Including .avi files in online help?

Subject: Including .avi files in online help?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2001 10:20:31 -0500

Cathy Arthur reports: <<We have a rather large online help system that
documents a fairly complex program... The product is released on CD and the
help is also available from our FTP site. Management gave us a mandate that
specified no
printed documentation, so the tutorials have to remain online... I am
looking at using Camtasia to capture some of the procedures and include them
in the help. My intent is that if they want to see how to set up functions
they can click on a link that will launch the file, probably in avi
format.>>

I haven't used .avi files, and have some reluctance to do so, particularly
if users must download subseqent updates from the Web site (this takes
_forever_ with multimedia files) or if you're not certain that everyone
who'll be using the product can view these files. You mentioned that the
users are non-experts, and I've had occasional problems getting .avi files
to run on my Mac. (All it took was an update of the QuickTime Player
application, but not all non-expert users will know that or know what to do
if the video doesn't run. And if comprehension depends on viewing the
video...)

That being said, some processes really do benefit from a video description,
and if you can do some testing to ensure that the problems I've mentioned
aren't killers, then it may very well be a good solution. Just don't assume
that everyone will be able to benefit from video, and make sure that the
video runs slowly enough that viewers can see each important "checkpoint"
step along the way. If you can't test to be sure that the video will run
without lots of fiddling on the part of the users, I'd urge you to consider
"serial animation" (think "comic strips") instead of video. In this
approach, you show a series of static images showing the progress of the
process, rather than a dynamic video that shows every single microsecond
along the way. This has several advantages over video: it produces much
smaller files, you can easily label each image to highlight the important
points that viewers must watch for, it doesn't require the viewer to
endlessly replay the video until they see and understand all the important
stages, and it will work on any platform (provided you use a standard
graphics format such as .gif).

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at
www.raycomm.com/techwhirl/usersadvocate.html

"How are SF writers like technical writers? Well, we both write about the
things we imagine will happen in the future!"--Sue Gallagher

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