Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Podcasting Plain English

More new heroes today. This time it's Sachi and Lee LeFever over at Common Craft, a Web-based company out of Seattle whose product is explanation, as they say on their homepage. They create the most beguiling videos, Paperworks they call them, to simply, quickly and directly explain things most of us don't really understand but want to.

Take, for example, RSS. Heck, I blog and I have a feed, but until today, I really didn't understand the concept of a reader and where the feed leads. Now I do, thanks to Sachi and Lee.

I simply love their work and the way they blend one of the oldest of forms of communication, pen and paper, with the newest, podcasting. For they have a show called The Common Craft Show, a collection of free, sharable videos explaining knotty concepts (RSS is one, as are Twitter, social networking, and wikis ) that they produce on their own time and make available on their Web site and YouTube. Lee's humming theme tune opens a number of the podcasts and it's his hands moving the cunning cutouts, scribbling in colored markers, erasing the whiteboard and sometimes sweeping away the old way of doing things with a "Booooo" and a downward pointing thumb.

Common Craft is a business, so it has clients, too, among them Google, which owns Blogger, through which these words are coming to you now. Google commissioned a great video explaining Google docs, for example.

What's so great about Lee and Sachi's work is its utter simplicity and accessibility. While I generally go ga-ga over visualization of data because it breaks down barriers to understanding, I am engaged by Paperworks for the same reason. Imagine Lee and Sachi's take on filling out tax forms, or global warming, or Social Security, or applying for a federal job! Pure poetry compared to what's out there now, I am certain.

So here's a huge huzzah for them and a hope that they'll soon begin turning their hands and eyes toward the inscrutable in government. What better subject for folks who say "our goal will always be to make videos that explain, enlighten and hopefully bring about a smile?"

I'll close with my favorite Paperworks video, one that deftly details a term becoming all the rage among government collaboration fans: wiki.

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