Monday, July 26, 2010

Active Learning : The Four Generations Of Active Player

It was so thrilling to see how Active Player went through 4 major iterations in the last 6 years, since I built the first draft version back in August of 2004. As far as I can remember, so far the application has been used by about 1400 users to learn from various videos and webcasts. I am quite excited to see how many more will find it useful, now that the application is open to all.

I would like to share, what motivated me to develop this kind of application in the first place in a separate post. Here is a rundown on the memory lane and various features (as far as I could recollect) included in each of those versions.

First Generation : August of 2004


  • Built and runs on .NET 1.1
  • Opens Media files that are stored locally on a computer or on the internet.
  • Once the file is loaded, it will read any information about Chapters (markers) in the file and display in Media Chapters section.
  • User can add his/her own bookmarks on the media file that will show up in the bottom half of the sidebar.
  • Bookmarks are stored in an xml file, named after the media file name and stored in the same location. So when you open a media file, it automatically picks up the bookmarks file as well.
  • Optionally, user can choose a specific bookmark file, like a centralized file with all bookmarks in one place to quickly move between different video files.
  • To share, user just need to email the Bookmarks file to a friend/colleague.

Second Generation  April 2006


  • Supports everything as in first generation.
  • Re-organized the visual layout and built on .NET 2.0 with VS2005
  • Side bar now has tabbed panels, with each tab occupy the sidebar space fully.
  • Introduced Clips, where a portion of the video can be marked for replay later on.
  • Also introduced facility to play “All Clips” together. Great for students, as it would help to quickly revisit all those important portions from different videos.
  • No longer support one bookmark file for each media file, but forces a centralized and default bookmark file. So user never have to specify a bookmark file.
  • User can open a different bookmark file if wants to. For instance, when a friend shares his/her bookmarks file, a user can open that bookmark file and access all those bookmarks and clips.

A web-based version of Active Player Feb, 2007

Created a web based Active Player for creating bookmarks and clips on MP3 files in Feb 2007 and presented it in Democamp Dallas in Feb, 2007. Later this application has been enhanced to support video files by embedding various video players in the browser.  This web application was discontinued later in the year due to little change of priorities.

Started working on a web based Active Player a couple of weeks back and will release some time in November, 2010.

Here is a snapshot of the MP3 Active Player from the democamp. You can see more pictures here.

Third Generation, May 2009


  • Started using Click Once Deployment.
  • The application has been redesigned for visual layout and built on .NET 3.5.
  • Included support for RSS Feed subscriptions as well Subscription from custom Feeds from the Training classroom website (INSPIONS University).
  • Storage has been upgraded from XML file to SQL Server Compact Edition. But the data structures are kept intact from XML file version for backward compatibility.
  • Added concept of Collections, where Media files can be organized into groups/collections.
  • Support downloading media files from RSS Subscriptions and files directly added.
  • Separate tabs for Bookmarks and Clips.

Latest and the 4th Generation, July/Aug 2010


  • Quite significant changes in the software architecture itself.
  • Included support to embed Apple Quicktime along with Microsoft Windows Media Player, so abstracted the MediaPlayer code to generic interface and built a repository for media players to be selected based on file format.
  • All feed fetching, syncing and downloading operations moved to separate background worker threads.
  • Completely redesigned the database schema and internal data structures and now using Entity Models instead of typed datasets from earlier versions.
  • Removed support for custom XML formats and streamlined all Collections to RSS Feed specification. So every thing will be now an RSS Feed/collection.
  • Visual layout has been modified for much better cleaner and slim look and gives full space to the video being played.
  • Tab bars have been split and pushed to the sides, keeping in view the wide screen monitors that are shorter but wider in nature.
  • Bookmarks/Clips have been combined in to one tree view.
  • Display Bookmarks/Clips of the current media file opened top in the view and rest of the files below.
  • On minimizing or closing, application now just minimizes to the tray.
  • Restricted to single instance of the application running at any point.
  • Now need explicit but FREE Activation to keep track of some stats from each individual user as well as to build a community of users for better sharing and collaboration.
  • Social aspects like pushing user updates and bookmarks/clips to social networking websites are coming soon.

So, here we are with the latest and 4th generation of the Application. Now that, the application is open to all, I hope many more people may find it useful for learning online.

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