The Tokyo Marathon 2010 project was a huge success, with over 13,000 people tuning in to watch the live video streams, over 1,000 tweets per hour from viewers, and widespread media coverage.
This was only possible due to our many supporters – thank you to all of you who took part on the day, either in 1st life or 2nd life, and helped it all go so well. It was much appreciated.
We’ll start off with a 4 minute extract from ‘Tokudane’ – a popular Japanese morning TV show. Even if you don’t understand Japanese you should be able to follow what’s going on (unfortunately this video is no longer available due to copyright restrictions).
Live-streaming Video Beginnings
In mid-2008 Qik released the first live video streaming app for the iPhone. Apple were yet to enable video on the iPhone (3G), so it had to be distributed as an unofficial app, meaning that to install it you had to jailbreak your iPhone (this basically meant replacing apple’s operating system with another that has been hacked to remove built-in restrictions – and in doing so you voiding your warranty).
Because of the perceived difficulty in installing Qik, and due to the slow speed of mobile data networks restricting quality, not many people were doing it back then, or if they were it their videos tended to be short broadcasts from static locations.
Being in Tokyo, which had one of the fastest 3G networks at the time, I thought it would be pretty cool to livestream some event – and it just so happened that the Tokyo marathon was coming up.
I also saw this as an opportunity to start making a name for myself on the Tokyo tech scene – I was new here and wanted to connect with as many members of the community as possible. I saw that my doing a stunt like this would be a good way to introduce myself to others, in a way that communicated something about my personality.
Due to the popularity of the Tokyo marathon, only a small percentage of applicants are actually able to do the run: your chances of being selected are something like 1 in 17 for the 10km course and 1 in 9 for the full marathon, (chosen by lottery). However, if you’re a non-Japanese it’s a different story – there’s something like a 95% success-rate for foreign applicants. This is due to positive discrimination by the organisers (and Mayor Ishihara), who want it to be as ‘international’ as possible.
Knowing this, I decided to live-stream the run for those who couldn’t take part themselves, and so in late March 2009 created a special iPhone head-mount to broadcast from. It was a pretty primitive device, consisting of a modified hat, lots of tape and ‘the sponge of speed’.
Knowing I had people watching my stream, when the start gun went off, I ran as fast as I could …for the first 5km, before nearly collapsing! Thankfully I did finally make it to the end, and was happy to see that about 1000 people had tuned in (mainly thanks to this article).
Problems with the 2009 live stream
A couple of problems arose during the 2009 10km broadcast. One was the long delay on the ‘live’ video: having reached the end of the 10km course Tom and I visited the Apple Store to check our Qik channel, only to find that due to constant pauses for buffering, the video still showed us about 20 mins from the end of the course!
The second was the relative lack of audience participation. Whilst people could comment on the video, I couldn’t read what they’d written until after the race, so there was no interaction as such.
Tokyo Marathon 2010
It only seemed natural that my friend and trainer Tom Kobayashi and I enter for the full marathon this year. As expected, being non-Japanese we got through the lottery no problem, and soon started our 16-week training program. We’d do short runs on weekdays, and then meet up on Sunday mornings for longer distances.
I remember our first 10km, 15km, 20km and 30km runs, all exhausting at the time, but giving us a real sense of accomplishment. Initially we stuck to circuits around the Imperial Palace, but as the runs got longer so we became more adventurous – for several weeks we explored Setagaya-ku and Meguro-ku, heading down unknown roads, gradually straying further from home.
When 20km became the norm, we began cross-Tokyo runs, passing through Shibuya and Shinjuku, including circuits of Yoyogi Park, or heading across the south of the city to Tokyo Bay. One of my more memorable trips took me across Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba – something I’d wanted to do for years.
Running the Yamanote Line
Two weeks before the actual race I decided to attempt another long-held goal – to run the 36km Yamanote railway line that circles central Tokyo. As it was, due to the zig-zag route I had to take, that run ended up being 41.3km, only 700 metres off a full marathon! However, it had been punctuated by multiple photo-stops, and at one point some walking and chocolate eating. My GPS tracking app had been playing up too – so I only discovered I run that far when I got home and checked my tracking stats, map and photos online.
The Grand Plan
Realising that I couldn’t just repeat what I’d done the previous year, I started to think about how I could improve the live-stream experience for viewers. With the aid of friends, I came up with the idea of having a central ‘studio’ with multiple live video streams feeding in to it from both myself and a team of reporters positioned around the course. We’d use Twitter for live viewer feedback, and a constant GPS uplink showing where I was on the course to enable people to see where I was at any time.
