Scott Hanselman

Your Opinion Matters - Screencast Techniques Survey

December 13, '07 Comments [33] Posted in ASP.NET | Microsoft | Musings
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iStock_000004645314XSmall Hi Dear Reader, I'd like you to SOUND OFF.

As you may know, part of my job at Microsoft will be creating technical screencasts, like the IIS FastCGI one and the MVC Intro.

A lot of really smart people and co-workers have created a lot of screencasts and my probing is not meant to diminish anything that they've done. However, I see a lot of screencasts that are fairly static, recorded with fairly low-quality audio and I have a postulate that some post-production and a few dozen techniques with some preparation can turn a good screencast into a great one.

Next year I plan to do lots of these, so I've been practicing. I've watch lots of screencasts and decided that panning, zooming and PIP - when used appropriately - enhance the experience. Of course, it takes an order of magnitude more work to pull off.

That said, I'd like to collect some data about your opinion on the matter. Before I go singing the praises of pans and zooms and talking heads, I'd like to get some actual data.

Do me a favor and please answer this SHORT 8-question Survey on Technical Screencast Techniques. It'll take literally 1 minute of your time. Your answer is anonymous, and your IP address will NOT be collected. I'll share the results in a few weeks.

There are at least 22,000 of you subscribed, so I'd love to get at least 1000 responses. Please do forward this survey to your technical friends, family and neighbors.

Thanks folks, I appreciate your time.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007 7:18:27 AM UTC
Keep them coming folks! Some really interesting results so far...

One fellow wanted subtitles for deaf and non-English speakers. That's a really interesting suggestion.
One guy found all the zooming and panning to be totally distracting and basically useless. That surprised me.
One person hates the mouse click red circles. That's a statistical outlier. (sorry)
Folks want low-bandwidth and high-bandwidth options...preferrably by lowering the resolution.
One guy thought the questions were a little leading. Quite possibly they are. I tried to include positive and negative statements though. However, when I do that, folks misread and mark Strongly Agree when they mean the opposite.
Thursday, December 13, 2007 7:45:26 AM UTC
I just get a big green screen that says: This survey is currently closed. Please contact the author of this survey for further assistance.
Thursday, December 13, 2007 7:46:28 AM UTC
Scott, just tried your survey link at 12:43 a.m. MTN time and received the following message:

"This survey is currently closed. Please contact the author of this survey for further assistance."

Have you hit the ceiling for responses already or is this just a glitch?
Mark
Thursday, December 13, 2007 7:49:13 AM UTC
Me too. it said - survey is currently closed, blah blah blah.
So until it's back on, here are my comments:
1. audio quality: extremely important if the caster's English sounds weird (like mine). Yours is good so it's less of a matter.
2. portable devices: I guess it's important, though my portable is a laptop ... I think that people with portable players know how to transfer avi/wmv to the needed format.
3. too much PIP: when not coding - PIP is gr8. when coding - it's a distraction
4. PIP: but it's gr8. gives personality to the cast
5. only capture & audio: see 4
6. pan and zoom: only when needed. it's better to just have larger fonts as it can spin your head
7. mouse: see the mouse = know what's going on
8. minimal visual clutter: while coding - yes. while making a point - visuals are good
Thursday, December 13, 2007 8:07:58 AM UTC
Crap...I overflowed the free account in less than an hour. I'm upgrading now. Sorry.
Thursday, December 13, 2007 8:10:02 AM UTC
Ok, fixed. We can go to 1000 now.
Thursday, December 13, 2007 8:59:40 AM UTC
yes, that worked a whole lot better
Thursday, December 13, 2007 10:03:35 AM UTC
I've done the survey already, but could I also add a +1 to subtitles. I wish all screencasts had them, so I can watch at work without disturbing others (headphones aren't really an option).

Andrew
Thursday, December 13, 2007 10:18:58 AM UTC
Done! Now you have my survery. I hope it will help...
Thursday, December 13, 2007 10:56:05 AM UTC
I'll just repeat my comment from the survey as I guess with a 1000 responses it might get lost ;-)

In my opinion your last screencast with the MVC is a first class example of how a screencast should be. Having a little PIP with you is brilliant - makes the presentation much more personal, and the zoom+pan is a great way to ensure focus on the essential.

