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Collecting 'Junk' for Better Streaming

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A bit over a year ago, Dom Robinson and I wrote an article about the need to consider the impact that streaming at a global scale has on power consumption. The article, called "The Greening of Streaming," argued that there are three Ps that should be considered, adding power (consumption) to the traditional price-performance considerations most streaming companies use to sell or buy products and services.

As you can read in Dom's follow-on article, "Greening of Streaming: One Year On," we've not just pitched the idea to the industry; instead, we've actively worked to raise awareness of the importance of greening by launching a formal initiative of the same name. By the time you read this, we'll have had our first Greening of Streaming virtual roundtable and will be moving on towards several member-only events in the last quarter of 2021.

To say that I advocate for anyone involved in the business of streaming—from cameras and content acquisition through encoders to content delivery networks to end-user playback peripherals—to lend their voice to the Greening of Streaming initiative would be an understatement. Do it, and do it now, for both environmental and social reasons.

There's a second initiative that I'd also like the industry to get behind: collecting "junk" as a way to research better streaming approaches.

Almost three years before I got involved with the "greening" discussion, a group of industry veterans got together to discuss ideas on how to lower the digital divide. Our initial approach, and the driving force behind starting up a not-for-profit charitable organization—now a 501(c)3 called Help Me Stream Research Foundation—was to focus on the digital divide in emerging economies.

To do that, we needed to gather first-world electronic "junk" that's sitting in drawers and closets across the United States (and Canada and Europe, for that matter) and repurpose that into efficient and very inexpensive streaming solutions that could run on intermittent power.

Beyond emerging economies and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that serve them, we've also been challenged to provide solutions for disaster areas and—with the advent of COVID-related lockdowns last year, which laid bare the rural-urban digital divide in the United States—to consider solutions for rural communities.

I'm happy to report that we've caught enough attention—both from key influencers and forward-looking companies in the streaming space—that Help Me Stream is opening its first test lab this month, where we'll not only validate claims made about newer gear in the industry but also work to turn that donated "junk" into streaming systems to distribute to NGOs in key markets across the globe.

We're doing so in partnership with a nationally-known public health program, where we'll have the opportunity to turn that "junk" not only into robust streaming solutions, but also help teach medical students—many that may work in areas of the U.S. or the world where resources are limited to what one has on hand—to identify components from a variety of abandoned computers to build a working device that could power not only an electronic medical records solution but also a basic on-demand playback system to offer education to those who may not be able to otherwise access it.

In turn, we'll gain from the experience this public health program at East Tennessee State University already has in training its students to use bicycle parts to create small power generators that are currently used to power small water pumps for better hygiene and crop irrigation.

The common thread between the Greening of Streaming and Help Me Stream Research Foundation initiatives is to simultaneously grow the streaming industry's innovations for at-scale delivery, while also reducing electronic landfill through the intentional repurposing of older desktops, laptops, servers, smartphones, and tablets.

How can you help? After considering a membership in Greening of Streaming, spend a few minutes digging in your closets, sock drawer, or garage, to see if there's any "junk" that you'd like to donate. As a 501(c)3 we're able to give donation letters—either for this "junk" or any monetary donation to the mission—and we'd love to have your insights into projects that would benefit from the "junk" you've found. Visit hmsrf.org/donate or email donations@hmsrf.org for more details.

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