It was actually only about 10 days before the event that this plan was put into action, when technologist and good friend Steve Nagata very kindly agreed to manage the ‘studio’ side of things. We then asked for volunteers who could be our roving reporters along the course, and were grateful when the following friends offered to help out:
The next step was to find a suitable ‘studio’. The Washington Hotel, only 2 minutes from the finish line, was ideal – we booked a room on the 14th floor with excellent views over the final stretch of the course. Here, Steve would manage the second of our two live video channels, mixing in the broadcasts from our teams about town, and his high-def camera positioned by the window, zoomed in on the course.
The night before the race Steve and I checked in, and proceeded to dismantle the room. The double bed was turned on its side, the trouser press converted into a second desk, the projector screen set up, the 3D map stuck to the wall. The internet connection was suitably fast, and the first attempt to connect a Sony Handycam to the MacBook Pro to use as a webcam succeeded.
The Apps: Ustream, Glympse, TweetTalk
Live video stream: Qik vs. Ustream
When it came to choosing a live-streaming app, we basically had a choice of two: Qik or Ustream. Both had advantages and disadvantages. Whilst the resulting video from a Qik stream was higher quality, it only achieved this by pausing to buffer mid-stream, meaning that ‘live’ shows could easily fall behind real-time. This was especially a problem for us as we’d be constantly moving, and being a race, realtime was important. Qik was also lacking Twitter integration, something that ultimately became a major factor in our success.
Ustream video however tended to be lower quality, and at times the image would freeze for several seconds (although the audio continued) – it did this so as to remain ‘realtime’, skipping a few seconds of video and resuming the ‘live’ image when buffering was complete. Ustream of course had the Twitter integration, (and although it hadn’t been a consideration before the race) it also has a good following in Japan – another factor in our success. A final reason that we were initially drawn to Ustream was the fact that there was a desktop app available (Ustream Producer Pro), although ultimately it turned out that it had a fatal flaw in that we couldn’t switch to another live stream (co-produce) with it – thus we went back to using the web interface.
Location software: Google Latitude vs. Glympse
A friend of ours from Google pointed out that we could actually configure Google Latitude to make our GPS location data available to everyone online, but a test of this in Shibuya a few days before the run showed that the updates were a little too infrequent. We wanted a live feed, with my location being updated every few seconds if possible.
A few months back Twitter friend @markmatsusaka put me on to Glympse, a service whereby you could easily share your location using a free iPhone app. One week before the marathon I finally got around to testing it – and found it to be near-perfect, with it providing live GPS updates showing your current position and recent trail. There were a couple of problems though – the maximum length of time a ‘glympse’ could be active was 4 hours (manually extendible to 7 hours), and also, the map showing your position wasn’t embeddable.
I figured it was worth contacting the developers to see if they could help – and to my delight they replied very promptly offering to provide us with an extended-time on our Glympse, and allowing us to be the first people ever to use their not-yet-released embed feature. Fantastic!
I got a similar response when I contacted the developer of TweetTalk – an iPhone app that would read your tweets to you (and that could also be used to control iTunes). I found a bug with the app that would prevent me from using it with Japanese Tweets – just minutes after I’d sent my email I got a response from the developer promising to fix it. Four days later the update appeared in the iTunes store – magic!
One of the things I wanted to demonstrate through this project was just what could be achieved using consumer (as opposed to pro)devices. None the less, we did need quite a lot of stuff – 9 iPhones for starters! Here’s a list.
Home made iPhone headmount:
- iCrew waterproof iPhone holder
- 2 mecchano-like strips of metal
- 3 pairs of nuts and bolts
- 1 hacked headtorch
- 1 baseball cap
- 1 strip foam
- Lots of sticky tape
- Emobile D25HW Wifi Hotspot (connected to 3G network)
- iPhone 3GS #1: Joseph’s live video (connected to Emobile D25HW
- iPhone 3GS #2: Joseph’s phone, Twitter-to-Voice
- iPhone 3G: Joseph’s Glympse GPS locator
- iPhone 3GS #4 ~ #9: Live video from 4 teams of reporters around the course
- Nexus One: Steve Nagata’s co-ordination hotline
- Sony HD handycam: live video shot from studio window
- Sanyo Eneloop USB battery
- Mophie Air Juice Pack
- Zaggsparq Mobile USB Battery Charger
- Multiple cables and headphones
- Macbook Air
- Macbook White
- Macbook Pro
- Fibre-internet link
- Softbank and Emobile 3G networks
- Airport Extreme Base Station
- Lots of cables
Thank you to Sandbaggerone for sending us his iPhone, and *Twinkle* for donating her brand new iPhone which arrived just 20 hours before the marathon.
