The new freshman comp

For many years I have alternately worn two professional hats: writer and programmer. Lately I find myself wearing a third hat: filmmaker. When I began making the films that I now call screencasts, my readers and I both sensed that this medium was different enough to justify the new name that we collaboratively gave it. Here's how I define the difference. Film is a genre of storytelling that addresses the whole spectrum of human experience. Screencasting is a subgenre of film that can tell stories about the limited--but rapidly growing--slice of our lives that is mediated by software.


We're just scratching the surface of this medium. Its educational power is immediately obvious, and over time its persuasive power will come into focus too. The New York Times recently asked: "Is cinema studies the new MBA?" I'll go further and suggest that these methods ought to be part of the new freshman comp. Writing and editing will remain the foundation skills they always were, but we'll increasingly combine them with speech and video. The tools and techniques are new to many of us. But the underlying principles -- consistency of tone, clarity of structure, economy of expression, iterative refinement -- will be familiar to programmers and writers alike. [Full story at O'Reilly Network]

I thought about this latest installment of my Primetime Hypermedia series yesterday while participating in a presentation hosted by Macromedia Breeze. The palette available to a Breeze presenter includes screensharing of live applications, live voice and video chat, video playback, and slideshows. As if assembling all of these media types weren't enough of a challenge, you're also invited to weave them together in realtime. It can seem overwhelming, but I suggest in the column that we know more about how to do this than we might think.

Screencasts will be powerful assets in video-enabled conferencing systems like Breeze -- not as a substitute for interaction, but as a complement. Consider the Yukon demo/discussion I recently had with Michael Rys. Parts of it were scripted, and parts became interactive as I asked for more examples. A carefully produced screencast would be a great way to convey the scripted parts. You could guarantee a concise (and repeatable) exposition of key points. As questions popped up, you could pause the screencast and use live screensharing to explore them.

By the way, I mentioned yesterday that I wished the Yukon demo had been recorded server-side and made available for playback. It turns out that Breeze has this feature. It's streaming playback, not download, but if you point a screen recorder at the playback you can capture it, edit it, and reuse parts of it. Cool!

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