What is Clipper?

This page provides a useful quick overview of Clipper with links to current developments


  • What is Clipper?
  • Current Activity
  • Benefits
  • How does It Work?
  • Background and Approach
  • Clarifications: What Clipper is and is not

What is Clipper?

The Clipper project is developing a toolkit to support researchers in all disciplines who work with online audio-visual media. Our general aims are to enable researchers to easily access, analyse and collaborate with online audio-visual media data and to make it as easy to ‘quote’, cite and reference such media, as it currently is for text, in academic communications.

“Clipper is a free open-source web application enabling researchers to create and share virtual-clips without altering the original media files. Clipper enables you to mark the start and end of interesting events while playing audio or video data files through a standard web browser. You can add rich text annotations to each clip, and combine clips into playlists (cliplists)” – from the project brochure

Current Activity

The project is currently in the second part of a 3-phase development process funded by Jisc. In the first phase we developed a working online proof of concept, you can check that out here. We also carried out initial community consultation to measure the demand and interest for such a toolkit (there was), producing an information brochure in the process.

In the current phase of the project we are engaged in rapid prototyping exercises to develop the toolkit, combined with 3 community consultation and co-design workshops. The idea is to produce new versions of the toolkit based on the workshop feedback. You can see how the toolkit is currently developing and taking shape in the ‘Prototype’ section of this website by checking out the demo videos and you can register a user account to try out the live system. The prototypes you will see are ‘raw’, where we are getting the base functionality right, we know we have a lot of further work in user studies and usability to address.


Although time-based media is becoming increasingly easy to produce, especially in the form of audio and video, it is also a large and ‘lumpy’ data format, it’s hard to analyse and even harder to share your analysis. Clipper changes all this by enabling you to create virtual clips that you can annotate using free text and share as URIs. Researchers create their own virtual clips with annotations containing their coding classifications and notes:

  • Clips and their annotations can be combined to form custom playlists called cliplists.
  • Clips can be managed and organised according to each researcher’s own classification system.
  • Cliplists can contain clips from different sources.
  • Speeds up and streamlines existing workflows while making new research collaboration opportunities available.
  • Secure and safe, it respects existing access controls to data sources and does not alter the original files.
  • The user will only ever be able to play the audio / video files they have the rights to access – making it good for complying with copyright and data protection issues.

The increasing ubiquity of audio-visual media is making it much more commonly used in research and opens up new research applications, but the nature of the media itself also presents it own problems. Clipper overcomes many of these problems by providing effective data management, qualitative analysis, collaboration and sharing tools to work with this kind of media data. It can speed up and streamline research workflows and make new research collaboration opportunities possible. In this connection we have documented how the Clipper toolkit might integrate into existing and emerging research data lifecycles, potentially influencing research design, data analysis and data service developments

How Does it Work?

A virtual clip contains a reference to the source media file, and a start and end time; annotations (such as a title, description and keywords) are added to classify and retrieve clips. Clipper is coded in HTML/ Javascript / CSS and works almost entirely on the client side using the server to store the Clipper documents and data in both directories and a database (see more about our approach below). Because of this, the application is quick and responsive to use and is naturally RESTful, in web terms.

Data is transferred to a database in Json format, but is also stored in the form of HTML documents in directories. The Json data will be exportable in a variety of different formats including XML and CSV. Each item in a Clipper document (Resource, Clip, Annotation, Cliplist, etc.) has a unique and persistent identifier (a URI) that also relates to the ‘physical’ location of the item. The importance of the existence and use of such persistent URI’s has been recognised as central to effective long-term data management on the web. This makes Clipper potentially useful for integration with digital library, archives and repository services that seek to manage their data over the long-term.

The data model that Clipper uses is simple and open to adaptation, so it should be reasonably straightforward to adopt and include specialist data models, metadata schema and vocabularies etc. for those who need them. Future versions of Clipper are envisaged that will include a ‘metadata editor’ to enable users to create their own metadata schemas. Similarly, for rights management purposes a ‘licence picker’ and editor are planned.

Background and Approach

The origins of Clipper lie in earlier development projects where we created an Adobe Flash based Rich Internet Application using Adobe AIR as a delivery platform for users. One of the basic principles from that project that we have stuck to since is that user generated data should be owned and controlled by the users and not locked up in proprietary formats or trapped inside a database on a server somewhere. Thus, in Clipper all user generated content is stored using HTML as the native file format. We believe this approach has real benefits for long-term access and preservation of research data. The benefits of using HTML as the native file format for data are also been realised by major commercial publishing houses. Having our Clipper data stored and presented in the form of HTML documents also makes it highly portable for researchers and social media / web friendly, for dissemination and impact (important in todays research funding environment). In Clipper all the user generated data is stored in simple directory structures for ease of access and transport. The same data is also stored in a database to support user search and analysis activities, but unlike many systems that is not the only place it is stored, we think this arrangement makes for a more resilient and flexible system.

Another major influence on the development of Clipper has been our involvement in the open education movement and with studies into the development of prototype authoring tools to enable teachers and students to quickly and easily create open educational resources in a number of online formats simultaneously. This is where we came to appreciate the possibilities of the recent developments in web technologies and standards (aka HTML5) to support the creation of powerful client-side authoring tools.

Clarifications: What Clipper is and is not

Clipper is…

  • An online media analysis and collaboration tool for digital researchers (i.e. it supports human-based qualitative analysis, collaboration and sharing)

Clipper is not…

  • An online audio / video editing tool
    • Although it could be used to generate Edit Decision Lists (EDLs)
  • An online publishing or repository service
    • It could be integrated with such services to add value
  • A machine-based analysis tool
    • It could nicely complement the use of such tools