OneNote for Audio and Video Notes

I thought I would share with you some of the more interesting things people are doing with OneNote – especially with media. In the course of my job I get to interact with all sorts of OneNote users, and some of them do some pretty interesting things. People are using OneNote media recording for all sorts of things: interviews, focus groups, training, theatre rehearsal, conference calls, financial analyst briefings, meetings, brainstorming sessions, lectures, court proceedings, inspections, house-hunting, baby diaries, audio journals, you name it.

As you may know, OneNote can record both Audio and Video if you have the correct hardware (you need SP1 to be able to record video). What many people are not aware of though is that in addition to plain recording, if you also type or write notes while you record the recording is linked to what you put on the page. So in a way your notes are like a table of contents for the audio or video. You can later click on an icon that appears next to each line of what you wrote and cause the audio or video to jump to the moment in the recording when you were taking those particular notes.

If you want to try these features out it’s pretty easy – especially for audio. Nearly any laptop (and any Tablet PC) has a built-in microphone. It is probably a little hole (or several (holes) in the case of the machine in an inconspicuous spot. If you have a desktop computer you may have received a microphone with it. If not, any machine will accept a plug in microphone. For video, you will want a standard USB webcam, or if you want to use a “real” video camera, use one that supports USB streaming (my Sony unit does), or Firewire (IEEE1394).

Let’s say you are recording an interview with someone. First, get a new page and title it “audio test”. Now start the recording using the toolbar button with a microphone on it, or use Tools/Audio and Video Recording/Record Audio Only.  You’ll see a notice placed on the page like this:

Audio recording started: 11:14 PM Friday, April 08, 2005“.

Now, ask the person you are interviewing your first question, such as “what do you do for a living?”. After you ask, you can type something like “Q1”, “Living?”, or the full question if you are a fast typist. All you need here is something to label the audio so you will remember later what it means. Let the person answer. Take more little notes if you like – the shorter the better since the audio is capturing all the details for you. The great thing about audio recording is that for critical events it captures everything, allowing you to focus on the event and your participation in it, rather than waste time trying to capture everything that was said. Ask your second question and continue this way. Now stop the recording.

Move your mouse or pen to hover over one of the notes you took. You’ll see a “speaker and film” icon appear to the left of what you wrote. Click that.

If your speakers are turned up, you should hear the audio start playing back from the point in the interview when you took that note. You’ll also see the time shown on the audio gauge in the “Audio and Video Recording” Toolbar jump to the right point. You can listen for a bit, and click the icon again to hear it again, or on the icon that appears next to anything else you wrote to hear that. There is no “tape” so the audio jumps immediately to the right spot, backwards or forwards.

Actually, the audio jumps to a spot a few seconds before the moment you started taking that note, since we know that people have a brief reaction time before they think to take a note on what they are hearing. You can adjust this delay to match your style in Tools/Options/Audio and Video.

You might be concerned that a long recording will use up too much disk space. You might be surprised to know that a 60min audio recording will take up only about 5MB on your disk. A 60min video recording is only 60MB. This means on a typical machine that has just 10GB of free hard disk space (mine has 50GB), you could record for 8hrs/day for every working day of the year. Even with video and 15GB free you could record 1hr every working day for a year. These days we lose track of just how much storage there is on our hard disks, and how good compression of media has become. I should point out that these values are what you will experience with the default settings, which use the Windows Media encoding codecs (encoder/decoders) for voice and webcam video respectively. You need to have at least Windows Media 9 installed to get this working. You can adjust what codec you use in Tools/Options/Audio and Video to get different quality (all the way up to CD quality audio – but that takes more disk space). If you like, you can even up the video recording to record broadcast quality video (from a real video camera), but then you are going to eat up disk space pretty quickly.

So, I promised some details on what people are doing. I can’t tell you the names of some of them since I don’t have their permission but where I can I will give you links to more info.

I mentioned in my last post that BYU law school is using OneNote video recording to help students critique each other as they deliver arguments. The students pair off and one presents an argument while the other listens. Their old system required students to take notes as the other spoke, and when they delivered their critique, they’d have to say things like “remember when you said that thing about X, you kind of fidgeted and did this thing you do that makes you seem like you’re not sure of yourself”. They would sometimes use a video camera to record, but finding the right spot in the video to show the other person what they meant was time consuming and difficult. With the new system, they have OneNote on a laptop with a webcam, and they just record the other student. As they go, they take notes in OneNote. To review, they just show the notes to the other student and click through the notes, showing the snippet of video that goes along with each critique. According to them, they get about 10 times as many critiques delivered more effectively as a result.
Check out the details here.

