Annoyances: Video Tutorials

I’ve ranted about this before in another post, but it’s so damnably obnoxious that I can’t contain myself.

Before I start, I want to address the disagreement some of you are bound to have–yes, yes, I know that video tutorials have their place. For example, they might be exceedingly helpful for individuals whose tech level is below such threshold that they have a difficult time understanding the difference between left and right click. Or perhaps it’s a topic that requires some visual guidance such as conceptual demonstrations for Blender, Photoshop, or various other things that are highly interactive and not easily explained. (I still appeal that a skilled writer can explain anything with the written word that a video tutorial can–it’s just that some things are easier to convey visually.)

That, of course, is not the point of this post. The point is that there is a right way to illustrate simple concepts such as a single configuration change in an OS, and there are many more wrong ways to do the same thing.

Here’s an example. I haven’t (until recently) been using Ubuntu much, mostly because I’m in the process of abandoning Gentoo. Thus, I couldn’t remember specifically how to move the window interaction widgets (close, minimize, and maximize) to the right. I immediately stumbled across numerous sites that had embedded Youtube videos like this one.

I promptly closed them.

Video tutorials are a time sink. Generally, the viewer will have wasted at least one minute listening to someone introduce themselves, why they’re important, and then rant about whatever solution they’re going to demonstrate. Then, when the star of the show finally gets to the meat of a discussion that should take less than 15 seconds to explain, they invariably drone on and on about what items to click on, where to enter the change, and we get to stumble over each typo with our hapless host for 20 painful seconds. Once we’re finally presented with useful information, our brains have collectively rotted so severely that we have no recollection of what we were initially researching or attempting to resolve. This is the wrong way to share information. Worse, if one were to add up the total time consumed by video tutorials, minus the 5 seconds of useful information, there are hundreds of hours being wasted every day. It may not be Farmville, but it is close.

Side note: I’m not picking on the video I linked to above–I actually haven’t watched it–but I did see one earlier today where it took the individual recording it about 5 attempts to type gconf-editor correctly.

How then is the right way to do this? Easy. Howtogeek typically does things the right way in a manner that is insanely easy to follow, and you’d have to be comatose to have any difficulty with their tutorials. There are many more examples of how to illustrate a very simple concept quickly and efficiently, both in terms of time and bandwidth.

In other words, a good rule of thumb to follow is that if you can explain the concept in less than a paragraph, a video tutorial is like nuking your house from orbit because you’re too inept to fumble around for a slipper to kill that pesky house spider. That there are video tutorials on how to boil water worries me. Has our society grown so collectively dependent on instant gratification that we can’t so much as spend the time to read something?

Hint: It almost always takes longer to sit and watch an instructional video than it otherwise would to read those same instructions. Ever wonder why those cabinet kits you buy at the store have a piece of folded paper stuffed inside the hardware bag instead of a DVD? Paper is cheaper, for one, and for two, the average consumer is free to stare at the diagram (usually poorly written) for as long as they like; with an equally poorly recorded instructional video, I can only imagine that same consumer replaying the same 5 second segment two or three dozen times trying to figure out that the wooden dowel does, in fact, go inside the hole.

Let me reiterate my pet peeve about frivolous video tutorials:

Stop.

This.

Insanity.

Right.

Now.

Your unnecessary video tutorials are wasting bandwidth, and for most people looking for a quick solution (or reminder), a video tutorial is simply going to waste their time. Certainly, video tutorials are handy for individuals who may not know where to click on something, but I don’t see how it’s any faster than making a single post with a handful of easy to follow written instructions. Click here, click here, type this, press enter, look for item X, change it to Y, click close, done. See? Easy.

For those of you who link to every single obnoxious video tutorial on Youtube for all of your woes, please stop. Find something more meaningful like a textual post. It might surprise you to discover that some of us know how to read.

Video rots the brain, and get off my lawn.

Update: I decided to do some research, and while it doesn’t specifically address video tutorials, I think that usability expert Jakob Nielsen has an article worth reading that targets video on the web. It’s not the same thing, but I do feel that it applies tangentially to this topic.

