I’ve been investigating screencasting again recently on a number of fronts.

We’ve been using ViewletBuilder for a number of years as a way of providing tutorials (in flash) for computer programmes and it’s a great easy-to-use tool. As an example, I used ViewletBuilder to create a quick tutorial for installing WordPress 2.0 earlier this year. However, it’s quite labor-intensive – you have to press a key each time you want to take a snapshot of the screen and it can take some time to compile the little movies. It’s not a ‘natural’ way of making screencasts.

There’s a number of other products out on the market (Wikipedia has a decent list) and Donation Coder has a helpful review and comparison guide. We’re looking at purchasing BB Flashback for our future screencasts.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of tech review sites I visit and none of them have yet to grasp the huge potential of screencasting. Yes, podcasting is all the rage, but sometimes images are much more powerful (and simple) than words or sounds. Instead of describing a site in beta-mode with screenshots and explaining how the interactivity/features/AJAX etc work, why not show a little 10 second screencast (with optional narration)? Keeping screencasts short enable visitors to pick and choose which feature they’d like to learn more about but longer screencasts could also work (in place of a podcast).

One reason why so many people were intrigued into downloading and learning more about Ruby on Rails was the screencasts which showed the power of the framework and language. Much more powerful than reading pages of information about why Ruby on Rails is better than something else.

When a new Web 2.0 site launches, I often go over and click around a bit and then leave. I might have missed a feature which would have made me “get” it, wowed me and made me realise that the site does has something to offer me. Screencasts could come in handy. And, no, I don’t want to see a movie which looks like a powerpoint presentation (yawn) and slowly steps me through the features. Screencasts may come across as rather raw (unless edited you’ll see typos, non-perfect mouse movements) but I think this is a strength. I liked that in the Ruby on Rails screencast on making a blog (view), the presenter makes a few mistakes along the way (“Oops I should have restarted the server before doing that…”).

Coincidentally, 37 Signals asked for Mac screencast software suggestions on their blog this week.

The number of people I’ve had email me with wonderfully kind sentiments for finally helping them understand how to install WordPress 2.0 has been astounding (and that didn’t even have a voice-over!).

Next time you’re considering writing a review of a site’s features, or a tutorial on software, consider screencasting – rather than podcasting or just writing about it with screenshots. I’m going to.