I hear all the time from journalists and others who do interviews for a living that the audio notes feature is a winner. Actually one of the first groups to use OneNote this way was Globo Online, a news organization in Brazil. They would go to events like soccer games, interview the players or coaches in halftime, and then email the audio, their story notes and some digital pics to the head office. Then snippets of this audio and the photos would be posted on the web with the story even while the game was still going on. There’s a whole write-up of these folks here.

Focus groups are a kind of market research where a group of people are invited to come to a meeting room where they are shown a presentation on a new product, or asked to discuss a topic. The focus group researcher tries to note down anything interesting they say as the conversation is guided along over the course of 1-2hrs. This is pretty brutal work, and regular typed or written notes miss the expressions on people’s faces, gestures, and the tone of their voices – not to mention the exact wording they used as well as anything at all the times when the person taking notes was too busy to capture something. You can record focus groups with a video camera of course, but it is a pain to review the focus group later this way if you just want to see the highlights (and often there are multiple focus groups). Video notes with OneNote solves this nicely, since it is easy to mark any interesting comment or moment with a brief pen mark or typed word, and it is easy to click on the notes and jump to the point in the focus group where the interesting comment was made. Since the client is often not present for the focus groups, this becomes a great way to present the summary of highlights to them.

I’ve heard from people who write training courses in OneNote with video attached, then use these pages for training. People can click on the questions to hear the answers or see a procedure.

A teacher directing a school play used OneNote video recording and a “real” video camera to record rehearsal and take notes in OneNote. After the rehearsal, it was easy to click on the notes and show the players where their acting, timing, or position was off.

A lot of people connect their desktop or portable machine to their phone line to record phone calls directly into OneNote. To do this, you either need to put your laptop next to your speakerphone, or buy a standard device that plugs into the phone and has a “line out” plug on it you can connect to your PC. There are several devices that can do this. Radio Shack has a cheap one that works OK, but I found it introduces a buzzing sound if you record until you unplug the power cord for your laptop (and it never worked with my desktop). A much better one is the Dynametrix TLP-102 or another option is the Plantronics MX-10. Now, when you record any conversation, you have to let the other people know they are being recorded and get their consent (laws on this vary by state in the US, but it is also just polite). Once you do this, you have a very powerful tool. You can take notes on the conference call (or presentation, or interview, or analyst call) and have the entire call recorded for later reference, of course linked to any notes you took. This is really useful for calls that are information-dense that you know you will need to review later.

Financial analysts have started using OneNote audio to record the briefing calls that companies due to announce their quarterly results (or their predictions). This is called “guidance”. These calls are information packed, so there is a strong need to review what was said later on.

You can record regular meetings using audio notes of course. This is a pretty common usage of audio notes. Despite the limitations of the built-in microphones, I use my Toshiba M200 to record meetings with around 8 people in a medium sized room and it gets nearly everything (except the really quiet people). This saved me once with a magazine reviewer. I was doing a press tour for OneNote and office2003, and I had been showing OneNote along with its recording capability. After I finished, the next guy went and talked about another office product, and I kept recording. A week later the reviewer sent some comments to us about this other product, but we didn’t understand the comments. I was able to play back the recording and catch the moment where we covered that feature, and from the exact words the reviewer used during the demonstration was able to understand where he was coming from. We were able to respond in a much better way than we would have otherwise.

Brain-storming sessions are a special kind of meeting where people are throwing out idea after idea. If you try to record these ideas normally, you risk not being able to participate in the brainstorming yourself. But with OneNote recording, you can just hit any key and then Enter to mark the point in a discussion where someone had a great idea, and come back to it later. We’ve used this on the OneNote team with good results.

Students recording lectures is a tempting thing to try to do with OneNote. It is tougher due to the distance you sit from the speaker and the number of other people in the room making random noises, but a boom (directional) mic can solve this nicely. Some lecture halls also let you plug into the audio directly if the speaker is using a microphone.

I am aware of at least a few lawyers who record court proceedings, depositions, discovery, testimony, etc along with their annotations in OneNote for later review (one by plugging into the court audio system, since all participants are mic’d). This is also great for patent lawyers trying to recall exactly what an inventor was saying, or for lawyers trying to determine what part of a deposition to use. One lawyer uses OneNote in the courtroom to instantly retrieve supporting material from the evidence or testimony (which has all been entered into OneNote). This lets them respond instantly to any argument opposing counsel might make.

