We have officially crossed over from the TV generation to the Internet generation: a recent study from Doubleclick Performics shows that more teens now spend more time in front of their PCs than their TVs. Call it the YouTube generation, blame it on last fall’s writer’s strike or too many channels and Nothing Is On, but let’s face it, the days of watching TV on our TVs seem so quaint now. And Google just came out with a new browser optimized for videos today.
I have decided to join the You Tube generation myself, and this summer I have begun to create a new kind of content for you, my beloved and loyal audience. Let me take a moment to indulge in some shameless self promotion, and also tell you a bit more about what you can see on my new venture called WebInformant.tv.
Most of my professional life has been spent explaining technologies that I use to various corporate IT audiences: first writing reports for the US government and then Megalopolis Insurance in their early attempts at supporting end-user computing. Later on I worked for Ziff, CMP, IDG, JupiterMedia and TechTarget in various capacities – starting magazines and editing Web sites and writing thousands of magazine articles and two books. It is a body of work that I am proud of, and still enjoy freelance work for all five of the major tech publishers. As cartoonist Lynda Barry said in a lecture last week, “A friend told me: You have managed to make a pretty decent living by just being yourself — well, I have tried and failed at everything else.” I know exactly how she feels.
For several years I have been saying that missing from this corpus is video tutorials that show IT people how technology is actually being used, putting it through the typical paces that they would want and being able to see the screens and the logic flow of the product. I try to do this in all of my product reviews, and one of the reasons why I feel I have been successful is that I can capture this ethic and point of view very accurately in my articles.
So what is this new venture? WebInformant.tv is a series of sponsored video screencast product reviews. Sponsored means that the product’s vendor pays me to produce them. Right now it is just a one-person operation: I do everything from pick the products to write the scripts to produce the videos and promote and post them online. While this is a lot of work, it is very invigorating and thrilling too. I am looking at licensing, if that is the right word, this operation with other tech journalists whose work I respect, but ultimately this is my show. The vendors get simple up or down script approval, so the words you hear on these videos are really my own thoughts and opinions. Each video is about five minutes, and has things that I liked and didn’t like about each product.
The word screencast has been used by TechSmith’s Camtasia to describe PC screen recordings – what you are watching is not a movie of my mug, but as if the video camera was focused on the PC’s monitor and watching what I was doing with my mouse and menu clicks. You hear my voice narrating the video and giving context to what you are watching. I try to pack a lot of information into the five minutes, so you get a feel for the product and why you would or wouldn’t want to use it.
I am not the first person to do screencasts in a big way – Jon Udell was doing them for several years when he worked at Infoworld, and I appreciate his skills and leadership here. And there are other products that do this – Screenflow for the Mac and Adobe’s Captivate are just two of them. There are free services also at screencast-o-matic.com, uTIPu.com and freescreencast.com too. (You see, I just can’t help myself, have to go and compare tech.) I like Camtasia and have figured out most of its quirks to make it work for me.
The products that I review lend themselves to visual explanations: the first series that I have produced include SkyRecon’s StormShield and eEye’s Blink – both of which are endpoint security products that protect a Windows desktop from a series of attacks. There is also Secure Computing’s TrustedSource.org service, where you can look up the reputation of a particular domain and see what email servers have been sending messages on that domain’s behalf. And the products range from the free Timedriver.com appointment scheduling service to ones that cost several thousand dollars.
There are also very complex products that I have posted reviews: Servoy Developer is useful for building rapid Java applications that can run unchanged on both desktop and inside a Web browser. Altiris Workflow Solution from Symantec is great for automating just about any computing task and can leverage some very powerful data mining techniques.
One of the interesting things that I am doing with WebInformant.tv is turning the model of content creation on its head. In the past, I wrote articles that were copyrighted by the publishers and posted on their Web sites only. With the screencasts, I want to distribute the content as widely as possible, as long as my branding and message remains intact. Once the video is posted on my site, it is also cross-posted on many other video sharing sites, including You Tube, Google Video, and others that specialize in how-to information. The vendors get their own copy that they can distribute as well as part of their marketing materials, or to augment their own Web sites, or whatever. Some of the vendors that I have begun to work with have created their own screencasts, so they clearly understand the power of this brave new world. By the way, the site Veoh.com does a nice job of cross-posting videos, definitely worth a closer look.
There are other reviews in the works, and I hope to be able to continue to enrich the site with new products for a long time to come, and grow my own video “channel” into a more vibrant place. And don’t worry: I’ll still be writing and editing, blogging and podcasting, and speaking around the world as always. This is just another arrow in my quiver, another way to enhance my brand, and something new to keep it fun.
Those of you that work or do PR for a vendor and want to sponsor me to review your products, send me a quick note and I can provide more specifics. And I welcome your feedback as always on how to improve the videos and make them more useful for your own situation. Enjoy watching Webinformant.tv! If you want to subscribe via RSS to keep updated when I add new ones, add this URL to your reader: