People who know me personally would know that I’m a firm believer of the fact that videos and screencasts are going to be pretty huge on the internet and that they will play important role in the success of any blog. I was fortunate enough to conduct an e-mail interview with Michael Pick. Michael recently joined Automattic(the company behind WordPress, bbPress, BuddyPress, Akismet etc.) as a LightBulb Engineer (Michael has explained the idea behind this enlightening position in this interview itself) and his job is to create Screencasts for WordPress. Prior to taking up the job at Automattic, Michael used to run Smash Cut Media – where he offered professional screencasting services.
I would like to thank Michael, for taking time from his busy schedule and answering these questions for our readers and I hope that this will encourage more and more people to start screencasts or create videos on their blogs.
1. Which software do you use or recommend for creating screencasts ?
There are so many great applications to choose from now on both Windows & Mac. I’m Mac-based myself, and have checked out most of the options out there. These days I use a combination of Screenflow from Vara Software, which has some really nice features; and Final Cut for editing the videos down. I think you can get great results from iShowU and iMovie, too though, depending on what you’re looking to do with your screencasts.
On the Windows platform, Camtasia Studio seems to be the way to go – the feature-set is incredible, and while it costs $299, I think it’s possible to download an earlier version for free, for those that aren’t sure. For really simple stuff Jing seems like a quick and easy way to get screencasts made, but the feature set is a long way off that of Camtasia.
2. What sort of other equipments/software you suggest for creating professional looking screencasts ?
I think a lot of people concentrate on the look rather than the sound of a screencast, which can really let them down. For a good overall effect, it pays to make use of some basic sound recording/editing tools and a decent microphone. You don’t need to break the bank, but a USB condenser mic, like those that Samson make for instance, is a good step in the right direction. It can really improve the overall quality of a video if the sound is halfway decent.
For me, my biggest turn-off in a screencast is when people use garish transition effects, or crummy looking animated titles – much better to keep things clean and simple with basic dissolves, clean legible typography and a colour palette that doesn’t hurt your eyes. You can produce these with the standard in-built software in any package, from free editing (open source) tools like Jahshaka, right up to the pro, costly stuff like Adobe Premiere & Apple’s Final Cut suite.
3. I’m sure you must have used many screencast hosting services, do you prefer any one in particular or you think that world already has one YouTube ?
From what I’ve seen of Screencast.com they manage to provide a nice solution for Camtasia and Jing users, and get good results, but I have to say I’ve never used it. For overall quality and it’s high-definition support, Vimeo rates highly in my opinion.
The other option is to self-host, or use a podcasting hosting service like LibSyn. With the h.264 codec you can really compress files down to small sizes and still retain high quality in your videos, so storage and bandwidth isn’t the problem it used to be.
To an extent it depends on your goals – if you want to reach as wide an audience as possible, upload your video to as many places as you can, using a tool like TubeMogul.com. If on the other hand you value crisp, high-definition quality over eyeballs, it still seems best to me to self-host or use LibSyn and set up an RSS feed for your videos so that people can download your screencasts to itunes, Miro or their desktop.
4. How did you learn screencasting ? Do you suggest some resources which should be must read for any new screencaster ?
I picked it up along the way. I studied (and briefly taught) film at uni, and have been editing videos for a while, so when I started screencasting it was possible to transfer some of those skills across I guess. Then, when I worked at Master New Media as a tech blogger, Robin Good – my editor, gave me the chance to experiment with video reviews of the web applications we were exploring.
When I started out there weren’t as many resources as there are now, but I would say in terms of must-read resources the big three for me (and I’m sure I’ll forget some major players here and regret it later) would be Beth Kanter, who has an excellent screencasting primer, wiki stuffed full of information;
John Udell, who I believe coined the term screencasting (or had his readers do so), and Amit Agarwal at Digital Inspiration, who has gathered some excellent resources, software comparisons and a whole lot more besides. For folks interested in Camtasia, I’ve heard great things about Daniel Park’s book on the subject.
5. I would like to once again congratulate you for your employment at Automattic and I’m sure that our readers would love to know that how is your experience at Automattic ?
Thank you, I’m very excited about it. I’ve been made to feel very welcome, and you couldn’t ask for a more interesting bunch of people to work with. Because of the open source roots of the company, and the passion of the people involved, there’s a real feeling of it being a “flat” organization. Everyone there is there because they want to be, and because they’re passionate about contributing to the project. It’s interesting that we’re all scattered over the globe too – a truly virtual company.
What drew me to Automattic (besides the obvious coolness of working with these guys) is the openness to ideas and each person contributing to the bigger picture. I’m really excited about the work we’re going to be doing.
My role there is “Lightbulb Engineer” – the idea being that I’ll be (hopefully) helping to generate lightbulb moments for people – those moments when things suddenly make sense and fall into place. Video is obviously going to play a big part in that process, but won’t be the beginning and end of it. My background is a mixture of video production and education, and I hope to put both to good use with Automattic.
6. As we all know that WordPress is an open source project, so is there anyway that other screencasters, wordpress fans would be able to contribute or help you in creating screencasts ?
It’s early days at the moment, and we have some ambitious projects in mind, but I’d like to think that the huge, passionate WordPress community will be playing a very active role in the content we’ll be putting together. It never fails to amaze me how many great screencasts, tutorials and blogs there are already about WordPress – I’m not sure there are many projects or products with so lively, opinionated and passionate a community. That’s exciting to me.
Beyond that, we have plans to make the (video) content produced in-house as open source as possible – we’re all very passionate about people being able to take the raw material, remix it, translate and otherwise put it to good use. That’s something I’ll be thinking about a lot in the coming months as we roll out a whole lot of video content, and it will certainly be reflected in the licensing.