’s Event Video Recording Schematic

Using this setup I can stream a live event, mix video from more than one camera, integrate live screencasting of software demonstrations, integrate 4 line or wireless microphones (more with additional audio mixer), sculpt the quality of the video with extra lighting, pipe outside phone calls into the recording session, stream the video to a live platform like, record video to disk in high definition, and publish the final recorded video without post production.

You may just have a basic camera for your recording. Keep in mind that audio quality is much more important than video quality to the online viewer. The human ear can not assimilate low quality audio as well as they can tolerate lower quality video. So consider a microphone strategy that goes beyond the video camera’s on-board mic. Advanced videography can only be achieved if video recording is made off camera and detachable lens can be used to optimize recording. LectureMaker offers these features, but you can do a lot without them with basic lighting and sound checks.

Hosting Video Online

I use Vimeo and YouTube to present videos for some of my clients. It is free and offers the chance for others to search these common sites to find your material. The time limits and online ads and the leaking of your viewers to other non-related videos on these services can be a common source of problem however. The available analytics can also be a limiting. In the touch graph shown above (see Figure 2), many of the google search results send users to YouTube or Vimeo without ever giving your group or company much credit.

LectureMaker’s Cross-domain Video Platform solves these problems. Videos can be hosted on your own website or webpage with back-end streaming invisibly managed by LectureMaker, or just completely hosted on your own website. Here is a link to my video overview if you would like to learn more.

Often a combination of YouTube/Vimeo video snippets that links to your full video hosted on our own website or webpage gives the best of both worlds.

I find external links into a video and internal video navigation useful for both extra google analytics reporting and for getting your online videos referenced by other web sites. Viewers often want to scan a video through navigation points before committing more than a few minutes of their time. Cross-linking partners may only want a snippet of your video and don’t necessarily want to have their viewers watch an hour-long video. Here is an example of an external interface into LectureMaker’s hosted video on R/Hadoop:

Introduction to High performance computing with RHIPE: MapReduce interface to R

Google analytics can be useful to see how people watch your video, from what city they are watching from, and several other aspects of user behavior. Yet there is a game-style analytics that can be used as well. Gamers instrument analytics into their Flash games so they can learn even more about user behavior than youtube or your own web page google analytics can capture. For example, with random access navigation points within your video, as LectureMaker’s hosting software offers, your user group can learn what parts of the recorded discussion are of interest to viewers and how much of the video is being watched. Here is an abridged report from the R/Hadoop video discussed above:

Figure 4: One year of game-style google analytics captured for LectureMaker’s R/Hadoop video.

Many of the links are self explanatory from the table below the actual video hosting on LectureMaker, but I highlight a few of the links here:

  • Line 2 -> The video page was successfully loaded 2,754 times
  • Line 3 -> The video was started 990 times (36% of the users who landed on the page decided to watch the video)
  • Line 12-> Of the 990 unique visitors, 272 watched at least 50% of the video (not necessarily from the beginning)
  • Line 19-> Of the 990 unique visitors, 123 watched the entire video (or let the thing play out without closing the page)
  • Line 20-> 93 unique viewers used the navigation tools to jump to “What is RHIPE” located at the 3% played point in the video’s timeline (more often than any other direct navigation point in the video)
  • Line 22-> 84 unique viewers used an external URI to “jump into the video time line” to get to this same location in the time line “What is RHIPE” at the 3% elapsed time position.
  • Line 24-> 82 unique viewers used the navigation tools to jump to “Case study, step 1: Convert raw data to R dataset” (second most popular place in the video users navigated directly)
  • Line 25-> 75 unique viewers used the external URI to jump directly to the “What is RHIPE” point in video timeline to watch this segment of the video
  • Line 28-> 50 unique viewers used the external URI to jump directly to the beginning of the video

What Else Can You Do with R Videos Online?

You might want to consider using your videos to help retain existing users and attract new users to your group. Simply by hosting your videos online, you can achieve this goal. But sending out emails reminding your user base of top videos, and including sample video clips in your new meeting announcements may help attract new viewers. If your expert presenter is from another location, consider sending a video link to user groups in their home town area as well. Ask the presenter to share the video link to relevant businesses, social networks, groups, and professors if they think the content is relevant.

Consider making an active social media campaign around your newly posted videos. Search blogs for related keywords then offer short comments in these blogs with a link back to your video. Pingbacks can be used as well to discuss related video pages from your own blog posts.

Consider finding university courses that offer content that overlap with your video. Let the professor know about your video. Students may then watch your video as they take this course for many semesters to come. The video traffic will improve your video landing page search ranking so even more viewers may find and watch your videos.

Consider looking for magazine, newspaper, public broadcast, and news broadcasters by name who discuss mathmatics, science, or analytics, and let them know of new and timely videos you have collected.

Some business sponsors may want to use LectureMaker’s Cross-domain platform integrated with our user information capture or our eLearning plugin for new sales and new training revenues if the presenter and user group is ok with this reuse by its sponsors.

There is a lot more to video recording of live events than what I have covered here. Such as virtual events from a green screen video studio, or screencasted webinars, or animated characters that highlight a unique value proposition. Yet if you have read this far, than you probably have some new ideas to explore on your own as well.

Ron Fredericks is the co-founder of LectureMaker, LLC where he creates videos in his studio, records live events in the field, teaches public speaking, and provides video hosting software for web sites. He was an engineer, marketer, editor for two magazines, and the former CEO for a biophysics company where he co-authored a patent in nano-computing wetware. His passion is in developing new ways to present technology online. He can be reached through his website:

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