Written manual or video howto’s? (and how to make them)

In Bluefish, Gnome, Gnome shell, open source, Screencast, Ubuntu on November 4, 2012 by oli4444

In time, the number of features in Bluefish has grown to a very large number. More and more we receive requests for features that are somewhat superfluous: a similar feature is already present in Bluefish. Often if we explain the submitter how to use a certain existing feature he/she is quite satisfied. This means that some Bluefish features are (too) hard to find.

So what isย  the best way to improve this? Is written documentation with screenshots the best way to introduce features to the users nowadays, or are video tutorials (screencasts) better?

From the community the support for our manual project has been declining over the last years (I must admit that I personally think manual writing is not the most rewarding work). Currently the Bluefish manual is mostly improved by a single volunteer, and therefore continuously behind. Is this a sign that written manuals are considered less important nowadays? At least the Bluefish screencasts on YouTube do well (194000 views, but is that high or not?).

So what do you think? Written manual or screencast?

Second subject for this post: what is the best way to create screencasts? Previously I used the built-in screen recorder in gnome-shell: excellent quality with a high compression. Merging the sound, however, always was lousy (tried Pitivi and Openshot): the quality decreased while the file size usually grew a lot. And it was a lot of work. But with the last Ubuntu release (gnome-shell 3.6) the feature seems to be missing (Ubuntu bug or Gnome-shell bug?). What is the best way to create screencasts (with sound) in Gnome-shell?

12 Responses to “Written manual or video howto’s? (and how to make them)”

  1. Regarding your inability to take screencasts with GNOME Shell on Ubuntu, can you check if you have GStreamer 1.0? GNOME Shell (like the rest of GNOME) moved to GStreamer 1.0 during the 3.5.x/3.6 cycle and if you don’t have it then screencasts won’t work.

  2. I like Kazam Screencaster (

  3. My view is probably one of an extremist, but good screencasts aren’t easy to make. They require planning, writings scripts, a lot of cutting, recording and processing voiceovers etc.

    Anyone can record a video with “um”, “er” etc. that last at least 10 minutes. Cutting it down to a minute or two while preserving useful information is what counts ๐Ÿ™‚

    As for GNOME, since 3.6 it’s possible to configure the shortcut for screencasting. Check what’ currently set. It used to be Ctrl+Shift+Alt+R. If you have Ctrl+Shift for keyboard layout switching, It’s possible that GNOME catches Ctrl+Shift and switches layout, and then never gets to the Alt+R part.

  4. A (well) written manual is always easier to follow and to use for reference. Writing a manual forces the author to consider the relevant detail and to exclude the irrelevant distractions. A screencast video may work well for other people, and then be incomprehensible to others for no obvious reason – perhaps their wallpaper, font or desktop colors fail to show the essential detail.

    And there is no doubt that a good manual is far easier to maintain, once written. It can even be sold – and people pay for them.

  5. I much prefer written manuals/how-tos to videos. It generally takes me far less time to scan through an article to figure how to do something than wait for a video to download and watch it, especially considering that large parts of most how-to’s I usually know how to do – so watching someone else do and explain how to do it is just repetitive.

  6. I was thinking of making video tutorials for Boxes but have never made a screencast with audio. I realize that you are looking for an easier way to achieve this but I’m curious on whats the hard way of achieving this? I mean, pitivi doesn’t seem to have any option to record audio so I guess you just play the screencast in your favorite media player and record the audio from another app and then merge these later with pitivi?

    About which type of documentation is better, I think both have merits. Most people would IMHO prefer watching short videos over reading lots of words, especially on a computer screen. OTOH most people would also want the documentation in their native language and you have a much better chance of getting your documentation translated if its in written form.

  7. Screencasts seem to me to fulfil a different function than manuals. A manual can be searched readily, and take you to where you want to go, so that you might only need to read a sentence to get what you want. Screencasts are for when you want more information, such as with newbies, or when you are looking at an advanced topic in-depth. That being said, I would really like to see a local help file; perhaps made from an HTML manual.

  8. Where does one actually get a copy of the latest Bluefish manual?

  9. in my view nothing replaces a user manual (for online and off-line reading) with print-screens.

    from an end user perspective, I really like the “top notch” v1. manual, but a lot like less the wiki v2. because it’s not portable.

    a screen cast is complementary and equally useful for specific topics. But in my case, I do not use the Adobe flash plug-in and my machine is too old to play HTML5 videos.

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