A construction and maintenance firm told me they use video notes for site inspections. They walk around the site with a webcam strapped to a tablet, aim at something they want to comment on, then record audio as well as jot some notes on the issue. Reviewing the inspection notes later is really easy of course.

I have a co-worker who used video notes in a similar way to the inspector above, but for house-hunting. They recorded every walkthrough in every open house, making a mark with a pen on their tablet whenever a new room was entered, or they saw something worth pointing out to their spouse (who was out of state and unable to go on the trips). Imagine how easy it is to say “show me the kitchen again”, and click next to the word “kitchen” to do that.

Another co-worker recorded video into OneNote of their baby, so they could keep track of the various things their baby did as they got older. Ok, this is going further than I would be comfortable with, but hey.

You don’t have to always link audio to notes – I know of many people who simply record voice snippets as a form of short note – just a few seconds long. One person I know keeps an audio diary, with different recordings per page. You can record your diary entries while doodling with your tablet, or writing a journal. Kind of a multimedia diary. Some people have even experimented with audio blogs using OneNote.

You have a challenge if you are using the microphone built-in to your laptop for all these scenarios that involve other people – you’re often better off getting a mic you can plug in and place on the table, or a direct connection to the phone as I mentioned. The mics built into portable machines are usually little 29-cent things that have poor quality. And they are also placed to capture your own voice rather than others, which means they also record key taps on your laptop and pen strokes on your tablet. All these issues go away with even a cheap external mic plugged into the PC.

As usual, I’d love feedback from all of you on this topic or another.

Comments (19)

  1. Re OneNote usage for house-hunting. I used it (and Journal) quite extensively a couple of years ago, with snipped street maps pasted into different sections. I usually added photos from my cell-phone later. Voice-notes were not practical as the open-houses tended to be quite busy, but on more than one occasion I had to use the M1300 screen as a low-watt flashlight for dark stairways!

  2. Wow. I want to get a tablet and get myself into some situations where I can use this feature :).

    You mentioned noise/buzzing sometimes, with certain devices. Has your team considered adding a noise reduction filter? After a recording, you point to a second or so of "silence" that just contains the background noise/buzz. From there, it removes that background from the rest of the audio.

    Sonic Foundry has a DirectX app that does this, and it’s just amazing what can be accomplished. Actually… I think it can be applied in realtime (which would probably be necesary, since you wouldn’t want to decompress, edit, and recompress to WMA).

  3. Chris_Pratley says:

    Michael – we’ve thought about cleaning up the audio, but there’s so much to do this is pretty far down the list. The problem with the buzzing and the Radio Shack unit I mentioned is pretty bad when it happens (it’s something to do with 60Hz A/C line power getting into the audio), and since it is so easy to fix (use a proper unit) we just haven’t been able to make that a priority. Now, since the WMA file is left in the same directory as your notes, you could post-processes it as much as you like with other tools to clean it up. If you do this, be sure to not to modify its length or the links in OneNote will not work correctly. BTW, you probably know this, but you don’t need a tablet to use OneNote or this feature 🙂

  4. Best of the Blogs – Ian Smith reviews the best of the last week’s web development blogs so that you don’t have to. Week ending 10th April 2005. Whidby, Visual Studio Team System, Visual Studio 2003, Training, Productivity Enhancers, Front-End Development and more…

  5. Kevin Hall says:

    Excellent article. I often have trouble making sense of my notes during conference calls. I will definitely be making use of this feature.

  6. Clay says:

    With a tablet computer, the sound of the pen on the screen frequently is overwhelming to the internal microphone, in which case an external one is needed. Otherwise, the audio recorded is filled with loud banging and scratch noises.

  7. Michael K says:

    I love the ability of the OneNote to sync notes up to audio and video as they are recorded, but I would really love it you were able to insert a preexisting audio or video file into your notes and then annotate it as it played.

    The ability to manually edit the symc points would be handy as well. To often I’ll take a note on something just as someone finishes saying it, which means I have to play from the previous point. It would be nice to be able to manually bump those times back as needed.

    But this is an incredibly useful feature that I’m finding new uses for all the time. Great job on a really unique app.

  8. Treb Gatte says:

    One use that has been critical is vendor and consultant meetings. Now, anytime something is promised, I can go back and listen to the exact statements. This is especially helpful when discussing the specifics of statements of work, etc. I love it!

  9. Interesting post! A few questions:

    1. Do you always explain you are going to be recording for each meeting you are in? Do you normally use video capture in day-to-day meetings?

