Scott Riddell and I had a meaningful discussion about our story and Big Enough. As the name of the Soulfront podcast indicates, Scott is helping to share the soul of entrepreneurship and I think he does that with kindness and wit. Here’s the video of our discussion:
When I first talked to Alain about a podcast, I saw that we was in Montreal and his name was Alain Guillot. All signs pointed to him being a French speaker, or having a French-Canadian accent. It turns out he is Colombian, with a Hispanic accent. I brought this up and learned he has a French father.
Alain is a very genuine and thoughtful interviewer. He read BIG ENOUGH, which always makes a big difference. I enjoyed talking to him and I think you will enjoy the interview.
Since the pandemic, a new class of apps have been introduced that are designed to make videos and presentations more interesting. One of my favorites is the mmhmm app, which is software you download to your computer.
The neat thing about mmhmm is that it allows the presenter and presentation to be on the screen at the same time. It’s in beta and a little buggy, but works.
Today I published the first video I made with the app. It’s an introduction/preview for the Common Craft video we published this morning. The video is called Clear Communication in Presentations. Here is the intro I made with mmhmm:
Common Craft videos could not have become popular without YouTube. Starting in 2007, the site was our platform for sharing videos and it helped us reach millions of people. I’ll never forget uploading a new video and watching it get embedded on websites around the world.
When we uploaded our first video, RSS in Plain English, to YouTube, it took less than two days to see our first copy-cat. A guy in France created a version in French that was similar to ours and to his credit, he notified us and we said it was OK. He was inspired.
Over time, Common Craft copy-cats became common. Most of the time, they were people inspired by our work and experimenting with their own stories. We came to see it as an honor. We worked to protect our trademark and copyright, but didn’t try to prevent them from copying our style. Even today, we encourage people to use our style for their own videos. A search for “Common Craft Style” on YouTube yields thousands of results, mostly by students and teachers.
One of the side effects of using YouTube is the ease at which it’s possible to download and then re-upload a video to another account. This violates copyright law and YouTube’s terms of service. But it was difficult to stop. YouTube is full of people who steal other people’s videos and reupload them with ads so they can make money. Seeing it happen over and over was frustrating and often I would try to contact the account owner to ask them to remove our video. If they didn’t, I would have it taken down by YouTube on the basis of a copyright claim. In some cases, their accounts were suspended.
Sometimes trying to stop re-uploaders felt like I was removing a grain of sand from a beach. I could have spent weeks trying to remove the offending videos and still not have made a dent. I eventually assumed it was just part of using YouTube. This was a big reason we made commoncraft.com the home of our original videos.
Last week, thirteen years after we started using it, YouTube released a Copyright Match Tool that sniffs out copyright violating videos and provides them in a nice list. If you choose, you can select and report them, fifty videos at a time. Finally, there was a way to know how our videos were being used on other accounts and it was surprising.
The copyright tool found 1,164 Common Craft videos that were reuploaded to other accounts. When sorted by views, they added up to millions. The highest viewed video had 1.1 million views and others had hundreds of thousands. Many of the highest viewed videos had been edited to include a post-roll promotion for another company at the end. It was amazing and disheartening.
As someone who makes his living on intellectual property, I’m thankful that YouTube is taking this issue seriously and providing options. When reporting a video, you can send the account a warning to remove the video in seven days, or have it taken down immediately. For now, we’re giving the accounts a chance to do the right thing before a formal takedown happens. My hope is that the tool will discourage people in the future.
More than anything else, I’m confident that we made the right decision to move away from YouTube years ago. Platform risk is real.
The lastest Ready for Rain newsletter was meant to fill in essential gaps regarding what events led us to today. Up to now, the readers have seen my life in real-time, with only brief references to the past. I wrote:
Over the past year, you’ve had a front-row seat to my life. You’ve seen Sachi and I start and complete projects. You’ve read about my motivations and decisions and, by now, have a pretty good sense of who I am. As our story has developed in real-time, you’ve been there.
Now that I’m shifting the newsletter to talk about the Big Enough book project, I’m feeling the need to build context and give readers a sense of what events shaped my career. There is probably no more consequential event than publishing the first Common Craft video. Our careers relate directly back to that event in 2007.
I had no idea at the time, but the moment I clicked “Publish” was the moment our lives changed in fundamental ways. From that point on, we started operating in uncharted territory.
Within minutes of RSS in Plain English hitting the web, it started to receive views and comments that flowed faster than we could read them. Bloggers around the world embedded the video on their blogs. Emails poured in. The video went viral and it felt like striking gold. We both lived in a state of shock for a few days. Despite it being poorly produced, the video was popular because it explained RSS in a way that everyone could understand.
Over the weekend a friend introduced me to the video below called Das Rad, which is a German term that means “The Wheel” in English. The film is known by the bland-but-accurate title “Rocks” in English versions.
The artistry and the overall concept made a big impression on me and I’ve thought about it multiple times since seeing it. As one YouTube commenter put it, “…our life cycle is to the rocks as a Mayfly’s life cycle is to us.”
The film was made in Germany and was nominated in 2003 for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short. Watch:
If you’ve been a reader since the early days, you know I spilled a lot of ink in the preparation phase. We planned and moved and assembled all the pieces before anything actually happened in the real world. To me, it was perfect because there was so much to write about. Instead of excavators, concrete, and 2x4s, I had words and visions of the future.
Those days are not over. I still have plenty of words and we’re both learning every day. But now, the house project has entered a new phase where words can’t do it justice. Ceiling trusses and framing might make for an interesting essay, but probably not as interesting as seeing them in photos and videos. They tell a story more efficiently and with more color than I can muster. And truthfully, I love making media and want Ready for Rain to be a multi-media experience.
So, this post is different. I’m letting photos do most of the talking as the house goes from a footprint to a building.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.