A key aim of our virtual open day project was to present video profiles of students in an engaging and informal way. I’d seen a couple of sites using an iTunes-esque coverflow to do this, but assumed this would need some pretty intense Flash coding. Turns out that it does, but luckily someone else has already done it and shared it with the world, so all you need is a text editor and about 5 minutes.

First, a little background. The virtual open day project aims to exploit web technologies to recreate the experience of an on-campus open day to support recruitment in Politics. One of the most important things prospective students do on a real open day is to talk to current students to find out what it’s really like to study here. So that’s what we needed to capture on video.

It was a pleasant surprise how keen students were be recorded (even taking into account a small financial inducement) and how media savvy they were. Being in front of a camera didn’t faze them in the slightest – more than can be said for some of the staff!

Once we’d captured and edited the videos, I wanted to find an engaging way to present them. This is marketing after all. In terms of user experience, there’s really only one choice of target player these days – the Adobe Flash player. This is almost ubiquitous, can be embedded directly in web pages and is quick to load and playback media. So, I published the videos as FLVs in Camtasia Studio and then looked for a way to deliver them.

Inspiration came via an article in Dot.net magazine on recreating the coverflow effect used in iTunes. This article led me (by way of Google) to an alternative open source coverflow template freely distributed under an MIT licence. This is an Adobe Flash application that reads data from an XML file and displays it in the coverflow format.

It’s very simple to get this working in its ‘vanilla’ state and not too much more effort to tinker with it to tailor the appearance and functionality to your site – like this…

View the open day videos in coverflow

For users who don’t like the coverflow, or can’t use it, we also offer access to the videos through a page of static image. For me, this just shows that there’s no comparison when it comes to which approach is more engaging and visually attractive. So, if you’re looking for a different way to deliver content, I’d recommend giving this a try and let me know how you get on.

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