My team at work recently launched a series of one-minute videos that we’re calling Cloud Minute. This was my first attempt at screencasting and video editing. I’ve learned a lot and I wanted to talk a bit about the experience.
What and Why
Like many projects, Cloud Minute was conceived during random office chit-chat. We were discussing how difficult it is to explain concepts and tools succinctly. Someone said, “Well, can you explain it in a minute?”. At the time I had just watched a presentation on screencasting. One minute explanations via video seemed like a great first screencasting project.
Early on several folks doubted that a minute was long enough to make a useful video. It turns out a strict time limit has some benefits. The time limit forces you to pick a very narrow scenario and a specific target audience. “Docker for Developers” is too generic. “Uploading Docker Images to Google Cloud Registry for existing Docker users” is better. You also have to be concise. You can’t cover all the edge cases or ramble. Every word matters. These constraints remind me of a good blog series I read several years ago called One Pagers.
The other big advantage of short videos is the breadth of content they enable. There are many cool features or common scenarios that are too small for conference talks or blog posts. For example, Google Compute Engine has a nice way to Manage SSH Keys across multiple virtual machines. It is one of my favorite features but I hadn’t found a good way to share it with folks. Cloud Minute is turning out to be a great way to showcase the little features that make operations easier.
Making the Videos
When I started working on this project I had never done any screencasting or video editing. The only relevant experience I had was making screen recordings for bug reports when I did QA. I found the idea of recording, editing, and publishing videos to YouTube intimidating. It turns out making short videos isn’t very complicated.
I record and edit videos on my MacBook Air using ScreenFlow. ScreenFlow is pretty easy to use, and when I get stuck I’ve found plenty of videos on YouTube to help me out. Amusingly, some of the most helpful videos are made by teens and tweens who use ScreenFlow to share their Minecraft creations.
I’m lucky to have access to a small recording studio at Google’s Seattle office. The studio has several different microphones and I tried most of them before I found a favorite. I’ve noticed that microphone preferences are very personal. I prefer microphones with a built in pop filter but I know several folks who use their gaming headsets and their videos sound great as well. The overall A/V setup for Cloud Minutes is pretty simple, just a microphone and a small USB mixer. Recording and editting takes about two hours for each video.
I thought that once the videos were recorded and edited the hard part was done. I was wrong. Making professional-looking videos on YouTube is mostly about the fit and finish. High quality videos have good descriptions, intros, custom thumbnails, and end cards. I also feel strongly that Cloud Minute videos should have captions. For Cloud Minute videos all these additions take nearly as long as the recording and editing. The thumbnail and end card are made with Adobe Illustrator. I’m not an Illustrator master, but the templates feature has made producing the thumbnails straightforward. The captions are either added in ScreenFlow or are done with YouTube’s captioning tools. Again I found many great resources for all these tasks online. I learned how to add captions from a video on the ScreenFlow website. I didn’t know what an end card was, but I found several websites explaining best practices for intros and endings with a quick Google search. I looked at a bunch of custom thumbnails to decide on the basic design for my videos.
I’m surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed making the videos. There’s something very satisfying about a project where I can go from idea to final product in just a few hours. Before this I had been intimidated by video making. I thought it was only for visual design experts. Now that I’ve finished a few videos I realize it is actually pretty easy. If you’ve been thinking about making a screencast I recommend taking the plunge.