Screencasting: the Future of Technical Communication, with STC’s Raymond K. Archee

In the March 2008 issue of Intercom (the magazine for the Society for Technical Communication), Column Editor Raymond K. Archee does an especially nice job in the article, “Sreencasting—the Future of Technical Communication,”describing screencasting and considering its implications for the future of technical communication.

The Growing Role of Video in Technical Documentation

This is the same Intercom issue, where in a different article, “Adobe Pleased with ‘Suite’ Success,” Michael Hu, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Adobe, had this to say when asked, “Does Adobe foresee a greater future role for video in technical communication?”

Yes, but not just video. Rich interactive information and user experiences are a trend that all Adobe embraces. First of all, we live in a global marketplace. As companies reach new markets, the need to localize information increases, but more important is the ability to effectively communicate to a broader audience. In many situations, it is easier to communicate visually and easier to localize the content if the information is visual.

Second, the next generation of customers, decision makers, consumers of information, etc., live in a world of instant information, with less text and many times more visual information.

Finally, we need to think about how we author, manage, and deliver this interactive information and user experience, with some of the new industry trends affecting Web development, such as AIR
(p. 4).

Screencasting, Defined

Reflecting on the future of technical communication, Archee defines screencasting, also known as online video/animation, in this way:

Screencasting, which allows novice users to understand how to use a certain program or service, consists of a computer-based recording of an experienced user, demonstrating how to use a program or interface. The screencast can be accompanied by a voiceover to add a documentary-like quality, and it has numerous advantages for software training: the added realism of the screen versus paper-based or static online screens, ease of use, and low cost (compared with traditional training or real video recording). My experience with students shows it to be an extremely effective medium of instruction and training (p. 37).

Screencasting Software: Captivate vs. Camtasia

According to Archee, there are two main programs—Adobe Captivate and Techsmith Camtasia—that “allow users to create small videos/animations assembled from screen captures, text, comments, picture files, audio, and actual video” (p. 39). “Usually, the output is placed on the Web, in the form of Flash-based tutorials or demonstrations.”

Archee considers tutorials as “carefully paced, interactive sessions, whereas a demonstration is traditionally a noninteractive video” (p. 39).

Captivate and Camtasia take rather different approaches to creating these online videos/animations. Camtasia started as a video creation tool—it records an exemplary video file of a single session of expert software usage, complete with mouse clicks. You can add extra tracks for captions, callouts, and narration (p. 40).

Meanwhile, Captivate “is much more object-oriented, with screen captures, buttons, text, comments, audio, and extra video that have their own timing.” There is no central focus in Captivate, which is used similarly to PowerPoint, slide by slide,” Archee explains (p. 39).

The Future Is Here

Archee prefers Captivate (despite its premium price, at $799, as of 3/2010) to Camtasia (at $299) because he says Captivate “allows you to produce a kind of super PowerPoint presentation, available for an online audience”…You can use the screen captures and mouse clicks, or you can simply use text, in the form of comment and buttons,” he recommends.

On the other hand, Archee observes,  “if you are coming from a video or animation background, you will probably find Camtasia a more comfortable transition” (p. 39).

Still, Archee foresees a future, already at hand, where Captivate “has the potential to author any manual, document, animation, or video and combine these media in highly effective and creative ways” (p. 39).

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