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Please stop with the video tutorials
61 points by drivingmenuts on Sept 24, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments
Seriously - to all you budding video stars out there with the video tutorials on how to use your product:

- I can read faster than you can talk.

- I need information, not personality.

By the time you've finished introducing yourself, I'm already frustrated. The online video medium may be great for bloggers, but when I'm seeking information, everything else is a distraction.

The use of text to provide information has two main advantages (that I can think of right away):

1. It's silent - no extraneous noise to disturb others.

2. It's repeatable - no need to scrub back and forth to absorb something that may not have been clear the first time.

The first time I can remember being subjected to a video tutorial was for Rails documentation, which apparently decided to eschew text for some over-produced video introduction. I'm probably not the typical user, but that one omission has pretty much put me off of Rails since the beginning.

The most recent offender is Apple, with some demo video on setting up an iTunes account (w/o credit card) which guarantees I have to give up 4-10 minutes of my life that I will never get back, without any guarantee of getting the information I need.

While I point out two examples, there are many, many more out there where video/animation/flashiness is the primary or only method of documentation. A tutorial video should always be a secondary method of providing information, never the first.

Really, it looks great: nice titles, expensive animation, very creative. Now, what are you trying to hide?

Remember: I can read faster than you can talk.

If you have been into teaching you would realize that there are different kinds of learners. Some prefer verbal material, others prefer more visual, while some others like written material. The vast majority however prefer a combination of the above.

While you can pour over tutorials on how to use Emacs; just watching a video of a power user using Emacs gives you a different impression. It is really a completely different experience.

Sometimes it is faster to produce a set of video tutorials than to prepare well-written documentation. Hence they make a call. However, I agree that written documentation is the best medium for long term (i.e. smaller, searchable etc)

So, rather than asking for one medium of instruction to stop, I would rather encourage the plurality. Let the end-user pick and choose whatever he/she likes.

Yes, exactly.

I personally don't like video tutorials. I rarely watch them. We don't have one on our site either. But many of our members have been asking us for one.

Our site also features video tutorials of other websites, and interestingly, I've heard many of our members cite these video tutorials as a major attraction of our site. They like that they can see essentially video demonstrations and tutorials of a website.

To each his own.

patio11's podcasts are great. He provides both the audio file and also the text transcript. If you read the transcript, he adds notes and context with in brackets.

We need more of this. Podcasts and videos don't work well for me at all and there are far too few transcripts around. The notes and context is going above and beyond right now but it really should be the norm as well.

His podcasts with the transcripts are great. A transcript should be the expectation for every well produced podcast. It not only helps those who prefer text and those who would prefer to skim the content, it aids those who aren't watching their native tongue to understand and gain from material. On the other hand, a transcript of a great discussion misses much of the inflection and some of the context that we get from listening.

Patio11 links a service that crowd-sources the translations, while the cost may be high for a beginning blogger it is peanuts for a startup or a high traffic site.

In one of my better elementary school science projects (not saying much, the rest were awful) I tried to compare auditory and visual learning in memorizing sets of numbers. The only result I remembered was that I learned better from reading the numbers on the page and that my siblings were different.

Same with Ryan Bates and Railscasts. Bringing it up since OP brought up Rails.

I hate video tutorials. I don't even have audio at work so if there's a video, I'm gone.

But even when I do have audio, I feel like I'm spending 6 minutes to get 30 seconds of information, which drives me nuts. The worst part is that if I need to reference something minor from the video later, I can't ctrl-f, I have to waste time seeking back and forth.

So yeah, people who make video tutorials I think should probably have their own special circle of hell.

It really depends on the target audience. I, for example, love to read documentation rather than watch videos. However, the users of my webapp (not technical at all) prefer video tutorials. We provide a large number of knowledgebase articles as well as video tutorials. Our video tutorials have 4x the click-through than our knowledgebase.

I think the tech community does prefer docs over video but, the rest of the world loves watching videos.

Not to knock your videos, but unless your knowledge base specifically includes written tutorials, that would be an apples-to-oranges comparison. If I'm a beginner, my hierarchy of preference would be written tutorial (illustrated) > video tutorial > technical manual.

Our knowledgebase is split into 3 different sections:

1. Step-by-Step how to articles (including screenshots)

2. Overviews and guides

3. Tips & Tricks

Why is this thread comment so unfocused? Firstly this has started with stating a broad statement of video tutorials suck which would appear to be for link bait reasons, but this broad statement is followed by a specific statement that shows he's talking about product tour videos and then it is recapped near the end with stating that video tutorials for programming suck. Lets me straight here...product tours are not video tutorials for starters and anything that focuses on a product aside from training of how to use a product are product tours and I personally believe they are tutorials at all.

