Guest of Honour header (with figure)

Guest of Honour: Don McAllister

Photo courtesy Don McAllister

Photo courtesy Don McAllister

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Don McAllister about how he went from creating video tutorials for a family member to building an empire helping people learn how to use apps on their Macs and iOS devices. Don has been a member of our 1Password family for many years, and it was fascinating to hear about how ScreenCastsOnline has grown and evolved—alongside AgileBits!—over that time.

What are screencasts and what is ScreenCastsOnline?

Screencasts show someone how a piece of software or service works on their computer. I talk away and describe what’s happening on-screen!

ScreenCastsOnline is basically a weekly tutorial that keeps people abreast of what’s going on within the Apple space, looking at new pieces of software as they come out. I’ll bring a whole series of shows about OS X and iOS as they come out. But I think fairly uniquely for what I do is that I also cover third-party software, such as 1Password and Default Folder X. It’s the third-party stuff people seem to like because you can get OS X and iOS tutorials pretty much anywhere but there aren’t many other people who cover the third-party stuff.

People can sign up for a monthly, quarterly, or full membership and they basically get the whole package. They get access to the website and a free magazine each month which has videos from the previous month and articles, etc. They also now get a brand new Apple TV app which gives them access to the entire archive.

There’s also the ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine, which is an iOS app. It has the last month’s video tutorial stream, but it also has a number of articles in there as well from various “Mac luminaries” like David Sparks and Allison Sheridan. They all contribute articles each month and that gets published in the magazine. And people can either get that as part of their membership, or they can go to iTunes and they can actually subscribe to the magazine on its own.

SCO Magazine

The new thing is a completely separate iOS app that’s available for the iPad, the iPhone, and the Apple TV. It allows people to buy individual episodes. There are about 60 tutorials in there. They’re mainly themed, so there’s a series on OS X El Capitan, there’s a series on iOS 9, there’s a series on Apple Photos, there’s a series on iWork for Mac and iWork for iOS. As we move forward, I’m going to start including the weekly tutorials in there as well so the 1Password episodes are in there for purchase.

SCO Showcase

How did ScreenCastsOnline get started?

My sister-in-law bought a Mac on the strength of my raving about it. She lives 20 or 30 miles away, so I couldn’t sit down and show her how to do things, so I decided to make her a couple of screencasts just to show the basics. At the same time, I had the idea of doing an audio podcast. When I started doing the screencasts for my relative, I thought, “Hang on a minute, this is just a piece of digital media. Perhaps I could launch this as a podcast.”

So those very first ones that I did, I just put out on an RSS feed and created a simple website. I gave the tutorials away for free for a couple of months, until about Christmastime. It was taking up my entire weekend just to make a 20-minute screencast. People were very responsive and appreciative, and I started to get some people actually contacting me saying, “Look, I really appreciate you doing this, is there any way we can donate?” That seeded an idea, “I wonder if I did something a bit extra whether or not I could actually turn this to something else.”

How do you decide which apps to highlight?

It’s really what I think people will be interested in at the time. Obviously, when new versions of OS X and iOS 9 come out, I have to cover that because people are expecting me to cover the latest operating system releases. But I also look for new apps and I get recommended things, as well.

It’s difficult because I don’t have a typical viewer. I mean, I have all sorts of people as members, from college professors to students to, well, basically anyone who’s got a Mac or an iPhone or an iPad. Lots of retired people, lots of people in businesses, small businesses, teenagers, it’s all very mixed.

I love that! I think super-technical people like me tend to think that people interested in this type of thing are also super-technical.

I don’t assume too much prior knowledge. So I always thought the super geeks and the real Mac heads who have been using the Mac for years would never be interested in what I do. But it’s really strange in that I get a lot of feedback from people who have been using the Mac for years and years and years, and yes, they still enjoy watching the show and also they still say, “I’ve been using this application for four years, I thought I knew it inside out, and I learned three new things in the episode you did.”

It’s very accessible for people of all skill ranges. I do try and mix it up a bit. Perhaps I might have a really simple show one week and then a more advanced show the next week, but it’s surprising just how much value people get from it no matter what their skill level is. It never ceases to amaze me, really.

It sounds like you started ScreenCastsOnline about the same time that Dave and Roustem started working on 1Password. I’m curious as to how you heard about 1Password and how you became a 1Password user.

That’s a good question! It’s always been there, as far as I can remember. I can’t remember when I started using 1Password. I have a video for 1Password on the iPhone from 2008, and it definitely goes back before then. It’s one of those applications that I could never be without. I use it multiple times every day on the iPhone, on the iPad.

And it’s just great! The beauty of it now is the cross-platform aspect of 1Password is so seamless, it’s just a joy to use. I use my iPhone and my iPad just as much as my Mac these days, and just to know I can set up a password on any platform and within seconds it’s synchronized across to another platform—and on my phone or on the iPad I can use Touch ID to get into it. You can get to all your passwords from within Mobile Safari and you’ve got the share extensions, it’s fantastic. Also, I’m seeing more and more applications now that have 1Password integration built in on the iPad and the iPhone and every time I see it I always go, “Yayyy!!”

What’s your number one tip for new 1Password users on any platform?

That’s a difficult one! I’m always using Command-\ for filling in Safari on the Mac. That’s one of my favorite things. 1Password syncing with iCloud for the Primary vault just makes life so much easier, especially if, like me, you do a lot of building machines. I’ve put all my serial numbers for things I don’t buy from the Mac App Store, all the things I need to do to build a new machine are all in 1Password. You just sign in with your Apple ID, iCloud is there, you install 1Password, and you’ve got all your data available to you straightaway. You don’t have to worry about how it’s being synced, it’s synchronizing with iCloud. So that’s probably my most recent favorite thing about it.

My thanks to Don for taking the time to talk to me about ScreenCastsOnline! All of us here at AgileBits are grateful for his support over the years and are thrilled to see how successful Don’s been. Don’t forget to check out the SCO website, Magazine, and Showcase!

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