It’s no secret that I am not the biggest fan of videos as a vehicle for technical communication. Not that my personal preferences have much to do with whether a video is the best medium for other people, but I’ve complained enough about videos in the past that should acknowledge when I find a video to be the best solution, as I did for a problem I had to solve today. Plus, I think I have figured out a useful property of videos that is worth making a note of: videos help fill in the gaps.
I have been working a lot in Linux lately, in part because I have a client whose SVN repository I need to connect to, and that repository includes files with names that are illegal on Windows. On my main Windows machine, I have an Ubuntu virtual machine running in VirtualBox. So, I created my SVN working copy on that virtual machine and installed a bunch of tools so that I could do my work in Ubuntu on the virtual machine.
That has worked fine for the last few months, but today the update manager tried to update my Ubuntu install and told me I was out of hard disk space. I guess when I first set up that virtual machine, I had not intended to put so much stuff on it, and the original 8GB assigned to it was full. I needed to add more space to the Virtual Box virtual drive, and then expand my Ubuntu partition to use it.
I Googled “expand virtualbox disk” and got a whole bunch of hits. Most of them were bang on topic, but most of then seemed to be written on the assumption that I knew a bit more about virtual machines than I actually do. Virtual machines are pretty much a black box to me, and it was clear that this operation had to be done with a command line utility. It wasn’t completely clear to me exactly were certain command were supposed to be run, or what files I was supposed to run them on. And it was not an exactly a lets-try-this-and-see-what-happens kind of operation. I wanted to make sure I got it right.
At that point, I discovered this video. ALERT: The video has sound. (<– Baker’s Top Tip: Always warn the reader before you invite them to click on something that will make noise.)
It is worth watching at least the first minute or so of the video for his comments on the manual. “The actual directions for this is not under Virtual Storage where you would think it would be.” Indeed — I had already looked in the manual and not found the information.
Actually, the manual was the most useless of all the information sources I looked at. Every one of the web posts was better and, on this occasion, the video was best of all. Sure, maybe the manual could have been designed and written better. But every one of the other sources I found was better. Much better! Every one! The problem is with the form, not merely with the writer.
The video was great. It filled in the gaps nicely and I was able to confidently resize the virtual hard drive of my Ubuntu virtual machine. What struck me, though, was that the video did not fill in the gaps because the narrator anticipated them and filled them in deliberately. It filled in the gaps simply because the narrator was actually going through the steps as he talked and I could watch him. The gaps were filled in by what I was watching, not by what he was saying.
When we write, we only convey what we write. When we record a video, the images convey information that we may not even be aware of, or at least, information that we may not think of as something that needs to be conveyed.
Of course, part of good writing is figuring out exactly what does and does not need to be conveyed. But even the best of us can get this wrong. Video provides a second channel in which that information may get across despite our failure to consider it necessary.
Videos can be tedious, of course, and it is hard to skip and skim effectively when they fail to get to the point (as so many do). But on the positive side, the visual channel and the audio channel are running in parallel, so there are two bands of information being conveyed simultaneously. That does help to make better use of the time, and sometimes it can help fill in the gaps.
So, on this occasion, thumbs up for videos from me. Yes, me.