- I can read faster than you can talk. Probably true but the question this leads me to is can you listen faster than you can read? If the video is HTML5 you can set the speed of the audio. At 2x speed I am becoming doubtful that you can read as fast as listening to the audio.

- I need information, not personality. Ignore the personality and take the information that you are in fact receiving still unless you're stating that the videos you have watched do not provide any information & only personality.

1. Headset, I didn't think people showed up to the workplace without these.

2. You are "scrubing" just with your eyes over the text; I am sure you reread something over & over until you fully understand it. This isn't that video tutorials are crappy but the UI of whatever is allowing you to watch the video sucks.

"guarantees I have to give up 4-10 minutes of my life that I will never get back, without any guarantee of getting the information I need." This also applies to the text version as well because there is never any guarantee that the information you are seeking is going to be there. If you want to argue out that the chances of the information being there in the text version is higher I'd agree but that isn't what you listed.

Perfect example of where a video tutorial trumps text... Udemy with Learn Python the hard way: http://www.udemy.com/learn-python-the-hard-way/ Way faster than reading the whole book especially when I was able to set the speed at 2x.

I don't believe this topic is even hacker news quality.

Audio speedup either generates chipmunk voice or cuts phonemes. Neither is an acceptable substitute, especially if one has hearing or cognitive issues. Even at 2X audio speed, I can still be halfway down a page while you're finishing the first paragraph thanks to an ability to skim information for keywords.

Personality is inescapable in a video presentation where either body or voice is present, unless the body and/or voice are computer generated. We are hard-wired to read body language or interpret inflection, even though we may be completely wrong.

If you're relying on the user having headphones, that's a mistaken assumption. There are any number of reasons that a person may not have headphones at the moment or ever. I have my own office, so I don't need headphones and I don't use them outside of my own home, in general, because I need to be aware of what's happening in the environment.

The UI for online video is pretty uniform across platforms. Yes, it sucks. To get a better UI with an actual, functioning scrub wheel, I would have to load it in Premiere or AfterEffects. However, the problem of chipmunk voice/missing phonemes applies just as much.

Well-written print documents will generally include a summary near the top that can be skimmed for informational cues in seconds. Furthermore, a standard page can be scanned for the same informational cues to localize the information. You cannot say the same about video.

I can't speak specifically to your Udemy class as I haven't taken it. However, printed course material can be re-read, taking in only the chunks that need to be re-read without having to remember a precise timecode and without having to spend much time in the preceding or following material.

Audio speedup either generates chipmunk voice or cuts phonemes.

I'm not a big fan of learning from video, but in the online classes I took this year, both on edX and on coursera, I found audio speedup perfectly functional.

"E-mail newsletters are so 90s, nobody reads them." .. "You can't charge $500 for an online course." .. "Video sucks, is a waste of time, write stuff instead."

Those of us in the business hear such false maxims all the time and just get on with doing what works, whether it's video, charging tons of money, sending people morse code, making people sign up for e-mail, or whatever. Do what works, not what people say they think works.

Amy Hoy did a great talk about this with lots of similar examples: https://vimeo.com/39750688

Video, whether it's tutorials or product demos, are useless to the deaf, heard-of-hearing, and blind. Transcripts or captioning go a long way, but they are very rare.

You may think this is a small market, but more and more people are becoming hearing-impaired, and at increasingly younger ages.

As a hearing-impaired person (since birth), if all you have are uncaptioned videos with little text (and often NO text), I'll just be moving right along, your website is useless (to me).

Update: Just to be clear: For tutoring videos, I spend my money based on what's captioned. There are plenty of online video training sites: codeschool.com, treehouse.com, lynda.com, etc. I pay for the ones that are captioned, and look longingly at the ones that are not, as some of them look quite good otherwise. Ditto for streaming video - Amazon doesn't support captioning, Netflix (finally!) does.

I'm on the fence about this. I was teaching an introductory computer science class last summer and used case studies as one of the main elements of the class (this is when we discuss how to solve a problem and I would code the solution in front of the class; usually 10-15 minutes or so). It worked very well for the class, but several people indicated in the exit survey that they would prefer a recorded version (even though they would lose the interactivity) as they could refer back to the things they missed or didn't quite understand.

I also recorded several short demos for the IDE I've been working on (http://studio.zerobrane.com/) as demonstrating live coding or live debugging seems to be much more effective when you can see it in action rather than read about it: http://studio.zerobrane.com/tutorials.html

I'm with you on the fence here, I just think it depends on context. drivingmenuts seems to be talking (at least from the examples) about "how to guides/documentation" that is your usual stackoverflow, google run'of the mill "how do I solve this problem". For all those cases I think he's right on the money. when reading you can skim and find a solution to a specific problem way faster than watching any video. Also for me, all I ever want from these kinds of posts is almost always some the souce code, which means I barely read anything else anyway. But when it comes to acquiring new knowledge (ie. learning as apposed to just "refreshing" or filling in some obscure hole), I think it can be helpful to watch a video because you get commentary and the whole thought process behind whatever concepts are being presented.

