Screencasting with Yahoo! partners

An exciting part of my job is the exposure I get to startups that are doing new and interesting things. Last week, for example, Jeremy Zawodny and I sat with the Renkoo team while they walked through all the ways they are using Yahoo! technologies in their product.

We captured what was happening on screen and recorded the conversation using Camtasia. Then I edited it into 2 parts: the first is more of a demo and the second is a discussion of the technologies. I saved it as a video file, uploaded it to Yahoo! Video and finally posted it to the YDN blog this morning.

It’s nice co-marketing for us both. Yahoo! gets to show off how powerful its services can be, and Renkoo gets a nice platform through YDN to demonstrate the clever things they’ve done to a broad audience of peers.

Fun stuff.

You can watch the first part of the interview here.

Write and hear your own presidential speech

I’m not much for browsing the web for the sake of browsing, but the recent coverage of StumbleUpon inspired me to try it again. It paid off immediately. My second click took me to this site.

Watch how I put together several audio snippets to write a 90-second speech for President Bush:

How we made the BBAuth screencast

The news that seemed to get overlooked by the amazingness that became Hack Day was the release of a login API, BBAuth, or Browser-based Authentication. This new service allows any web site or web application to identify a user who has a Yahoo! ID with the user’s consent. Dan Theurer explains it on his blog:

…instead of creating your own sign-up flow, which requires users to pick yet another username and password, you can let them sign in with their existing Yahoo! account.

My mind keeps spinning thinking of the implications of this…more on that in a later post.

It was immediately obvious to me when I heard about it that this concept was going to be hard to fully grok without some visuals to explain it. So I sat with Dan yesterday to create a video walk-through that might help people digest it (myself included). Here is a 5 minute screencast talking about what it is and an example of it in action (also available on the YDN blog and on Yahoo! Video):

The screencast itself took only a few minutes in total to produce. Here’s how it went down:

  1. I closed all my applications on my laptop other than my browser (or so I thought) and launched Camtasia
  2. We spent 5 minutes discussing what we were going to say.
  3. I clicked ‘record’.
  4. We talked for 5 minutes.
  5. I clicked ‘stop’.
  6. I selected the output settings and it then produced a video file for me.
  7. DONE. That part took about 20 minutes.

The next part, posting to a video sharing site, got a little sticky, but here’s what I learned:

  • I tried Yahoo! Video, JumpCut and YouTube.
  • Outputting my screencast in 320×240 resolution saves a lot of time for the video sharing sites
  • Yahoo! Video liked the MPEG4 format most. YouTube claims the same, though it wasn’t obvious after trying a few formats which one it liked most.
  • JumpCut was a snap to use, but the output quality was a little fuzzier
  • Titles…I forgot the damn titles, and it just looked too weak without some kind of intro and outro. Camtasia gives you a couple of very simple options. I added an intro title in less than 5 minutes.
  • Logo! Ugh. After encoding it about 8 times to get the right format I realized the logo really needed to be in there:
    1. I took a quick Snag-It screenshot of the YDN web site, played with it a bit and made a simple title screen.
    2. Saved it as a jpeg
    3. Imported into my Camtasia screencast
    4. Inserted the title image in the beginning and a variation of the same at the end
    5. Dropped a transition between the title frames and the video
    6. Titles DONE. That took less than 30 minutes…could have taken 2 seconds if I was prepared.
  • Wait…the screen wasn’t big enough. You couldn’t see the graphic that Dan points to in his explanation because it’s too small. Not a problem. Camtasia includes a simple zoom tool:
    1. I played the screencast again and found where I needed to zoom.
    2. Inserted opening zoom marker
    3. Selected zoom size. Clicked done.
    4. Found the end of the segment where I wanted to zoom out.
    5. Inserted another zoom marker.
    6. Opened zoom window back up to full size.
    7. DONE. Maybe 15 minutes to do that.
  • Output one last time
  • Upload.
  • DONE

Then all I had to do was write a blog post and embed the video in that post. That took about 10 minutes.

All in all, I probably spent close to 2 hours beginning to end producing this screencast, but most of that was learning a few tricks. Next time I do this, I bet I can complete the whole thing from launching Camtasia to posting on a blog in 45 minutes, possibly less.

Screencasts mature…now with advertising!

I’m liking some of the innovations coming out of IDG’s InfoWorld these days (my old digs). I’m told the podcast advertising is working really well for them, but I’m particularly interested to see that they have begun screencasting in earnest…and it’s sponsored, to boot.

The InfoWorld home page now has the rotating feature box which yesterday included a link to a series of AJAX instructional screencasts. Among several related pieces, Peter Wayner produced a 7 minute instructional screencast on the Yahoo! user interface javascript libraries.

He begins by pointing out which libraries he likes and then proceeds to build a web page that utilizes the code. You can watch the screencaster type out his code and then demonstrate how it works.

Though raw in quality, the content was exactly right. The viewer is able to watch over the shoulder of someone who is at their computer working. It’s the online equivilent of Jacques Pepin…well, the finished product didn’t look all that tasty, but I learned something nonetheless.

Editor Steve Fox describes how screencasts answer the creative writing mantra ‘Show, don’t tell‘:

After all, if you’re reading about how something works, you want to see it in action. That’s where the Web’s presentation capabilities open up stunning possibilities.

Now, here’s the best part of the innovation…it has a video preroll…yes, an ad! A very brief video was baked into the beginning of the episode. Of course, I doubt Microsoft paid for this exposure being that it is so experimental, and they will be unable to measure success through traditional means, as there will be no clicks.

But show me an ad anywhere on the Internet that can capture my undivided attention better than this. And tell me how you could find a more targeted viewer than someone wanting to learn how to accomplish a specific task. It’s the best of both worlds – targeting and brand marketing.

What if this video clip was socializable (is that a word?) and caught fire around the web? InfoWorld should offer the embed script with each screencast so that someone can post it to their blog or their favorite video sharing site. And even better than that, the InfoWorld screencaster should actively post his screencasts to every video sharing site he can find and try to get some comment love from the people he’s connected to out there. Each screencast could live a contagious existence as people socialize it in different ways. InfoWorld already baked in the logo into the video stream, so any loss of control in the distribution is automatically mitigated by guaranteed brand exposure.

I’m sure critics will say that video on the Internet and video ads have been around for a long time, and podcasting already acts this way. I’d argue that this is actually really new.

Not only is the screencast format easier to produce than live action video and more compelling than podcasting, but the instructional nature of it gives the viewer and the screencaster a uniquely engaging relationship. As a result, the advertising in this environment can be much more relevant than your typical preroll video ad on news or entertainment content.

Of course, they can be fun to make, too. I’ll bet the editors are much more excited to narrate a screencast they can edit and produce on their own and distribute through the proven web page and RSS methods than they would be to sit in a mock studio with the marketing team telling them how to look good for the camera. It can’t be fun acting like you’re on TV fully aware that your webcast video audience will be a few hundred people at best after the clip gets posted behind an awkward lead capture wall.

Well done, guys. This is the kind of investment that could kick your online growth path well beyond the revenue tipping point.

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.