When registering and picking up my runner’s bib at Tokyo Big Sight the day before the marathon I was approached by Fuji television. They were planning their marathon coverage, and were looking for some human-interest story. Seeing me filming myself (I was videoing an intro to the project which I’m yet to edit), they realised that I liked cameras, and asked me why I’d chosen to take part in the run. It wasn’t long before I whipped out my special headgear and told them what I was planning on doing. “Mind if we call you tonight? We might want to film you tomorrow”.
Sure enough, the following morning in the pouring rain I met them next to baggage truck 29, where they filmed me prepping my hat. The plan was then for them to film me at various locations around the course, and then again at the end. It sounded pretty simple …little was I to know that I’d end up talking to them for ages on the phone whilst actually running…
Having stayed up until about 1am the night before prepping the studio and making the special live-streaming website, I was running on adrenaline even before I started the race. The weather was absolutely atrocious, with steady rain and very cold temperatures – it actually snowed at one point.
Despite these conditions our team of live reporters turned up trumps, positioning themselves around the course. As ever, I was heading to the start line with Tom, my trainer and close friend. Memories of the 2009 10KM race came back to us – there was the long slow walk to our block – this time trying to avoid hitting people with our umbrellas.
Despite the weather, spirits were high, and at 9:10am it was great to hear the starting gun and finally get going. The choir sang, confetti fell …and we gradually found our pace. The plan was to take it pretty slow – with weather like this the goal was to get to the end, and not worry about setting record times.
Disaster Strikes after 1km!
Soon after we began I checked in with Steve in broadcast HQ – was my video OK? With the Phone mounted on my head I couldn’t see the picture – but yes, all was looking good! Mind you, all that bouncing up and down made for a pretty rocky ride …and there was something wrong with my hat. I couldn’t figure out what it was. I just had this feeling …and sure enough seconds later the iPhone fell off my head! I’d had to carry out some last minute maintenance on the iPhone holder, but had failed to stick the case back together properly – and so after just 1km it fell apart.
Well, there was nothing I could do but carry the thing, and so that’s what I did for the remaining 41km!
I’m very much a believer in synchronicity, in things happening at the right time for a good reason, and looking back I can now see that this was one of those situations. Having to carry the iPhone in my hand meant that I had a lot more flexibility in what I showed. It wouldn’t just be the road ahead, it would be the cheering crowds around us, our faces of pain, and other runners who I thought might have interesting stories to tell whilst running.
In the meantime, I plugged my free ear into my 2nd iPhone runner the Tweet-to-Voice app – it was wonderful to hear the feedback from our growing audience – some people really made me laugh. It was also great to hear a tweet from Tom’s parents in the UK (my own parents also tried to send a message to be via Twitter but somehow managed to get banned in the process!).
Coming up to 10km we were due for our first rendezvous with team 1 of our mobile reporters – Nami and Phil. Steve and Christine were doing a fabulous job in the studio of co-ordinating, and as I approached Phil and Nami’s location so Steve gave me a call and told me to look out for them on the left. And sure enough, a few hundred metres later there they were!
Meeting our live reporters around the course was a huge boost to our spirits. In addition to Phil & Nami, Pietro & Pepi, Jonny & Oren, and Lem were always ready with their iPhones live-streaming, providing viewers with multiple perspectives on the race and encouraging us to keep going!
If only the same could have been said for Fuji TV! Without an iPhone between them, the camera was unable to view my GPS signal, and so started the phone calls…
“Where are you now?”
“I’ve just passed the imperial palace”
“What? Already? But we’ve only just got here!”
“Sorry, I guess I’m going a bit faster than expected”
“Where can we meet you next?”
“How about in front of the park by Tokyo Tower on the road down to Shingawa? I’m just going past it now but the road loops back in itself”
“You’re there now? So we missed you in front of Tokyo Tower?”
“Yes, but I’ll be coming back in about 15 mins, the route turns back on itself at Shinagawa”
“So we missed you?! Should we go to Asakusa?”
“No! I’ll be back by Tokyo Tower in 15 mins…”
“So we missed you did we? Where are you now?”
“I just told you! Do you have a map of the course…?!”
And so it went on. At one point, after what seemed like a 20-minute phone call I actually hung up on them, trying not to lose my temper in front of about 450 viewers! If only they’d had an iPhone!
