Transcription Tool Can Help Researchers Analyze Audio, Video Files

The media that we consume on a daily basis has undergone a rapid transformation in the past two decades, as podcasting has flourished as a means of entertainment and videos of speeches, TED talks and symposiums are more widely available than ever before on YouTube. The evolving media landscape poses a challenge for researchers, who need to be aware of new resources and devise methods to canvass those resources. One of the easiest ways for researchers to analyze audio or video is to utilize a transcription service, which turns the spoken audio into text. While transcription services have been around for many years, recent technological advances have made them easier to use, more accurate and more widely available.  In our blog this week, we will discuss the free transcription service Otter, which has become an increasingly popular tool for journalists and researchers

Otter is available for iOS, Android or on the web.  The company offers a free service that allows up to 10 hours of transcription per month or users can upgrade to Otter Premium for a fee ($9.99 per month or $99.99 annually), which allows up to 100 hours of transcription per month, as well as additional features such as varied playback speeds and audio exporting options. When users log in to Otter and begin using the application, they are prompted to record a sample of their voice in order to help distinguish the user’s voice from other speakers. Otter’s application records audio itself – as opposed to uploading prerecorded audio as many other transcription services require –and converts speech to text right away using voice recognition algorithms, so words show up on the screen as they are being spoken. The application also synchronizes audio with the text during playback, so you can tap on any word to hear exactly what was being said at the time, which is particularly helpful for double-checking the transcription. While Otter’s algorithms don’t always produce perfect transcriptions, they are generally accurate enough to help users discern which passages deserve additional attention for manual cleanup.

It should be noted, however, that there have been privacy concerns raised about the application.  The company claims that all of the data uploaded to the service is “stored and moved around securely, with no one except the owner having access to it,” however it has been noted that there is nothing in the company’s privacy policy that supports this assertion. As one security journalist put it, “Whenever a data-hungry app or service is free, there's always a looming feeling of ‘what’s the catch?’” Users should be aware that any audio uploaded to the site could potentially be accessed by the company.

As the media landscape continues to evolve, researchers need to stay attuned to new tools that help them navigate that landscape, as well as the potential pitfalls involved with using those tools.