    2. Does anyone ever say that they don’t want you to record?

    3. How many other people do you find are making that same recording in the same meetings as yourself?

  10. Paul Stubbs says:

    Great blog post. Ok so now I have this information stored in OneNote, how do I share it with others? I want to take the video recording of the meeting and cut it up and email or put on a SharePoint Site/Website. I want to be able to create a summary report of the meeting with examples to highlight my point. We do this currently with usability studies. We record the users all day and then someone sends out mail with scrubbed comments and observations to the group with links to the video of what the user did. So that the group and managers don’t need to watch the entire video. I want a way to put OneNote information to work for me.

  11. Chris_Pratley says:

    Paul, you can post notes + audio/video to a share or SharePoint site using the File/Publish Pages command (switch the format of the publish to be "onenote" and not HTML to retain the links to the audio segments). Alternatively you can use "File/Save As" or "File/Share with others". The A/V will get posted to the share along with the notes. When others want to access the notes, they can click on the same icons you used and the video will jump to the right spot. You should no longer need to cut up the A/V file since OneNote is giving you the index into it.

    You can share the notes + A/V file via email (Use Tools/Options/Email/Attach a copy of linked Audio and Video). Note that the recipient in this case has to be careful to save the A/V attachment in the same place as the *.one file ended up in their notebook, so this is for advanced users.

    You could, if absolutely necessary, open the WMA or WMV file into a media editing program and chop it into segments, but then the links in OneNote would be lost. OneNote doesn’t place links into the A/V file – it just points using various time offsets into the video, so when you edit the video these spots no longer correspond.

  12. Mike Lougee says:

    An oddball question about 1N’s possible "integration" with other software…

    Let’s say that a classroom lecture is videotaped, allowing students’ later review. Let’s also say that someone (a regular student, a TA) has also OneNote’d the lecture, but without capturing the *live* audio (which would have allowed the 1N-Audio synching described here). WELL, is there a way to post-hoc create a synched 1N and the video?

    Let’s assume there could be an appropriate "start-point" on both the 1N and video, so that we’d know they *could* be in time-synch. Let’s assume the video (plus audio) had already been converted into an .avi file. Is there anything possible?

    Worst case, someone could presumably watch the lecture again, and "take notes" in 1N again, but I’m hoping for greater efficiency than that!

    On a wildly different note… 1N would be fantastic for teaching healthcare students how to take a history from a patient, since it’s *only* an interview (just like journalism). In fact, 1N would be very interesting for REAL patient histories, to be included in the Electronic Medical Record, yes?

    Mike Lougee

    University of Minnesota

  13. Mike Lougee says:

    Here’s a slight followup from my earlier question…

    If there’s a .wmv file which "matches" a .wma file which was created during the initial "1Noting" of the presentation (say, by a camcorder capturing the presentation, or a Camtasia Studio capturing the live PPT from the presentation), it’s easy to swap-out the audio-only and swap-in the video, simply by renaming to .wma that .wmv file.

    I haven’t done the test with an original OneNote which *does not* have a synched .wma file, because I’m not sure what to name it.

    This makes a pretty interesting "study/review" scenario, in which the live lecture, with its cursor movements, builds, transitions, animations, etc can all be captured by Camtasia (which is much better resolution and smaller file than using a camcorder) and the OneNote materials can all be used to review the presentation material.

    It’s also an interesting way for teacher to review his/her lecture, for future improvement.

  14. Maarten vD says:

    Chris, have you seen any reviews of omnidirectional microphones for use in recording meetings? My laptop’s microphone doesn’t really pick up much of anything and I love 1N’s recording, so I’m in the market for an affordable external mike; either unpowered plugging into the mike-in jack, or a USB gadget.

  15. Mike Lougee says:

    Re "table/group" microphones, Radio Shack has something for about $40, their "Omnidirectional Boundary Microphone" which I’ve had reasonable success with ($40, you don’t expect perfection).

  16. Rainald says:

    Great article.

    Now I’m beginning to unerstand how audio annotation works.

    Re-reading Katy Jacobs’ book was like a light switsched on 😉 😉

    Thanks a lot


    P.S. IMO a bot of cenesoring on the above nasty advertising would not hurt

  17. Chris_Pratley says:

    Rainald: sorry about the nasty comment spam. I was away for a couple of months and came back to a couple hundred of those which I just cleared out.

  18. I don’t know about you, but when I was in college, there were times I wish I could have sent someone