Sciology = Science + Technology

Commonsense in Technology

Videos as Next generation documentation

Posted by sureshkrishna on March 6, 2008

Have you ever spent hours and hours, reading a document and to get some help to accomplish a simple task. I am sure many of us did this. Many of the product and training material that we have are predominantly in the following category.

  • Word Documents
  • PDF Documents
  • Post Script
  • CHM File
  • HTML Files
  • and others (which i have not used)

We normally take a printout of the document to know the system, functionality, how-to, etc… At the end of the 2-3 hour read, we are still not sure how to accomplish a task and what are the new features in the product. With one of my previous client that i worked with, we did a lot of videos, which seemed to be a very effective way and customers love them. Taking videos of some speaker/presentation and some special demos have been in the industry for a long time. Making a video can be particularly suitable for the following scenarios.

  • Task focused training material for a larger audience
  • Showcase the preview of your product
  • Complex installation instructions
  • Knowledge transfer to colleagues (in a geographically-distributed environment)

Following are some of the practical benefits for the company and the end-user.

Product Company :

  • Its easy. Instead of spending the $s on the huge documentation, its easy to do a professional quality screen casts.
  • Many corporate users are task focused. Its easy to make small screen casts, focused on a single task.
  • With the Audio and Video built in, its a value addition in the “Documentation” process.
  • Its a pain to make the “screen shots” of the software and then describe each and every step that you would want to do. Screen casts makes it easy as its simple to perceive and understand.
  • Installation of a product could be tedious and error prone, if not done carefully. When there is a screen cast describing the installation steps, its not easy to go wrong.

Customer / End user :

  • Reading material to find out a specific information is time taking. Task focused screen casts can reduce this time.
  • No one would like to repeat installations. Its no fun. Screen casts can avoid this.
  • Its easy to grasp certain steps to complete a task by LOOKING at a screen cast rather than reading documents.

Its very important to differentiate the Podcasts, Webinars and Documentation Videos (Podcasts and Webinars are NOT documentation videos). This might not be suitable for the source code and API documentation.

Following are some of the companies that have a very good documentation via videos.

I am sure some of the above mentioned points are applicable for your organization too. I would be glad to see your comments and experiences on “Videos as Next generation documentation”.


6 Responses to “Videos as Next generation documentation”

  1. chris said

    Personally, I absolutely hate this trend. Or at least the trend I see of videos replacing What’s New lists or text-based tutorials. Text I can search and find what I’m looking for in seconds. I can glance over documents and see if they cover anything I’m interested in.

    With videos I’m forced to spend minutes watching someone slowly demonstrating features I haven’t the slightest interest in, only to discover something I hoped would be in the video is completely missing.

    A video demonstrating a complex installation process I can understand — this is a very linear task and everything the creator does is something I’ll probably have to do as well. But even so, please be sure all your documentation is also available in a text format!

  2. Sonam Makhija said

    Hi!! Videos are an option and should be chosen wherever a lengthy document can become difficult to follow and challenging imagination to be more vivid may be difficult for many. Videos can be indexed into chapters to help a viewer to see relevant areas of his interest. Anther thing about videos is that they can be uploaded on sites like where they can be used to educate others with minimum efforts. Although videos may not replace documents and books on the subject, they definitely are a good option for people to learn fast without going through every written letter.

  3. Jim DeLorenzo said

    Thanks for the interesting post, Suresh. I’m from Nexaweb and we definitely appreciate that developers want lots of documentation so we provide it online. Video tutorials offer a complementary way of conveying similar information but in a different format that some people find useful. The key, of course, is keeping them focused and not so long that the viewer starts to tune out.

  4. Hi Jim,

    My previous employer was in Ajax/SOA. So, i do understand the importance of the documentation, especially when developers need those funky, hidden APIs from an AJAX framework. Even i do not see a replacement of the developer documentation with videos in the near future. But, its definitely “elegant” way to present the task focussed videos to the users. I do respect the ideas and expectations of a developer and business user. When business user would want to use the product, he is more interested to accomplish tasks in a short time with out any errors and difficulties. In short, business users are more “task” centric than developers. This is where videos help them.


  5. With videos I’m forced to spend minutes watching someone slowly demonstrating features I haven’t the slightest interest in, only to discover something I hoped would be in the video is completely missing.

    This is where i am emphasizing on the “Task based” videos. These kind of videos are very short and to point. Its very important to understand that we are not talking about the “developer documentation”. We are talking about a typical business user. simple day to day tasks for a banking application could be…
    * How-to create a Checking Account
    * How-to create a Savings Account
    * How-to create spending analysis charts , etc…
    If you can imagine above tasks, they might typically last 1-2 minutes and at the end of it, user would know all the screen that you need to use, all the different key strokes that you need, when to use what ?, etc…

    Imagine a task based video against 10 pages of document with screen shots, description, etc… Its just that many people are better at perceiving things better with “Audio and Visual” effects than reading “Text”.

  6. Paul said

    I’ve often used videos as an addendum for documentation. The real issue is, you often don’t know the technical level of the target audience. If documents have too much detail, advanced users ignore them, too little and others are lost.

    Using a program called Wink ( I’ve created flash videos that walk a user through a process. The visual media allows it to be useful by less advanced users and advanced users won’t find it patronizing. It also gives a “proof” that whatever your are documenting actually does work.

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