Office Community Clips

Have you seen the new Microsoft Office Community Clips?

People upload videos that demonstrate how to perform a task. I guess people like this because it’s almost like watching TV. Never mind that you actually have to click and watch in order to determine if it’s useful. And, a 3-minute video contains roughly the same content that you could read in about 20 seconds.

It’s billed as a “community.” Anybody can watch the videos, but to contribute one, you must be a member of the community. I think this means that you must have a Windows Live ID. Is that the same as a Passport? I have no idea. In the past few years, I’ve told Passport (or whatever it’s called) to “remember me” at least 100 times. But I’m forgotten every time. But I’ve come to expect it, so it’s no longer a big deal.

Joseph Chirilov, at the official Microsoft Excel blog seem to like Community Clips (but then again, could he really say that he hates it?):

The folks over in Office Labs are testing out a new idea called Community Clips and I, personally, think it’s a fantastic idea. It’s a community site where anyone, not just Microsoft employees, can upload “how to” videos that take you step-by-step through accomplishing a particular task. Think of it as YouTube meets Office Online. If, like me, you’re a visual learner, this is a great way to learn new tips and tricks on how to do any number of things with Microsoft products. There are already quite a few Excel-related topics, from using freeze rows to creating your own UDFs in VBA.

I guess I’m not a visual learner. Watching these videos is almost painful to me. It’s all so slow and inefficient, and I can’t easily skim to get to the relevant part.

So what do you think? Are videos a viable way of learning?

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18 thoughts on “Office Community Clips

  1. This won’t be a useful tool for those who do a lot of work in Office products and know enough about them to not need a step by step tutorial. But, I work with a lot of people who aren’t that proficient and if you don’t give them every step to follow they will end up “deleting the internet” as Eddie Izzard put it.

  2. I hate such videos for the same reasons as you site. They are a pain to run, and you have to sit through them to extract any meaning. It’s much better to be able to read text and scan static images, which takes 10 percent of the time as even a well made video takes to watch and learn from. Maybe they’re made for the same simpletons that the ribbon was designed for. Or I don’t know, for couch potatoes who are waiting for the game to come on television. Maybe they should post them on YouTube (oh wait, that’s Google, isn’t it?). That’s much more of a community.

    I think the Windows Live ID is the same thing that was called Passport several name changes ago (and that I still call Passport). I tell it to remember my email address but not my password, and about half the time it does.

  3. How many times have you scratched your head over the assembly instructions for a piece of furniture, even though it has numbered steps and diagrams? A short video might make it perfectly clear, especially if it supplements the written material.
    I’ve got about 20 videos on my site, each about 2 minutes long, demonstrating Excel features. So far they’ve been viewed over 10,000 times, so at least some people find videos useful.
    My videos aren’t works of art, but it’s a way to help Excel users who are struggling to understand something that seems trivial to us.

  4. I agree with Debra. I love reading technical stuff, but the kickstart I got to move into VB.Net, SQL and ASP.Net was from Scott Guthrie’s (an others) video’s on MSDN.

    Beats the hell out of what’s on the TV most of the time anyhow ;-)

  5. I agree with John on several points, and I tend to like to read to learn about technical matters. But what I often find is that even the most knowledgable technical people do not write well. Sometimes they assume the user knows the terminology they are throwing around, or use short-cuts that leave users wondering how they arrived in paragraph 2 from paragraph 1 because something clearly was missing.

    I provided telephone tech support for a few years and it made me a better listener because the feedback was immediate- they stopped me if they didn’t understand something, or I had the opportunity to rephrase it. But when I am able to remote into their PC and control the mouse and keyboard, they watch and say, “Oh, that is what you meant…” because the way I phrased it apparently could be interpreted more ways than I had imagined.

    So, video is good for clarifying your point- especially since a computer only understands keystrokes and mouse clicks (sure, some can read brain signals, but I haven’t seen the device sold at my local PC store yet) so visually seeing where the mouse is going, what it clicks on, and seeing what is being typed can help.

    I think the more important question is: How can they improve the ability to scan or search the video like we can do with a written document? Speech recognition to record the spoken narration injected automatic dictated mouse and keyboard navigation instructions that are searchable? Who knows…

  6. Jayson, thanks for the link. While there I also watched his “How to choose a martial art”. Very silly.

  7. I’m with Nick and Debra on this one. There is definitely a market for videos. Some people simply learn by seeing things done.

    That being said, I must admit most of the videos aren’t that fun to watch. Mainly because the people putting the videos together (bless their hearts) are horrible.

    Even the most simple topics are poorly edited 3 – 5 minute streams. I’m thinking that most of the very simple topics here could have been concisely explained in 1 minute or less.

    I do think that if Microsoft wants this to be more than YouTube on steroids, they’ll have to limit who can produce videos.

    I feel sorry for the poor bastards that have to moderate each video before posting.