The run continued. I started to see if I could find some stories with which to entertain the growing audience watching our live stream, and just a few moments later the perfect participant appeared ahead of us – a runner carrying a guitar! I steered myself over to him and chatted a bit, then asked if he might do a live performance for us. He was happy to oblige, and so the first ever live broadcast of ‘Sakura’ performed by a marathon runner being filmed by another marathon runner took place!
We met several more interesting folks along the route, including the former K1 boxer and TV celebrity ‘Bobby”. Tom had to tell me who he was as I’m a but out of touch with that scene, but on hearing that he was a celebrity I decided we needed to talk to him, and so the first of several live ‘interviews’ with him took place.
He did make me laugh.
The Twitter Snowball
Throughout the race I noticed a steady increase in the number of viewers. From 500 to 700, 900, 1000 …it seemed the live video was going down pretty well. Looking at my Twitter stream pn my other phone, I was surprised to see that the vast majority of tweets we were getting (tagged with #tm2010) were in Japanese. This was totally unexpected as I had had very few Japanese Twitter followers up until that point.
Realising something was going on here I changed tactics, and started talking in Japanese and English (as opposed to just English). It was only after the race that I was to discover that we were getting about 1,000 tweets an hour urging us onwards, the majority of which were from Japanese users. It turned out that the Ustream community in Japan had seized upon the story, and a couple of influential Twitterers had retweeted our uStream link. This meant that towards the end of the race we had over 1,500 simultaneous users, and a total over 13,000 unique viewers.
I was deeply touched by the support of our viewers. I never expected such a reaction. I wanted to reach out to everyone and thank them personally, but with so many tweets coming in an hour by the end it just wasn’t possible. Here’s an example of some of the support we got – these tweets by @mikamika59
The surprise cheerleaders
Returning to Ginza around the 30km mark having run all the way up to the north of the city, we were starting to hurt pretty bad. The weather had taken its toll. Food and drink stations offered some comfort; as we stuffed chopped up bananas in our mouths so the people manning the stands urged us to FIGHT!! and GANBARE!!
The support of the crowds became increasingly important as we turned to cross over to Odaiba. There were a couple of inclines that really hurt – at one point I remember an elderly spectator walking up the road approaching a bridge faster than I was running!
It was around then that one of the most extraordinary things happened.
I was just about to collapse when I heard shouts of ‘Joseph san Ganbare! Ganbare!’. Turning to look at the side of the road I saw a family there – mother, father and 3-year-old son. the mother was holding a sign. It read, “Joseph, we’re livestreaming you!”
I must admit I was totally stunned and couldn’t really comprehend what was going on. Who were these people who’d been waiting for me? They had a laptop computer to livestream me from, and a bag with curry-bread in labelled ‘Ganbatte Joseph!” I checked out their twitter feed later, and discovered that they’d seen what I was doing and had decided to support me. I was immensely touched by this gesture – it was so totally unexpected (I’ve since been in email contact with the family to thank them).
The final 3km were very tough. Both Tom and I were in quite a bit of pain – but we knew that by this stage, no matter what happened we had to make it to the end. Steve and the rest of our team were just wonderful, phoning us to urge us on, and then waiting by the road in the final kilometre to wave, shout and take photos.
Finally, we rounded the last corner – and there was the finish line ahead of us! That was a very happy moment. I was delighted that despite having become separated for quite some time during the race, Tom and I were together as we crossed the finish line, 5 hours, 7 minutes and 26 seconds after setting out from Shinjuku – we’d done it! What a fantastic feeling of achievement.
Fuji TV were there waiting at the finish (they knew to expect me due to further phone calls in the last hour of the race!), and once I’d picked up my medal, banana and pain-relieving spray we recorded a final section for their morning programme Tokudane. This also involved phoning mum and dad in the UK via Skype (at 6am) and having dad say what he was told to say!
After that, I staggered back to our ‘studio’ in the Washington Hotel where the team were waiting. What a brilliant job they’d done, I was very grateful… and remain so. I owe them all a huge debt.
A few hours later, IT Media News, an influential Japanese tech site, published the story. Shortly after that, it was republished on Yahoo News Japan. Tokyo MX TV got in touch to ask for permission to feature images from my channel in a story on their 8pm news programme. The following day J-Wave radio picked it up – I was online at the time and prompted (via Twitter) to tune in – DJ Taro got quite a surprise as I messaged him via the Ustream interface. Ustream themselves also contacted us with congratulations, and a request for a meeting to get feedback on the event, and an offer to help us however they could in the future. My good friend Kong, producer of the Metropolis magazine podcast (the Metpod), allowed me to blabber on about it. The story was republished on numerous blogs, some people went so far as to look at other stuff I’ve done (!).
