Video Killed the RoboHelp Star

Bob Maynard   May 1, 2009
smpte-video-color-bars1Press play for instant video help gratification. (image via ffffound!)

The breakdown: for your next help content assignment, consider creating screencastsvideo snapshots with narrationto demonstrate core features of a website or application.

Let’s face it: most help files suck. They bore, they complicate, they fail to illuminate their subject and cause needless frustration for the user. On the other hand, few things are as rewarding in life (online or off) as clear, simple, genuinely helpful assistance. Could be a well-written manual, a lucid diagram, or friendly tutorial. So why don’t we see more of the good stuff?

On a recent project for a major digital radio client, I had the opportunity to take a different approach to developing help content. The project involved creating a stand-alone, iTunes-esque desktop application to manage and record audio. Like most projects, somewhere along the way our feature set became… complicated. The team’s first reaction was to post a sizeable HTML help file to help users grok the interactions. But we thought we could do better by adding video screencasts to appeal to visually-oriented users.

With Jing, an awesome, free screencast tool from TechSmith (known for Snagit and Morae), we recorded several 30-second walkthroughs of the music application’s core features such as creating playlists, recording shows and uploading files. We slapped a 3-second title card at the beginning of each video, posted them to YouTube and effectively expanded the project’s help content beyond the stock HTML or RoboHelp format.

As Michael Pollan has repeatedly pointed out, diversity is critical for a healthy ecosystem. If you’re developing a help “system”, consider adding multiple formats of content to assist your users. Some people prefer video, others may prefer text, but by diversifying your support can only make your content more appetizing and consumable for a range of users.

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4 Responses

  1. nick heasman says:

    two things:
    first, you remind me that Nick Yee makes a similar point about mmorpgs (http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/gateway_complexplay.html). the range of interaction possibilities (voice/chat teamwork, avatar personalization, skill/wealth accumulation, guild identity experimentation, etc) is what gives the genre considerable success. Pollan’s point is huuuge. Diversity is key. For us UX, one might say, supporting choice is key.

    second, you used everyday tools to create an experience that keeps pace with the consumer experience, requiring less of people to get used to what you presented. massive win.

  2. bob maynard says:

    Thanks, Nick, for “celebrating diversity” with me, or as you say, “supporting choice.” Right on. It’s actually easier than it seems. Too often we overlook the freebie tools at our fingertips. I’ll bet that in the coming months/years we’ll see UX design head in a much more practical direction, incorporating simple web tools like Jing.

  3. Casey Frick says:

    Hi Bob,
    Whenever there’s a more humanistic way showing a human how to do something there tends to be a higher success rate. This also creates a perceived transparency to a company speeding the customer relationship.

  4. […] video replace online help? Maybe […]

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