April 27, 2011

Video Tutorials

Video is all the rage these days, but I have been trying to avoid making them. It's not that I don't appreciate the strength of videos for marketing and for visual learners. It is just that my medium is static words on a page, not moving pictures with audio.
It came to pass that FuseSource wants video tutorials and the writers have been assigned the task of producing them. I did the first one recently and it was an interesting challenge - I should say series of challenges.
The first challenge is figuring out what software to use building the tutorials. There are a number of screen recording tools available, like Camtasia, you can record a WebEx, or you can go with a tool geared more towards e-learning and demo creation, like Captivate. I quickly ruled out the WebEx idea. Some consultation with co-workers who make video tutorials at Progress strongly suggested using Captivate over Camtasia. Captivate is more forgiving and more flexible.
The big problem with Captivate is the price tag.... So, I set out to find a freeware alternative if possible. Fortunately I stumbled upon Wink from DebugMode(http://www.debugmode.com/wink/). I has most of the features of Captivate for free!!
Tool in hand, I created the video portion of the tutorial. Wink lets you record as a stream or based on mouse/keyboard clicks. I opted for the mouse/keyboard clicks method because that was what I was told worked best. So, I ran through the demo I was using for the tutorial and captured everything. This was a little nerve wracking because you want it to go smoothly. This is where doing it based on mouse/keyboard clicks comes in handy. If you record the demo as a steam, you have to restart every time you make a mistake. Using the mouse/keyboard saves the session as a collection of individual frames so you can remove mistakes later.
The resulting video capture was pretty good overall. A few places were choppy and in a few places the cursor jumped around a bit.
Wink lets you do a bunch of editing of the individual slides, so I could fix most of the choppy bits. I could also edit out any mistakes. It also allows you to add text boxes, images, and links onto the frames. This is one place where the price of the software is evident-there are not a lot of choices for button styles or text box controls.
Laying down the audio was tedious, but not because the tool makes it hard. In fact Wink makes it pretty simple. Doing audio is tedious for several reasons. The first is that I hate listening to my own voice for an entire day. Second, I'm not a trained voice talent, so I am not graceful at reading prepared texts. There are stops, stutters, strange tonal changes, pauses. I had to redo several portions of the audio multiple times to get it acceptable.
So, the first one is done. I've learned that doing a video takes a lot of prep work. You need to plan out what you intend to do and make sure that it is a) not too long b) visually interesting (watching a maven build scroll by does not make good video) c) going to work consistently. I've also learned that it takes a long time to make a short video. This first one took the better part of a day and it is only a few minutes long. I'm pretty sure I'll get better, but not so sure I can get faster.

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