Startup Howcast attempting to make how-to videos suck less

Make great looking how-to videos with Howcast.

Howcast is a great new how-to video service that launched back in early February. This morning I met with co-creator Sanjay Raman to talk about what they've been up to in those two months. The site already has a wonderful, and fast growing collection of videos that teach you how to do all manner of things in just a few minutes, and has some really great features just around the corner.

Part of the site's success is due to the novel approach to the somewhat tired medium of how-to videos. People can still throw up their 5-minute shaky cam footage of how to plug in speaker cables, or cut up onions the right way, but Howcast is doing something very different from the rest by building itself up as a platform for fledgling self-proclaimed experts or videographers who want to put together slick, professional looking videos that don't suck. It's also got some great video player technology that blows the competition away.

The crux of the service revolves around the directors program. Howcast provides reasonably credentialed enthusiasts with a zip file full of goodies to create how-to shorts that follow a certain format. Included are overlays, bumpers, templates for Apple's Final Cut Pro, and voiceovers. There's also a growing repository of over 100 tracks to use as background music. Directors get paid $50 a pop for the videos they create, and have the option for further revenue sharing if their clip gets over 40,000 views. Raman says no video has yet to reach that height yet, but that they'd be offering something similar to YouTube with the creators getting a fair percentage cut.

Going forward Raman alluded to moving away from Final Cut and giving people a way to create videos using alternate tools. My guess is that it's a Web based video editing tool the likes of JumpCut or EyeSpot. Such a feature would let people create content without the need to shell out a few thousand dollars on hardware and software. Raman said the feature was coming in the "near future."

The second component to Howcast is the video player, which has been designed like a DVD player with chapter markers to separate the steps. Users can skip back and forth between each steps, and read little tool tips that gives them a bird's-eye view of what they're about to see without actually having to watch it. Raman walked me through how content creators add and edit these markers in the video, and the process is dead simple. You can play around with it yourself with the video embedded in this post.

In addition to video content, Howcast has an integrated wiki. Right now there are more wiki posts than videos, but that's because they're far simpler to make. Every video starts out as a Wiki, and that the ones that go into production are fact-checked in house by a Howcast staff member and linked up to the video post. One big thing that differs from Quamut, which I checked out last week, is that these wiki guides are printer friendly, so you can take them with you when it's time for semi-complex tasks.

Still in flux are ads on the service. You won't find many floating around right now, but the company is experimenting with what Raman calls non-annoying formats like small overlays that self-remove. It's also trying to steer clear of pre and post-roll ads to keep users from skipping the video entirely.

I think this service is really top-notch. I've been a subscriber of the iTunes feed for several weeks now, and the bite-sized format is wonderful. Verizon subscribers can also find the clips on their Vcast phones or FiOS home pages on their computer. The clips also make their way to YouTube and MySpace where they've been featured. Today there's also a selection of how-tos for April Fool's pranks. If you're looking to do some workplace mischief, this is definitely worth checking out.

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