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April 20, 2011

Video has not killed the tech comm star

Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf asks: How important is video to technical authors?

Graham argues you cannot afford to ignore video. Whilst it is a requirement for your company’s online (i.e Web site) presence, do audiences expect it in the online Help and other forms of support documentation? Possibly not yet, but how long will it be before video is a fundamental part of User Assistance?

I’m not sure I agree that video is a requirement for an online presence, but I do think it’s important to think about how video will affect what the tech comm profession does to reach end users. We shouldn’t implement video, though, just because it’s cool or what we perceive to be The Next Big Thing.  Considerations to evaluate before implementing video include:

  • Audience. If your audience is video-savvy and expects video, you probably need to deliver video. On the flip side, don’t use video as a way to get around providing text when your users really prefer the written word (in print, online help, knowledge bases, PDF, or whatever).
  • Accessibility. How does your video content accommodate those with visual and hearing impairments? Not only is it just plain wrong to shut out a whole group of end users, you can also get into legal trouble for not providing accessible information.
  • Hardware/software requirements. A lot of video right now is Flash-based. That’s a problem if you’re delivering content to many smartphones now on the market.

That list is hardly exhaustive. (Yes, I borrowed it from my original comment on Ellis’s post. Consider it single sourcing!)

I know video can play a useful part in user assistance: I’ve watched video clips on YouTube to figure out how to use features on my phone, and Scriptorium included short clips with voiceovers with the FrameMaker workbooks we wrote years ago. I don’t think, however, that video will supplant the work we do. It’s another medium for delivering information to end users, and we should use it only when it’s suitable for a particular audience and after developing a business case that lays out the requirements and ramifications.

P.S. There’s no way I’m going to pass up the chance to post this video: