How to get started in explainer videos


Excellent advice on how to get started in explainer videos, from 3b1b’s Grant Sanderson (no relation). Plus motivation to make your first math explainer! And a new podcast on online science education! The Summer of Math Exposition…

A great point about going for a niche topic. I see this all the time in Retro Computer vids. A general history of the Commodore 64 < a dive on a specific event or person. A general introduction to assembly programming < a walkthrough of a specific coding technique.

A related tip from essay writing: instead of picking one thing as your topic, pick two things and write about how they relate. ’80s computer culture and skateboarding culture. Computer architecture and music. This is easier than it sounds and generates tons of interesting ideas.

I personally want to do more of this because I often fall into the trap of feeling like I need to have mastered a topic before I talk/write about it. I love mathematics but my math education stopped at single variable Calculus and I have little experience with rigor and research.

In fact, most people who explain things aren’t experts in the things they’re explaining. They’re actively interested, and professionals have a sense of where the line is for due diligence. But they’re often better at that than they are at knowing the thing they’re explaining.

There are experts in the world, but there are practical limits to any one person’s expertise. Talk to any academic long enough about their subject and you’ll find they have deep knowledge of a specific area of study, shallow knowledge of the field, and not much else. That’s OK!

As we say in Software Engineering, learning is the primary skill, not mastery of a subject. If you’re passionate about explaining things, explain as you learn. Make mistakes, apologize for the bad ones, stay humble, keep going.

I’ve always wanted to become a better pianist, and I’ve considered making explain-as-I-learn videos about it. But ho-ly crap is that intimidating when it feels like virtuosity is the baseline for general interest in classical music…

… And I’m not really wrong about that: most people expect a high level of skill when listening to art music outside a student context. But there are ways to establish that context online. And, if we’re brave, we can broaden people’s expectations.

I mean, look at YouTube. Through a decade of cultural bombardment we’ve lowered the bar for television programming to extremely achievable levels. Yes some polish is good but it’s hardly necessary. Many of my favorite YouTubers don’t even appear on camera.

Anyway, I’ll end with this low quality video of “Nine Nine Nine” from Square One TV (RIP Reg E. Cathey). I was nine years old when I figured out on my own why the number nine has this property, probably the closest I’ve come to mathematical discovery.…

(Originally posted to Twitter on July 17, 2021.)