I agree. I think for those who are learning, seeing the thought process behind something is very important (as long as they are paying attention). I have also seen research that shows that "speaking aloud" improves your own learning and retention, so seeing someone else to do it is helpful too. Even having a transcript is deficient to some degree as you don't see a correlation with actions and because you lose timing aspect.

I would add:

3. I can search through text or skim it to see if it even contains what I'm looking for, and to skip the parts I already know.

I'll take this time to plug my startup: http://tutorialize.me

It lets you quickly and painlessly add tutorials to any page, without taking users off the page. Not the same as a video tutorial, but in many ways better.

If you hate video tutorials, try ours and let us know what you think!

Why should I use your service rather than take 10 minutes to implement my own popups?

Because you can spend the 10 minutes building something more interesting. In all likelyhood it's more than 10 minutes over the lifetime of the tips. For example, if someone wants to change or add one. Or if they work and you want to add another. Why not let someone else make them and spend engineering time on your actual product?

Yeah, video tutorials are the worst. I can either view the video full screen in an attempt to read the code which is being presented (while losing the ability to type along in my editor), or squint and type. Even in a primarily visual program (such as Unity3D) I prefer text-based tutorials.

By my lights, the most effective application of "video tutorials" is not as tutorials at all, but rather as marketing tools, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. In the best cases, watching a mercifully-brief video "tutorial" gives me a sense of what it actually looks like and feels like to use some tool/framework/language/whatever. That helps me decide whether it's something I want to dig into deeper (say, by using ACTUAL tutorials, reading docs, etc.), or whether it's something I can safely ignore.

I... what... you need to give me back the time I wasted reading this post. You talk about product demos, learning tutorials, and demos. These are not all the same thing, and have different use cases.

Remember that not everyone learns the same way. Some people are visual learners. So if you're saying that video is bad for teaching people a new concept or technology, then you're just wrong. It works extremely well for a massive amount of people.

Visual learners, like myself, can look at pictures. It's still more convenient than watching a video IMO.

Everything in moderation. Long intro videos are annoying and off-putting but so is a very big chunk of text. Why not a little of both? A short paragraph, or better yet a list of that your services are, and a short <45s about your services.

You can provide more information and longer videos afterwards in a specialized section, when the user has been successfully engaged and is willing to invest time in learning about your services.

>I can read faster than you can talk.

This is my biggest problem with video tutorials, and why I skipped so many lectures in college. I found a good compromise for me is to listen to video lectures at 2-3x speed. I'd prefer a textbook style format, but as arocks mentions it's often faster to produce video lectures, so I find there is a lot of great information out there on video but not in any kind of text/book format.

I concur and I do understand why they do make those kind of videos for the portion of the population that prefers watching videos to reading but I don't get why it so seems to be such a dichotomy.

I often see videos tutorial/documentation by themselves even if videos and text complement each other very well. Once the script for a videos is written, a good part of it could be reused for a text blurb.

This applies to kickstarter projects (for me) as well. The majority of projects I've backed (32) I do so before ever watching the promo video (if I do at all).

As mentioned in other comments, everyone has their personal taste. I feel I'm probably an outlier regarding kickstarter, but nevertheless it is a good reason to keep your write ups high quality.

In general: totally agree.

Exception: when what's being taught is essntially visual. One example that's been relevant recently for me is a video showing how to solve a particular puzzle in Portal 2 (a video game). Describing the solution in prose would have been horrible.

PhotoShop tutorials can also work better as video than as text.

Exceptions should not be of the form of "replace text with video" but rather "supplement text with video". If nothing else, consider the accessibility aspect of it, let alone those of us who will do better with the text source almost every time.

> In general: totally agree. > > Exception: when what's being taught is essntially visual.

"Visual" does not imply "video".

- I scan through a bunch of pictures quicker than I can watch a video.

I agree, I hate those slide presentations too. If its about programming, I want to read it, period. I don't want to watch a video or go through a slideshow

yes. advantage 3... text is still easier for search engines....so it's nicely indexable and as a result, more likely to land up in your search results.

+1. I almost never make it through a video tutorial. The only exceptions are Railscasts, and my batting average there is only .500.

I hate video tutorials, but people seem to love those things. How about the best of both worlds a la RailsCast / AsciiCast?

Possible counterexample: http://xiki.org/screencasts/

Good for you, but please understand that there are others who learn much better with a video tutorial.

Video information cannot (yet) be indexed so you cannot look up the information on Google.

Agreed. Don't give me video tours of your product, either. Give me screenshots with text.

Go away troll.

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