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Experimenting with the State of the Union and HTML5

Part of the reason people join the PBS NewsHour for news events like the State of the Union is because we give you the primary source without too much clutter. There are no NFL-style dancing robots with whiz-bang sound effects. There are no real-time approval meters in multiple colors zig-zagging across the president’s face. We provide you the facts, the context and we let you make up your own mind.

This year, we added two new twists that we hope you like. First, we worked with our friends at Universal Subtitles (a project of the Participatory Culture Foundation) to subtitle and translate the president’s speech into as many languages as possible through crowdsourcing.

As I write this post, the speech is 100 percent ready to read in Dutch, about halfway done in Chinese with translations started in 10 more languages. All thanks completely to volunteers. Pretty amazing.

We also took all of the analysis that experts and PBS NewsHour correspondents offered for our Annotated State of the Union project and synchronized it with the video of the address. You can watch the speech with a layer of analysis that appears at the corresponding time.

This may sound simple, but considering that we came into contact with the folks at the Mozilla Foundation on the morning of State of the Union, and we managed to get this far, this fast — despite every technical glitch imaginable and a big snowstorm — it is pretty remarkable. Our sincere thanks to all the developers who burned the midnight oil with us to make this possible!

Both these experiments take advantage of HTML5 — the latest set of open standards for the main language of the Web: (Hyper Text Markup Language). Without getting too far into geek-speak, this latest version allows for far more integration of multimedia without requiring users to download one plug-in after another.

And that’s all in addition to our other coverage this year, including our in-depth annotation of the speech as well as the Republican response. Annotations are something we started last year, but we’re working to improve on them.

The Web is changing, and we at the PBS NewsHour are changing with it through experiments like these. Stay with us.

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