Video on 10 Cents a Day

Video is hideo — Ogden Nash

I confess to spending way too much time thinking about video on the Web–certainly more time than I spend watching video on the Web.  

As someone involved with usability and multimedia applications, I’ve found that people watching Web video usually fall into one of two camps: (1) giggle-chasing time-wasters who get caught in a clickswirl of their own making, and wind up blowing off their homework entirely; or (2) people committed enough to learning/observing something that they are willing to sit through a lousy Web experience to see what they need.

The core problem: On the Web, users are content-pullers, used to being in charge of the infostream. Video is a content pusher, transmitted without regard to its recipient’s state of mind. This difference creates conflict which users, fingers always poised on the trigger of Armageddon, inevitably win. 

In my wandering-through-the-desert search for enlightened video applications, I yesterday stumbled across a series of clips so delightfully retro-elegant I could hardly believe my good fortune. The CommonCraft Show is a series of videos–make that “videos”–created by Lee and Sachi, a husband-and-wife team of Web social application consultants.

Using a technique that mixes the aesthetics of ’50s-style Magic Drawing Board and ’90s high-school video project, the team explains trendy Web applications like RSS, Wikis and social networks with head-snapping clarity.

The videos consist of whiteboards upon which guileless, simple drawings are used to illustrate concepts with grounded-in-life metaphors. (Four friends, shown as stick-figures, use a wiki instead of e-mail to organize a camping trip.) The drawings are on little pieces of paper arranged on the whiteboard, and Lee, the narrator, whisks them on and off to explain, say, how a social network makes remote interpersonal connections visible. His hands occasionally appear, and Sachi uses quick cuts to keep things moving.

The amazing thing is how clearly the little productions–two minutes or thereabouts–communicate. I’ve read/seen/heard many explanations of RSS, wikis and social networks. I don’t think any has been as clear and painless as these.

And talk about cost control! It’s hard to figure out what production costs might be associated with the videos: whiteboard, paper, colored pencils, an inkjet printer, any old video camera, video-editing freeware, a tripod. I’m guessing that 90 percent of the folks reading this blog have all of those things within 500 feet of their screens right now, or could within an hour.

I love the way the medium used has such gleeful disregard for the media being described–paper-and-colored-pencils to describe vast interlinked social networks upon which vast amounts of capital and technology are being deployed!

It’s hard to figure out what the limits are of this dime-a-day video strategy. I certainly hope it gives pause to clients of the big video shops using classy models, high-end voice-overs and ooh- and aww-some animations to sell their goods.

And I hope this: That Lee and Sachi resist all temptation to “make the pictures nicer” or “find a ‘real’ narrator.” Simplicity is rarely improved.

Explore posts in the same categories: video

One Comment on “Video on 10 Cents a Day”

  1. Lee LeFever Says:

    Hi Craig,
    Thanks so much for the kind words. I’d say that we’ve spent a bit of money on things like lights and video editing (a mac and final cut express), but our production costs are low. Our time is certainly the biggest factor and it’s hard to estimate.

    We are resisting the temptation make wholesale “improvements” on the videos. We call the format “paperworks” and try to stick to a core set of rules (constraints) to make things consistent. See:

    Anyway, thanks again. More videos are on the way…


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