New Media Matters: Crafting an industry online

When the advertising and marketing world began to transition online in a big way and new models of commerce were popping up faster than kittens in spring, I felt an urgency to get onboard and become an “early adopter.”

Emerging technology has always held endless fascination for me, but as the creative director at an advertising agency in a small market outside metropolitan Atlanta, I felt a particular responsibility to my clients to be technologically up-to-speed. I made it a point to study all the new information, but I needed a simple way to translate what I’d learned to others.

Some great pluses of technology are the leveling of the playing field for small businesses and the vast possibilities it presents for enterprising individuals. The smallest company can position itself online as a behemoth industry with the potential to provide impeccable, personalized customer service. I needed to learn how to harness the Internet for the good of small businesses everywhere.

My life as a marketer and idea generator was dramatically transformed some years back with the help of a small online business owned and operated from the modest home of a young Seattle couple I’ve never met in person, Lee and Sachi LeFever. Their company Common Craft, which can be found at, is in the explaining and enlightening business, imparting esoteric, tech-related concepts and systems to common folks like you and me. Those among us who walk around this vast, digital wonderland can easily feel lost and irrelevant. Some of us are curious about tech-related subjects, but are unwilling to commit to all the preliminaries it takes to build a greater understanding of something new.

Common Craft is an industry all its own. Like pre-packaged salads, it didn’t even exist just a few years ago. The LeFevers create brief, simple videos that explain hard-to-grasp subjects ranging anywhere from cloud computing to CFL light bulbs, to how something is encrypted on the web. What is a programming language? How does podcasting work? What’s a browser program versus a search engine? What are QR codes?

For the curious and for the clueless trying to pass as digitally literate, Common Craft’s videos are the stuff of dreams. Lee LeFever reports his subscription company’s two most popular videos are Plagiarism and Web Search Strategies, but you can even learn the basics of borrowing money from a Common Craft video. I am reminded of the pure simplicity of flannel board Bible lessons in Sunday school. Things simplified to the degree they take on a magical sheen of fascination: “Awww, yes, that’s what an RSS feed is.”

Several other excellent instructional video firms exist online for businesses, educators, individuals and among them, TreeHouse, Khan Academy, Discovery Education. Somehow, though, I like the idea of doing business with a pair of commonplace innovators who have succeeded from home.