links for 2006-03-21

links for 2006-03-18

Screencasts, not screenshots

I recall someone Jason Kottke a few years ago posting a call to arms for developers to post screenshots of their apps, because it was hard to judge what an application looked like or how it worked from a text description alone. Thankfully, in the years that have passed, most every developer has done this and it’s rare to see an application download site that doesn’t prominently feature multiple screenshots of it in action.

That’s all well and good, but last week I realized how screencasts or live demos are many times more useful.

The thing that is great about them is you not only see the application work in real time, but you also get to see how the application developer uses the product. I love nothing more than seeing an expert use a product I might take up, or even one I’ve used for years. I used to love working at a big university because I got to meet other people that used Photoshop for several years and I always picked something new up looking over their shoulders. I still recall a seminar in 1999 where an expert developer spent an hour showing exactly how he setup his IDE for coding (it was Homesite, back then) before diving into a three day tutorial on some server software. I remember immediately going home and picking up homesite, and setting up all the special keystrokes and shortcuts he taught me. I was a much faster coder after that.

Last week I watched the reBlog guys use their app in a demo and it totally changed my opinion of the application. I thought it was one thing that only did one thing (republish feeds) and it turns out it’s something completely different (an amazingly efficient feed reader). I realized then that you can get so much more out of a screencast than a simple screenshot.

I wrote a tutorial on installing and using reBlog for Lifehacker today, and in it, I did a quick demo of how I use the app, by recording an area of my screen while talking into the mic. It’s not a great screencast, but I hope it demonstrates the beauty of a nicely designed application much better than a few static screenshots (by the way, snapz pro x has a dumb name but it’s a great piece of software for this).

I lose something every time I travel

Today I noticed that I quit using an email client and I probably won’t be going back any time soon. I spent the past week using Gmail directly in a web browser instead of my Apple Mail client, because I’ve moved to a desktop iMac and I was traveling with my old laptop. Gmail doesn’t honor the “read” flag on stuff you’ve seen online, so it would mean if I open Mail now that I’m home, I’ll have about a thousand unread messages, but in my web browser, I’m all caught up. Aside from that, being forced to use browser-based Gmail, I’ve noticed the search is really good. I can search for the last name of someone I got an email from once and a single word they probably used and I can find that message instantly. I’ve kvetched about Apple Mail’s terrible search before, but the online search was perfect. So I’m sticking with Gmail online from here on out.

Another data point: a few years ago, at SXSW I put on some tight jeans, realized my overstuffed wallet that I’ve carried for ten years wasn’t going to fit, so I grabbed just the essentials: my atm card, my drivers license, and wrapped a few bills around it. When I got back home, I threw my wallet away, and to this day I still walk around with 2 or 3 cards wrapped with a bit of cash.

When I go off for a week somewhere, I am forced to change my daily routines. By the time I get back I realize whatever random change I made is actually better. I should force myself to change my routine more often (there’s probably a life lesson in there somewhere).

Lifehacking this week

I should have mentioned earlier that I’m helping edit Lifehacker this week, as a favor to Gina and Keith.

The last time I did it, I went a bit nuts writing a ton. For some reason I was motivated to get as many big posts in as possible. This time around, I’m busy with a thousand other things but I’m spending every available moment scouring the web for interesting things to mention and I’m also working on a long how-to about a web app I’m really excited about. So check it out this week, it’ll be me expending about double the effort I waste here on any given day.