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The Sensible Trend of ScreenCasting
by Carlos Perez
February 21, 2005
Summary
For exploring complex software development ideas then a more effective way is to leverage more of the senses. John Udell in fact has come up with a preliminary list of "Screencast Guidelines". I've stumbled upon a couple more screencasts to justify the existence of a trend.

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I'm sure most of you have encountered the term "Podcasting", you should have after all there's already an entry in the Wikipedia. However, for purposes of explaining more complex ideas like software development it doesn't seem to be any better than plain text. The clear advantage I can see of this medium is that you can slurp-in new information on your daily commute. Doug Kaye is clearly the leader in this kind of delivery, he has an excellent collection of IT related interviews that is worth lending an ear.

For exploring complex software development ideas then a more effective way is to leverage more of the senses (see: "Visual Eclipse Tutorial - Why It Makes Better Sense" for the psychology research behind this). John Udell in fact has come up with a preliminary list of "Screencast Guidelines". However two parties jumping into a new kind of activity doesn't make an emerging trend, fortunately I've stumbled upon a couple more of them to justify the existence of a trend.

My earliest attempt at screencasting was when I created the precursor to the now infamous list "101 Reasons Why Java is Better than .NET". It was called "Why Can't VisualStudio.NET do this?". It was later followed by my screencast "TDD using Eclipse".

Lately the screencast making the rounds is David Heinemeier Hansson's Ruby on Rails "A 10 minute setup video". It was enough to get many in the Java community rattled; furthermore it was perfect marketing for the Rails framework. Matter of fact, this should be the measuring stick of all web frameworks, within a 10 minute span, how much work can you accomplish?

There's Jonathan Edwards' demonstration of subtext. A screen cast to explain a revolutionary proposal in how to write programs.

There's Mike Clark's "Cruise Control Action Movie". We've all heard of continuous testing and cruise control however there's no substitute to actually seeing it in action.

Finally, to end, there's John Udell's JotSpot Demo. Again, this is yet another attempt to explain a completely new way of developing web applications.

The common thread with all these screenscasts is that each one of them is trying to explain a better way of doing things. Now it just seems obvious that to make people understand you just have to show it. That's the only way to get people away from their comfort zone and to try something new. The Rails folks said it best "Show, don't tell!".

You know the saying "old dogs don't learn new tricks", that's where screencasting seems to be particularly effective. It's hard to learn new things if you think you already know everything. Screencasting effectively shows you how without you having to take only the smallest of effort. Afterall, if you think you know everything, then why exert extra effort re-learning something? It's like an ambush on the unsuspecting, hopefully this causes your mind to re-jigger out of the local minimum it is stuck in. After all, local minima aren't necessarily globally optimal.

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About the Blogger

Carlos E. Perez has been an object-oriented practitioner for over a decade. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Physics and a Master's Degree in Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts. He has polished his craft while working in IBM's Internet Division and IBM's TJ Watson Research Center in Hawthorne, New York. He now works for a startup 1/100,000th the size of his former employer. He writes about topics covering emerging aspect and object oriented paradigms, loosely coupled architecture, open source projects and Java evangelism.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2005 Carlos Perez. All rights reserved.

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