Any chance that you'll do a post on how you do the screencasts + your audio setup? I know you're using Camtasia, but some insights on how you use the PIP and the Zoom/Panning would be really great (as I just bought Camtasia for doing some screencasts on our umbraco cms :o)).

Keep it up - and remember to enjoy your leave as well ;)
Thursday, December 13, 2007 11:09:16 AM UTC
To me, the most important aspect of a screencast is conciseness. Since I have to devote my undivided attention to the screencast, it is frustrating when the presenter doesn't stay on topic and get to the point. I have closed quite a few screencasts after a few minutes, thinking "there is no way this guy is going to waste another ten minutes of my life, when I could just figure it out myself by the time he gets to the point."

That said, I watched every minute of your MVC screencast. I like the pan/zoom a lot, in moderation.
Thursday, December 13, 2007 11:25:18 AM UTC
On the theme of subtitles: if taking the time to add them, make sure they are a separate stream that can be enabled/disabled. Nothing worse than trying to see code underneath subtitles ;)
I'm just this guy, you know?
Thursday, December 13, 2007 12:50:02 PM UTC
I stated it in the survey but I will repeat here for conversation: I liked the zooming but I thought it was a little over the top in use. If it were toned down a bit, it would be great. I am not sure if it is the number of frames for the zoom but there was something distracting about the way it zoomed, but the idea and use of the zoom is great.

What did you use to produce it?
Thursday, December 13, 2007 1:09:53 PM UTC
subtitle!!!
jack
Thursday, December 13, 2007 1:24:23 PM UTC
Hey Now Scott,
Videos are a really great way to learn. Sometimes having the audio only is nice too, such as to be able to listen to the mp3.
Thx,
Catto
Thursday, December 13, 2007 1:59:06 PM UTC
The MVC screencast was one of the best I've seen. It was the perfect blend of conceptual level commentary and practical how-to steps. The PIP helps as long as it is done in moderation and primarily on the conceptual parts because it helps provide visual communication queues that can aid in comprehension. The panning is also helpful when done in moderation as long as it is used only to highlight a particularly crucial or difficult piece of code. This lets me know that I need to pay extra attention to the syntax of the code to grok it. Emphasizing the mouse clicks is a good idea, but I personally would find an effect that is a little more subtle.

The key for all of these techniques is that they are done in moderation and with a specific purpose, otherwise they will make the screencast worse rather than better. However, I think you're on the right track so far for developing screen casts that are much higher quality than the norm.

Excellent work!
Thursday, December 13, 2007 2:11:51 PM UTC
I've found that watching video tutorials is an excellent way to learn. Not only can you jump to a certain point in the video (just like a book) you also get to see someone actually doing what it is you're learning.

Some books can be a little dry, but with video the presenter's charisma can make the learning experience more engaging.

More videos!
Thursday, December 13, 2007 2:23:55 PM UTC
I second all of the prior comments about the MVC screencast being excellent.

One feature that I find missing with screencasts currently is the idea of chapters or the ability to jump to sections. For example, if I wanted to go back and review a particular section of a screencast, I could go by chapters or something.

When I find really good screencasts, I tend to save them to my hard drive for future review or to show my coworkers. If I could jump to chapters or sections or maybe bookmark sections for later, that would be great.

I realize that my feature requests go far beyond standard video of course :-) This is a wish list I guess. And I'd like a pony, too.
Thursday, December 13, 2007 3:07:03 PM UTC
please share the results of the survey after it is closed!
Dominik
Thursday, December 13, 2007 3:54:32 PM UTC
Having the presenters mug PIP if you're recording a live presentation is a great thing, you're naturally reacting to the audience. Not too sure how much value it adds in a "guy in a room alone" screencast. Maybe just for the intro and outro.

The panning and scanning and zooming on the code is great.
Thursday, December 13, 2007 5:56:34 PM UTC
Emphasizing the mouse clicks works when knowing where to click is relevant to the subject matter. I didn't think it was for the MVC screencast. My mind didn't have any problem ignoring them though. It remains to be seen whether or not this will be a problem for me in the future when they are important to the subject matter.

