Big Brother-style confessional a big hit with young interviewees

11th February 2011 at 00:00
Voxur, a little yellow box, videotapes their responses for the web

Big Brother is dead, but one of the defining features of the defunct Channel 4 reality show lives on.

Young people are dropping their guard and spilling their thoughts in a "diary room". Except "room" is something of a misnomer - everything fits into a yellow box that would be allowed as hand luggage on a budget airline.

Voxur is a device once known as "the yellow box", until the snaffling of by a North American rock band demanded a name change. It is a hard plastic briefcase with a specially adapted MacBook computer, designed to allow hassle-free and inexpensive recording and sharing of interviews.

Young people in the Mearns area of Aberdeenshire have been some of the most enthusiastic users of Voxur, which, by combining Latin and a text- messaging contraction, translates as "You are the voice".

In 2008, Mearns Community School Network wanted to canvass views about the facilities younger people wanted. The boxes were sent to places where teenagers felt comfortable, such as community and sports centres. Interviewees could then record to camera, only ever needing to touch two buttons.

Without the distraction of a film crew or fussy technology, the results in the Mearns were frank and prolific. Interviews were recorded with 263 pupils, and the results passed on to Aberdeenshire Council, Grampian Police, NHS Grampian and the local community council. Results were collated in a 123-page document for the more traditionally minded, but the essence of that document was distilled into a compelling nine-minute film (type "Mearns youth" into YouTube) of young people speaking directly and unself-consciously to the viewer.

In a follow-up Voxur film in 2010, Sue Briggs of Mearns Community Centre praised the impact of the "innovative" first film, which had "captured people's imagination" and made adults "listen to the message more than they would have if it had just been a report on paper".

Mearns Youth Forum's Jodie Garrow agreed. She said young people were getting invited to "a lot more things" by the people who made decisions locally.

Usually, when people upload content to the internet they must enter titles and descriptions manually, but built-in "meta-tagging" ensures content from Voxur already has such details. Content is tagged by name, date, time, email address, matriculation number, location or any other details clients require.

"We realised that people will not have time to do this for hundreds or thousands of video clips," says Mark Magnante, digital communications consultant at Glasgow-based 55degrees, the multimedia company that came up with Voxur.

The feedback from users has been enthusiastic. "They love how quick and easy it is to use and the candid responses they get," he says.


Voxur, launched a decade ago, has been refined over the years. The box is lighter, and there is now space for a power cable to avoid running out of charge mid-recording. applies the fuss-free principle online. Users can upload clips onto a You Tube-style website, but with greater control over who can access their films and no adverts.

Voxur is expensive: pound;4,995 plus VAT - but 24 Scottish local authorities own one, as do Learning and Teaching Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority. They can be hired for a pound;199 set-up fee and either pound;85 a day or pound;500 per month.

Voxur in brief

Degrees of success

Glasgow Caledonian University saw marketing potential in Voxur for attracting overseas students. Rather than a member of staff talking about the university and giving out glossy brochures, Voxur got students talking about university life and former students talking in their workplace about the benefits of a degree. Would-be students could click and "ask" people their own age about the things they really wanted to know, from the state of student rooms to nightlife.

Interactive opportunity

The routes2success scheme in the east of Scotland used Voxur to show opportunities for studying at school, college and university. An interactive path was laid out for individual qualifications and where they could lead. Videos show what each course is about, qualities needed to study them, and study that could follow. There are clips of 10 people with very different experiences. Vicky explains that college is "a lot more relaxed and informal and fun" than school. Scroll down the page and she can be found explaining the timetable for her Higher National Certificate in early education and childcare. and_beyond

Global influence

At the sixth International Conference on Adult Education (Confintea VI) in 2009, hosted by the Brazilian government, Voxur allowed adult learners from across the globe to communicate their stories directly to international policy-makers.

Multilingual effect

Voxur was deployed in 17 languages to shape a website, NHS users could respond in their own language, in their own time, without the need for an interpreter by their side. The NHS saved tens of thousands of pounds.

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