We're often asked how we got started with our videos. Here's the story.
It all started with an online community. It was the latter part of 1999 and I was working in a healthcare data company called HBSI (which was eventually merged into non-existence). The customers were asking for a way to work together across hospitals. So, a few of us started an email group on eGroups, which is now Yahoo Groups. Through this experiment and the online community that grew out of it, I discovered my passion.
I met Sachi at work about this time. On our very first weekend away together in 2000, we were walking by the shore in the San Juan Islands and I said "Sachi, I hope you don't mind hearing about this online community stuff, because it's all I'm going to talk about from now on." She was cool with it, as she is today.
About this time I read the Cluetrain Manifesto and this book added high octane fuel to the fire. Over the next three years (1999-2003), I was the online community manager and it was my job to manage the community and convince people in my company that online communities are the future. It wasn't an easy job, but I loved it to my core. Even then, I needed ways to influence people about these new, transformative ideas.
After growing, designing and managing the community for 3 years, I quit to start Common Craft. The name came from a focus on communication. I've always thought that communication is the most Common Craft there is. In 2003, I became a blogger and independent consultant, helping companies understand and build strategies around online communities.
In this work, I confronted the same problems as I did as a community manager. The people with whom I worked were skeptical. It was their job to make business decisions about the future. In order to make sound decisions, they needed a basic understanding of the ideas and technologies that could impact that future. It was my job to help build that foundation of understanding. At the time, there simply weren't materials that worked to explain things like wikis and RSS.
So, I wrote blog posts. I would take something like wikis and write a post with the goal of giving my customers a way to see the concept without getting technical. You'll recognize the story I wrote for the post "Wikis and the Perfect Camping Trip. " The blog posts worked pretty well and I always felt that I took to explanation easily.
Sachi and I had been saving and took 2006 off to travel. Along the way, we decided to make Common Craft a two person company. We also fell in love with shooting video and putting it on You Tube for friends and family. Near the end of the trip, we considered how video could become part of Common Craft. In thinking hard about our goals and skills, we decided that we could remake those explanatory blog posts into videos.
After we got home, I experimented with standing in front of a whiteboard. It didn't work - I felt like I was just another talking head. Then, Sachi had the idea of pointing the camera down onto the whiteboard on the floor and using hands and paper cut-outs to tell the story.
Within a few weeks we had created RSS in Plain English on the floor of an extra bedroom. I remember telling Sachi, the night we put it online, that I think we could be on to something. Over the next day, the video got a lot of attention, including our first appearance on the front page of Digg. We were jumping out of our skin with excitement. People got it, and shared it!
Soon after we started planning our next video on Wikis. We also discovered all sorts of ways to improve the videos - better lighting, sound, etc. We solved problems as they needed to be solved.
Within a couple of months we added a "hire us" message on commoncraft.com and our first custom video clients were PR Web and Google Docs. For most of the past year, our business has been producing custom videos.
Of course, we've also continued to provide free videos on social media and other subjects via The Common Craft Show. A common theme that we hear from fans is "I sent your video to my Mom/Boss/Peer/Friend/customer and they finally got it!" This is the best feedback we could hear.
These days we're seeing new opportunities. Social Media is a huge, transformative trend. There are droves of professionals working to influence businesses, students and executives to understand it - and we want to help. We also see other trends and subject matters that need better explanations. Whatever the subject, our goal will always be to make videos that explain, enlighten and hopefully bring about a smile.