This is not a video

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As I mentioned previously, the opening presentation at TICAD was by Adobe and featured their vision of the future of Technical Communications and information development. Apparently that future includes video.

Video has been available to many for a few years now, yet it is never really the main focus of a documentation team. Tom has questioned this as well:

“For too long I’ve minimized the importance of the audiovisual. Captivate — the industry standard tool for creating screen demos — is actually a relatively simple application. Mastering it and integrating audiovisual into user help will take it to the next level.”

This echoes what Adobe suggest, no big surprise there, but I have to admit that I don’t fully agree.

As a quick learning tool, I’m sure videos (screen demos) are useful, but I wouldn’t really know as I’ve never used one as a primary source for learning about a product and I’m not sure I know anyone who has. Of course that’s not to say they don’t have value and with some research into the intended audience I’m sure it can be proven that they have a valid place in the product documentation set.

However my initial thoughts on the matter are hard to shake.

It may be one of the unwritten rules of documentation, the rules that few people question and may well be inaccurately applied, but I’ve always operated under the assumption that people only use the documentation when they are stuck.

Of course this is a broad sweeping statement but I believe that it is true for the majority of software users. So, if that is the case, what is their mindset when they finally give in (having asked a co-worker and searched Google to no avail) and fire up the online help or open the user guide? Typically they will be annoyed and want an answer or fix pretty damn sharpish.

Why, in that case, would they even consider sitting through a 2 minute video that explains how to use the functionality with which they are currently battling?

To be fair, Tom isn’t suggesting this approach but I think it’s wise to counsel against this trend lest it be used too heavily. A few short demos of how to complete core tasks, accompanied by a comprehensive help system or user guide is the best balance.

My fear is that the “cool” effect will override sensibilities and we’ll be plagued by popup videos and worse in the future.

The written word certainly isn’t the only way to effectively communicate information, and as technology progresses we will all need to carefully match the available delivery mechanisms with the information we need to deliver. The key word here is “carefully”.

I’d love to hear from anyone who is already doing something like this, I’ve not used Captivate, nor offered any form of video as part of a documentation set before as they didn’t match the audience profile but I’d be interested in hearing how successful they were.