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Dreams are Weird

I haven’t had much of a chance to catch up on a few things I was hoping to post about, but I had the most unusual experience Tuesday morning. It was so strange, in fact, that I can’t help myself from sharing it with you.

I have almost always had trouble sleeping. As far back as I can remember, I tossed and turned most school nights for whatever silly reasons kept a young boy of that age awake. I suppose it would have been (and may still be) diagnosed as some form of insomnia, but I confess that sometimes–sometimes–it is worth more to me than all the gold in the world.

Monday night/Tuesday morning was one such experience. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t get any sleep because every thirty minutes I was waking up laughing. I’m not talking about a foggy-minded chuckle, either. You know the sort: You’ve stayed up far later than any sane person would otherwise do and everything is just stupidly hialrious. Except it totally wasn’t like that at all. I think I woke up laughing at least 5 times with a loud cackle. Worse, it was my laughter that woke me up. Every time. I really wish I could remember what I was dreaming about each of those times, but I can only recall one. It made absolutely no sense, but the premise was so ridiculous I couldn’t keep myself from laughing.

It would’ve been classified as a partial flash back dream. I know you have all had this sort from time to time: You’re back in school, you’re sitting in a familiar class, maybe the instructor is someone you know–or someone you don’t–and you haven’t any idea what you’re doing there. You’re just there. I don’t recall a great deal about the class other than it was a rather peculiar combination of some room I vaguely recall from high school mixed with about three other locations at two different college campuses. I also recall that it was a mixed class–military, older folks, and younger folks all tossed in together.

Oh, and the marine I was sitting behind in this dream was ranting about some enlisted army man he couldn’t stand. That’s where this dream begins to break down into hilariousness. Not only was the marine complaining out loud, but before he was finished, he pulled a banjo out of thin air and started singing his disgust with his compatriot from another branch of the services. Weirder still, in the middle of his melodic rant about some poor army serviceman, two other guys in the class room pulled out their own banjos and started singing backup vocals. The entire scene was so outrageous and so silly that I started laughing. And laughing. And laughing.

Then I woke up–still laughing.

Sleep deprivation sucks. However, I have to confess something to you: If you’re going to be sleep deprived, it’s just way too awesome to be deprived because you can’t stop laughing in your sleep.

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Favicons and You

First of all, I want to tell you something very important:

No matter what you’ve read about free or open source tools to create favicons, it’s all wrong. Forget it. Ignore it. Listen to me.

Good, got that?

A little background: I wasted a good two or three hours this Saturday hunting down decent tools to convert transparent PNGs to favicons. Nothing would work. I tried png2ico (which I used back in 2002), icoutils, and xpm2wico (XPMs don’t support 8 bit alpha–just so you know), and the results were less than spectacular. icoutils tried to work, but I was left with one tiny image that contained tinier copies of itself vertically aligned, mangled, and contorted. It looked terrible, and I have no idea why I couldn’t get it to export even a single 16×16 icon that didn’t look like a Russian matryoshka doll.

I found the answer. The answer is to use IcoFX. It’s Windows only, but it works great under an XP virtual machine. Best of all it supports 8 bit transparency, and the output looks fantastic. I highly recommend this little app, and I suggested sending the author a donation if you use it.

I’m really disappointed about two things: 1) That IcoFX doesn’t show up under any search related to favicons (instead you get crummy online converters that don’t work) and 2) that you have to specifically search for icon editors. Seriously, people! Stop linking to horrible, awful, worthless online converters and start linking to IcoFX instead! Those online converters are absolute rubbish, and all of the F/OSS apps that generate ICOs don’t work well if you’re dealing with 8 bit transparency. IcoFX is the only app that works and works well. I can’t stress this enough, and because I wasted so much time chasing dead ends looking for favicon utilities, I hope I can save you some time. Don’t bother with anything but this tool. It’s free, it’s fast, and it just works.

Spread the word about this little app, not nonsense about tools that are almost 10 years old. Oh, and those online converters? Forget it.

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