The panning in the MVC screencast was great, if you are doing something onscreen related to the subject matter, it needs to always be visible. Zooming was good in it as well, but it seemed (my perception, not necessarily reality) like there were a few ocassions where the primary focus of the material had shifted away from the zoomed area. It was distracting to be stuck looking at just the zoomed area even though we had moved on. (Zooming in on the templates in the MVC screencast comes to mind)

I agree with everyone who has said PiP is good when talking about concepts and not coding. I agree with the comment about trying to read code behind subtitles.

Having chapters/bookmarks would be great - not being able to efficiently "skim" past info I do not need/want is the primary reason I do not consume much non-written media.

The MVC screencast was great! I look forward to more of them.
BrianE
Thursday, December 13, 2007 6:45:49 PM UTC
The MVC screencast was the best I've ever seen. I recommended it to my whole team and friends. Very cool stuff. I'd like to see a blog post (or perhaps I've missed it) on how you created the screencast: tools, techniques, etc. I work remotely and would love to be able to create screencasts for internal use similar to the MVC screencast you did.

Thanks,
-Tyler
Thursday, December 13, 2007 7:56:59 PM UTC
Panning and zooming works. http://picasa.google.com/web/mac_tools.html.
Cayne
Thursday, December 13, 2007 8:43:26 PM UTC
I watched the MVC screencast on my Zune today, totally watchable/workable. The panning and zooming made it totally work on the small screen. Eggcellent.
GrantC
Thursday, December 13, 2007 8:53:35 PM UTC
The survey response repository is full :(

I was really looking forward to respond to this survey.
Thursday, December 13, 2007 8:56:42 PM UTC
whats a screencast?
Thursday, December 13, 2007 9:04:46 PM UTC
I really like the way Beth Massi has done PIP
Jason
Thursday, December 13, 2007 9:40:25 PM UTC
Well, I guess I was lucky to get my response in before it closed...
Friday, December 14, 2007 12:30:53 AM UTC
Try to zoom out when do some action with the mouse, to show exactly what are you clicking.

Thanks
Friday, December 14, 2007 1:46:17 AM UTC
Check out this screen cast as it uses good zoom and pan techniques and has chapters:
<a href"http://www.telerik.com/ClientsFiles/product.videos/35/" target="_blank">www.telerik.com/ClientsFiles/product.videos/35</a>
In IE6 I need to hard refresh the page to play video.

I will post other example when I find good ones :)

Alex
Friday, December 14, 2007 2:12:20 AM UTC
I think you mean there are at least 22,000 people who have *ever* subscribed. Who knows how many are subscribed now. Unfortunately there's no such thing as an unsubscribe which is caught by the feed aggregators.
Joe
Friday, December 14, 2007 3:45:34 AM UTC
Having done a couple dozen screencasts with Camtasia, I would offer the following suggestions:

1. Panning and Zooming is a necessity to keep the video small enough at 640x480 or 800x600 (typical video sizes) while still allowing users to read the text. The key is to use it effectively. In the previous video it appeared that you relied too much on the "default" panning and zooming. My experience is that you should keep the panning/zooming to a minimum by editing the defaults. Often by zooming out just slightly, you eliminate the jerky appearance that occurs with the Camtasia defaults and can keep more content in frame thus reducing the need to pan. This results in smaller file sizes (panning and zooming increases the number of pixels changing from frame to frame).

2. PIP is best reserved for sections of video where there are no other actions occurring on screen. Don't split your user's attention. When you are using PIP, speak to the Camera and not your monitor - engage with your audience and not with Visual Studio. This is probably a hint. If you are forced to look at the monitor then it probably indicates that your users will also want to be look at that content as well.

3. The ASP.Net Intro is very professional... the title screen - not so much. A little time with a graphic artist from the marketing dept. should yield a good background which can be used on the title screen to give it the needed polish to go with the rest of the video.
Friday, December 14, 2007 9:13:05 AM UTC
Can you perhaps also mention which tools you are using to create your screencasts, as I'm making some too.
Currently I use Camtasia 4, and I'll be upgrading to version 5 shortly.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.