On Video, From a Web Developer Just Getting Into It


Movie | video for web developers

Over the past month or so, I’ve been getting really excited about video production.

I thought I’d say a little bit about the beginnings of that enthusiasm, as well as the things I’ve hit my head against early on in the learning process.

Why I Like Video

It’s Got Personality!

Video seems to make it easier to express your personality without detracting from the content.

One of my frustrations, and I believe one of David’s, is that across the numerous things we do (this site, WPShout, Medivate, WP Business Tips), we’re relatively anonymous. You don’t get a strong sense who we are.

Video seems to help solve that problem. For one, obviously, it involves how we look and sound in a way blog posts don’t. I also feel more able to channel my sense of humor into video without detracting from the content, and it’s a lot easier to be “friendly” in an active sense in a video format. Or, as another example, I feel like you could read a lot of David’s stuff and still not get the sense of just how smart he is that you would by watching his presentation at the 2013 Boston WordCamp.

It Feels Official

For me, a video feels like a piece of “real” content—like something to take seriously.

For me, a video feels like a piece of “real” content—like something to take seriously. I haven’t really tried to promote our video content yet, but I do expect and hope that our videos will tend to have more gravitas than our individual posts. As such, video is a great target if, for example, you’re trying to put together a body of premium content.

That “official” feeling has also done a lot to help me think through things, too: I seem to come up with content that is better thought-through and organized, since I have the feeling that I’m doing it “for real.”

A Video is Worth a Thousand Pictures, Totaling a Million Words

Earlier today, I sent the quick screencast below to a client explaining a problem with her navigation menu.

Before starting to think about video, I’d have¬†described the problem in a detailed email¬†and hoped she understood what I was talking about.

With the video, I could be almost sure that she’d understand. It took 1 minute and the file was a 5MB .avi, which I just learned I could’ve compressed to the 500KB .mp4 you see here. Sweet!

It’s a Lot of People’s Preference for Learning

I prefer video over text at the beginning of a learning curve, when nothing in the written tutorials is making sense.

Harper, who works with us part-time, tells us she strongly prefers to learn through video than by reading a bunch of articles. So does my girlfriend. I’d say I’m indifferent between video and text, but I definitely prefer video when I’m at the very beginning of a learning curve and nothing in the written tutorials is making sense. So there’s certainly healthy demand for video, and, on a given topic, less supply than for text content.

It Actually Doesn’t Need to Take That Long

Very short clips can take as little time as an image to roll out, and longer clips take about as long as a blog post.

Video has a steep learning and equipment curve (more on that in a minute), but once you’ve put in some hours on it, it can be an extremely efficient way to generate content and convey ideas.

Short clips like the ones in this post definitely take less than five minutes’ work to put up—about the same as an image—and I’ve put together and uploaded longer pieces (from 30-second advertisements to eight-minute video tutorials) in between three and eight hours of work, about the length of a blog post.

Problems With Video

Learning and Equipment Curve

Getting your first serviceable video up is not all that easy. I’ve had a lot of false starts in the process of learning how to develop an idea in a way that won’t bore people to death (I tend to give too many examples), and I still haven’t put together a longer video that I think nailed it.

Equipment-wise, I had to buy a microphone (a Blue Yeti) before I got a sound quality I could live with, and I’ve raided and rearranged my house for lamps (remove the shade and they’re good light sources), books (to put the lamps on for height adjustments), and quiet spaces without a lot of visual distractions. So even doing it amateur style, there’s a lot to learn.

You Rely a Lot on Third Parties

Any video that’s longer than the arbitrarily short videos I’ve included here is probably too big to host yourself. (A 400MB video is the kind of thing that would probably take down your site if you got ten people watching it at once.) That probably means YouTube or a similar for-profit store of third-party content—which is good in some sense, but you do find yourself giving content to one or another online hegemon. Similarly, the best way to record long video conversations between multiple parties seems to be Google+’s “Hangouts on Air,” which means interacting with Google+ and putting up with a big watermark on your video.

It’s also tricky to do video editing, video-to-.gif conversions, animation, and so on without either paying for things or accepting watermarks, restrictions, etc. So far I’ve found Lightworks, an almost-workable video editor (I actually suspect it’s very powerful, but it has a really difficult UI), and CamStudio for pretty good screencasting. I’m a Windows user—my memory of iMovie is that it’s very good; Windows Movie Maker is quite limited, but so far I’ve actually found it usable for smaller projects. I also have built in camcorder software that I like, and I’ve burned through a free trial of Adobe After Effects for animations. So I’ve stayed out of paying for software so far, but it’s taken a lot of looking.

In Conclusion…

This is a very impressionistic beginner’s sketch of some of the early excitements and challenges of video. If you’ve never poked your head into the video space before, I’d really recommend it! Just try vlogging one of your posts instead of blogging it, and see how it feels.

Thoughts or recommendations? (Recommendations about equipment, particularly free editing and animation software for Windows, are very welcome.) Thanks for reading!

Image Credits: Orange County Archives

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