ellie <3 libraries

sooooo much!

The Art of Explanation in Plain English (Common Craft) April 14, 2011

Filed under: Conferences,TLA 2011 — ellie @ 7:50 pm

Lee LeFever

When they started making the videos, they weren’t sure who they were for, and it’s become clear, they’re for librarians. This is their first library conference.

An aside – it was really weird hearing him talk since I’m so used to playing the videos when I’m teaching. He sounds just like himself. And it’s disconcerting.

After the initial viral success, they found their market was really educators.

People ask him if they can use his videos. YES. They’re on youtube so you can use them.

They begin with a script.

He’s the face, but wants us to know Sachi does a lot and doesn’t get enough credit.

From the script they move to thumbnails.

Then make images.

Listed software that he uses.

A picture of the setup.

Just months after their first video they were contacted by Google.

Google Docs can do most of the same things a regular doc does, but approaches it from a different mental model.

Discussion of getting over a mental model hump.

Docs live on your computer and if you want to share you email it.

GDocs lives on the web and that’s a different mental model.

Shows the Google Docs video.

It’s more about changing the idea about documents than a step by step explanation of features.

Explanation is a communication skill. ppt, teaching, dinner conversation, it’s all a skill.

What is an explanation? A package of ideas designed to illuminate.

The ultimate goal is to make  people care.

Their videos aren’t click here, etc. But if you can make people care, they’ll be motivated to learn the features. 

Stories are effective.

Example of walking under ladders. Saying don’t do it  is confrontational and controlling (even if it’s a good idea). Saying it’s bad luck changes perspective.

Connected to story is empathy and emotional response.

Forumla – person in pain, they feel this way – this solves the pain – now they feel like this.

Be succinct. 2-3 big points. It seems like comprehensiveness would be good, but diminishing returns.

Their videos are about 3 minutes long, 500 words.

Another big point is connections. Find a connection to something they already know and understand. Compare it. This is like this. This gives them confidence.

Capper point = context.

Need a world around the details to make the details make sense. Forrest first, then trees.

When he started putting this presentation together he realized he didn’t know that much about libraries and their current reality. So he put a poll out to his website and twitter. Thanked people who replied.

What is the current perception of libraries for people who haven’t been involved? Keeping people quiet, card catalogs, quiet place, now that we have search engines maybe libraries not as valuable.

Libraries have evolved. Gateway and a guide to info and media vs. a warehouse for books.

Call to action would be – take another look.

So what connections could we make?

Librarians as an even better search engine. Accessing all the stuff that search engines can’t do.

Moving to empathy – what story do we tell?

A smart guy with preconceived notions of libraries, hasn’t been there in 10 years, but starting to get interested in them again.

He goes in and is surprised by what he sees.

Wraps up these ideas into a story.

Tells the story of Bob who lost his job, has been searching online and feeling overwhelmed. Goes into library, finds helpful librarian.


How do you make money, who are your competitors?

Part of their business has been custom videos (like Google).
There will be a subscription site in the future.

How long do videos take?

The longest part is the script. Storyboard a day or so. Shooting = 4-6 hours. If they had to do it in 3 days, they probably could. But usually have several going at once.

How do you explain things that don’t work well?

The idea of making someone care, build interest. Screencasts are good at showing process.

Have you been commissioned by any libraries to explain to their boards?

We have not worked with libraries. (Let’s go ALA, get on this.)

What audio software do you use?

Garageband. They have a room covered in quilts where they record.

What was your inspiration for Common Craft and what’s your background?

Neither have an education in education.

Sachi has an MBA and a degree in microbiology. Missed what his was.

He worked as a consultant helping people understand online communities. He felt like the technologists were doing all the explaining and they weren’t very good at it.

Question about making a video for plagiarism.

Lee mentioned their online reputation video. Also said plagiarism is on their to do list back home.

Have you ever abandoned a video because it was too hard to explain?

They were going to do one on the financial crisis, but it was changing too often.

Question about subscription service, will there still be free versions?

They’ve moved away from using YouTube. They will continue to have the watermarked versions for free on their website.


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