My Twitter follower count had exploded, rising from about 1,100 to 1,800 in a few hours – nearly all of these new followers were Japanese. When I got home I had a chance to read through more of the messages we’d received, and it began to sink in just how successful this had been.
The run itself was a lot physically tougher than expected – I’d run just 700m less than a full marathon only two weeks previously (the Yamanote run, above) and it hadn’t been that difficult (I think the weather was a major factor). But mentally, it wasn’t half as challenging as it could have been.
The reason for this was the camera – I was so focused on that, on trying to provide people with something of interest, that I had little time to dwell on how tired I was. It seems that when I have a camera turned on me, something takes over, and the performance starts. But it’s not a fake performance, it’s not a generated persona – it’s very much me, being me. This was the first time that I’d spoken Japanese to such a large number of people, and I found it liberating, using my bad Japanese without caring about mistakes.
Talking with Namy after the event (whose Japanese tweets had started the ball rolling), I learnt more about the reaction of the Japanese viewers. It seems that they felt that they could connect with me, that my personality carried across the mobile phone network – and this was an important factor in encouraging them to spread the word.
There were of course other major factors – the Tokyo Marathon had a huge professional media machine behind it already, so people knew of the event and were interested in it before we’d even thought up our plan. Another factor was that this was a great challenge, and we enabled people to become a part of the challenge, to aid us in reaching our goal. The Twitter-Ustream integration was key, and without that we would have only had a very small audience.
Permitting the Dream to move into the sphere of Reality
Ridiculous though this may sound, one thing that the marathon made clear to me was that I am in Japan, and that I am surrounded by Japanese people. Until now, my online media production (podcasts etc) has been directed towards English speakers either in Japan or interested in Japan. I’ve enjoyed that, and I hope to continue doing so, but if I really want to become well-known (as it seems I do, for reasons I won’t go into here, but rest assured they are not entirely egotistical, and are connected with doing good!), then surely it would make sense for me to appeal to the majority?
2.5 million non-Japanese, or 124 million Japanese? Logic tells me I stand a better chance in the market that’s about 50 times bigger than the other!
Another thing that was made clear to me was that I need to start using my Japanese a lot more. Not only that, I need to get back on the study path. My Japanese language abilities must improve if I am to achieve the long-held dreams that I’m starting to permit myself to believe in (dreams that until now I’ve written off as a kind of joke).
Last Sunday, two weeks after the marathon, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by NTV for a Saturday morning show. They were looking to get a foreigners perspective on Akihabara, and I was happy to oblige. It was with a new-found feeling of confidence that I started talking. I made all the same silly mistakes, and I was often at a loss for the appropriate language, but I decided that it didn’t matter. As the interview continued, so I settled into being me. The performer emerged, and before I knew what was happening I was in my stride, causing the crew to burst out laughing again and again, and providing plenty of material for the interviewer to pick up on. A crowd gathered – it was a lot of fun. I was happy to be entertaining people. To be engaging people. To be giving a part of myself, and inviting trust.
I guess in a way it’s just a continuation of what I’ve been doing for years via my websites – only this time the audience is Japanese.
I strongly believe in synchronicity. I see it occur on a daily basis, all around me. Seemingly unrelated things happen, that turn out to actually be part of a large, perfectly-formed jigsaw puzzle.
The marathon was like that. So many things came together at the right time. Decisions I’d made months or even years ago that I hadn’t really understood at the time started to make sense – so much of what I’d done over the previous two years had helped make this event the success that it was.
More than that though, I’ve been left with a deep sense of gratitude towards the new community I am a member of here in Tokyo. From old friends such as Tom, to relatively new friends such as Steve, Christine, Lem, Jonny, Pietro, Pepi, Nami, Phil – none of this would have been possible without their selfless generosity. There were of course many more people that helped make this what it was, including the thousands of viewers who tuned in, my parents back in the UK who participated via Ustream, and my wife, *Twinkle*. I thank all of you for your support.
I owe *Twinkle* special thanks for putting up with me on a daily basis, for loving me, for believing in me. Her love provides me the secure foundation on top of which I feel I can build my reality, knowing that when I need to reach into uncharted waters, she’ll be there for me, supporting me.
So what’s next? Well, the marathon has thrown up a few opportunities. I think it’ll be a gradual process, but provided I can allow myself to believe in this dream, I’m pretty certain I can achieve it. It’ll be a lot of work, but I think we can make it happen.
Thanks all for all of your support.