The revolution will be screencast

Richard Gabriel and I are planning a workshop at SPLASH focused on screencast demos: The Future Programming Workshop. This will be a workshop in the sense of a writer’s workshop: the participants will present their talks/demos and the group will critique them. After the workshop people will revise their screencasts to be published on our website. Please signup at the website if you are interested.

Increasingly, new programming ideas show up first as video talks and screencast demos, long before any papers get written. A good example is Bret Victor’s videos. My own screencasts have led to far more interaction than my papers. Frankly, writing papers is really hard, especially for raw new ideas. Non-academics often struggle to write papers, effectively excluding them from the conversation. The point of this workshop is to foster the exchange of radical new programming ideas in their formative stage, via the medium of screencasts. We hope to build a community of explorers at the frontier of programming. Please join us.

9 Replies to “The revolution will be screencast”

  1. Papers as a medium have a lot of problems. Not only is it hard to write them, but also to consume them. The format prevents raw data from being included, which makes it difficult to reproduce results. They are typically published online as pdfs, which are harder to screenread and hyperlink. Algorithms are often described in complicated prose.

    Talks and screencasts are great for engaging people to new ideas, but I feel we can do much better in terms of transferring and referencing knowledge.

    1. Papers have a lot of problems, but so have screencasts. I find screencasts for anything more than to convey an idea almost impossible to consume; take the lazy ‘programming tutorials’ thing which started mushrooming around 10 years ago. People explaining how to do stuff in a 30 minute video for something like Rails, with a vague screen in the background where unreadable typing is going on. That same tutorial would’ve been quicker (like in a few minutes instead of 30 to consume and then more to reconsume and figure out what the hell is going on) read, understood and followed as webpage or PDF.

      I know you are talking about papers which are something different but I think it applies even more to those; it is rather impossible to do most papers in a screencast. For me it is the most obvious to present an idea/paper as a live document / notebook which contains videos, working code snippets (so working/interactive pseudo code and mathematical proofs etc) and text explaining everything. So basically;

      – make a screencast of the paper in detail including doing the (pseudo) code and math
      – do it again
      – do it again
      – do it again
      – type out your speech in text and fix it up a little bit
      – turn the above in one live document with the best video and code snippets in the text where it belongs
      – post online

      As it is very possible to make live pages with any kind of content in any kind of programming language with any kind of math and math interpreter, proof assistant etc running on the server (and on the client Emscripten!) this should not really pose a problem for any paper. And it would make it a lot easier for people to read, understand etc it.

      1. Justin & Tycho: this workshop is for early-stage ideas before you know enough to write a paper. Talks and demos are how we actually communicate new ideas, even when we have already written a paper. I also agree that live docs are better than papers, and even better is a playground site with literately explained live examples. Unfortunately academic CS is strongly committed to 12-page Latex papers.

      2. I can fully agree with you — I have seen many pointlessly time-consuming screencasts/video tutorials for the simplest things. I also like your ideas on how to expand on the “paper” concept. What we might need is a framework that makes it easy to realize this, like Latex does for structured documents.

        Do you have thoughts on what such a framework would have to include?

        1. I don’t pretend to have any expertise on this. Jeremy Ashkenas has a “literate” Coffeescript platform. Sean McDirmid did a live doc for one of this Superglue submissions. Bret Victor has done some nice multimodal docs. Let me know if you find anything good.

      3. Tycho, I did a live doc (here) for my Onward paper that worked out well. I really like the way Bret Victor does his essays, like the one on learnable programming, and it could be the future of academic publishing if we get some better tools.

        In the end, a workshop like this can be useful in becoming better communicators. We have to break beyond the traditional paper to different media that can reach a larger audience.

  2. Screencasts are one of the most ineffiicient, time-wasting, unreadable, memory-and-time-wasting ways of delivering information ever devised. I hope you’ll recant from this ridiculous request, or all you’ll get is garbage. I could absorb ten times the information in a tenth of the time in a written presentation, and decide within a minute if a paper or written presentation was worth my time to read or not. A screencast completely fails at that. If you request garbage, you will get garbage.

    1. Normally I delete rude comments, but there is a valid point here. I actually prefer the written word over video too. I especially hate tutorial videos. But when we go to conferences and seminars, we still listen to a live presentation rather than just pass out the paper. And we go to lectures to learn instead of just reading the textbook. Videos are a recording of a live presentation, which is still a primary way to communicate ideas. And when it is a new idea that isn’t all worked out and documented yet, personal presentations are the only way to explain it. Videos are just a way to turn such live presentations into a broadcast medium.

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