Video for education (or Really Simple Video)

I had some fun putting together a screencast recently to showcase an internal Yahoo! technology that my team is working on. I downloaded Camtasia, wrote a short script and then produced what turned out to be somewhat high quality video production with surprisingly little effort.

All you have to do is turn on the Camtasia recorder and then click around on your screen while you talk. It records everything and then outputs a prefab web page with the embedded flash video. The time I spent building it probably broke down like this:

5% – downloading software and setting up a quiet space in a conference room.
5% – learning Camtasia.
30% – preparing. I mean writing the script and practicing.
50% – recording. admittedly, I ran through the script over and over again to get a few stutters and ums and uhs out of the monologue.
5% – output and posting the page
5% – telling people about it

I think it took less than 3 hours in total, but I got lost in the process a bit, so it could have been much quicker. The most interesting thing to note about the process here is how little time was spent dealing with production issues and how much time was spent on content.

Camtasia is actually advanced enough for you to do more sophisticated editing if you wish. But it served my need just perfectly. I wanted to show people what was happening on my screen, and I wanted to post that as a video on a web page. They perfectly isolated all the functionality I needed to do that with as little user interface overhead as possible.

Jon Udell has been pushing this concept as a really important educational device for a while now and has demonstrated some interesting ways to apply it. It’s not just the ease with which a person can do high quality productions that he finds powerful. It’s the inherent sharability of the output. When people start to see that sharing video can be about more than entertainment and exhibitionism, then they may turn to screencasts to share what they know with the world. The format is particularly well suited for demonstrations and how-to types of educational video.

It’s just so simple, there’s no reason not to try it.

What makes a good leader of a participatory community

I’m very interested in what leadership lessons we can learn from the people who drive the successful peer production models on the Internet. What is it about Craig Newmark, Jimmy Wales, Rob Malda, Stewart Butterfield and the other pioneers of participatory media that make the brands that they’ve created so powerful?

Photo: heather

Yochai Benkler breaks down the incentives for participation in peer production models in a very sensible and fascinating paper called Coases’ Penguin and discusses the economics of collaboration in his PopTech talk now available on ITConversations. But there’s a missing thread in his analysis that I think is crucially important.

The creators of the platforms on which peer production unfolds must have some common characteristics that enable these reputation models to reflect back on the people who invest in the platform instead of the company, brand or leader of that vehicle.

No doubt the participants are what make the products sing. But there’s something in common about the way these shepherds have approached their products and their customers that create an environment of trust, utility, gratification, expression, community, etc.

I don’t think any of them one day woke up and said I want to build a massive community of people posting content. Rather they probably stumbled onto ideas that started in one direction and ended up a little different than what they intended. I wonder what it is about the way they approach problems and lead teams that made them capable of identifying where the sweet spot would be for their idea.

I suspect that all of them share a handful of key qualities that make them unusual leaders including things like…

  • Total dedication, focus and passion for the service the community is providing to itself
  • A laissez faire attitude toward conflict but quick to identify resolutions
  • Motivated by a desire to do something important, not by money. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
  • A very creative mind that thrives on solving problems though not necessarily skilled in traditional artistic disciplines
  • Collaborative leadership styles, the extreme opposite of authoritarian, mandate-driven leadership

I don’t think they are attention seekers. I don’t think they are self righteous. They probably were mischief makers as kids and grew up to be anti-authoritarian. I’m guessing they were heavy video game users at one point if not still and love to compete.

I’m sure all of them also understand the decentralized and collaborative mentality, not as a translation from another model but rather baked into the way they think about what they are building.

I don’t know any of these guys personally, so this is perhaps wasteful conjecture. But I’m very curious about how the mainstream media business is going to approach the idea of participatory and social media given the cultural chasm and even conflicting styles of the leaders in the two categories. So far, it seems, people like Rupert Murdoch (and Terry Semel) have been smart enough to let these companies run and let these leaders lead.

It won’t be long before mainstream media companies start rolling out their own concepts for participatory media models, and I suspect those ideas will often fall flat…and it won’t be because the idea is bad but rather a lack of the key qualities required to shepherd a community.