  8. Context, Context, Context. You can’t learn everything from the videos. It won’t all stick. But sometimes the video clip provides a sequence for a specific topic that is far more explicit than the written description of it would be.

    As examples, I really liked some of the videos on Debra’s site, and a couple that Nick Hodge has on Excel User Group.

    Our firm is going to use videos for training staff on use of a simple SharePoint front-end for an Electronic Drawing Management System. Short, demonstrative, and repeatable every time new staff, or clients need an introduction. (We would not use this approach to teach the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, however).

  9. I agree there’s a market for teaching videos, but I’ve never cared for them. Even well made ones like Debra’s and Nick’s don’t do it for me. But I know videos are popular, I’ve gotten emails from people who have seen Debra’s and Mike’s and want me to make some. I think I’m too busy to try to get started with my own videos.

  10. There’s a distinction between the number of people who watch video clips and the number of them who find the clips useful. The latter will be smaller than the former.

    As for training, visual demos can be useful, but interactive demos are more useful still. Way, way back Lotus Symphony and 1-2-3 came with macro-driven interactive demos. Much better than anything Microsoft has produced in the last 2 decades. Very likely better than most of what the Microsoft community is likely to produce.

  11. Obviously, not everyone who watches a video will find it useful. What the numbers indicate to me is that many people have an interest in videos as a learning method. The links to my videos are included in my web site’s tutorials. Even though the written instructions and screen shots are there, many people are opting for the video, or using both.

    As for who’s watching, I’m not sure how YouTube gets its demographics, but they show that 82% of my videos’ viewers are male and about 80% are 45-55.

  12. You should show, you should tell and you should let people choose. An advanced Excel user will probably hate Excel how-to videos. A beginner will probably love them.

    I have some in my blog and I actually sell some, and I am getting great feedback from the users. And since I’m not fluent in English, the more I show, the less I have to tell…

    If you write some step-by-step instructions you’ll end up making assumptions about the users and drop some step because it seems so obvious. Unfortunately it is not and often beginners get stuck half way. I see this all the time. With a screencast you have to show even the simpler and smaller steps.

    And screencast is a greener technology than printing…

  13. There is a certain amount of computer-savvy inherently required for all tutorials. That is where most major differences lie between videos that people like us may enjoy, and that basic users may find helpful. There is a certain level of required familiarity or desire to explore that allows the most routine tasks to be relegated to the “you (should) know how to do this so I won’t explain it” pile. I do a lot of in-person work, and I absolutely hate working with those people that can’t grasp the concept that the line of words across the top of the application is called a “menu”, in (almost) every piece of software and they all work the same way: click on the word I tell you to access the command you need . Of course, I’m really there to teach them a relatively advanced topic, like a mail-merge. Good luck to me.

    If I say “Click Edit” and the user does it, I’m very happy.
    If that doesn’t work, I don’t mind saying “Find Edit in the menu and click on it.”
    However, I draw the line at “Find the line of words near the top. Find the word Edit in that line, then move the mouse to click on it. Left-click, before you ask (again).”

    It might be different for a home-user audience, but I expect more from those who have MS Office in their job requirements. After all, I’m teaching them after the fact of gainful employment.

    Videos are not interactive enough to handle the varying levels of understanding in the environment in which I work. I’ve learned that in my office the best way to teach a task is to do it from a set of instructions that are clear, extravagant in low-level detail, and used to demonstrate the process in person at least once. Leave the instructions with the user and be prepared for questions and updating the instructions with clarifications to meet the understanding of the users. In that way, those who want to know more can learn it. Those that just need to do the task can do so, whether or not any of the atomic steps are recognized as the building blocks that they are for more efficient use of a particular piece of software.

  14. In the past each copy of MS Office included several printed manuals or one setup of manual was included in one multiple license copy. At that time end users had at least some basic support available on their desktops. Then it became to be too expensive for the software’s vendors to include manuals so they simple dropped them. Instead Internet started to evolve with MSFT’s newsgroups and dedicated individual controlled Excel sites. Around that time books about Excel became also quickly popular and it was also possible to make a living of giving classes in Excel. Later on more Q&A Excel forums started out, more Excel books was published and more individuals started out to offer virtual Excel services. For the last years it has became popular with devoted Excel blogs and how-to videos, both from MSFT as well as individuals.
    It’s great that it exist different kind of channels (technologies) that give access to Excel knowledge on all levels either for free or for some kind of payment. In other words, the existence of these technologies reflects the larger group of end users preferences and, at least in my opinion, we should encourage the diversity.
    However, the question that can be raised in this context is if the diversity comes with a price or not. One aspect is that all channels are limited in one or another way. Another aspect may be the quality in terms how the different channels secure a certain quality of the provided material.

    From a strictly personal point of view I would say that when printed books no longer are available I sincerely hope that I will not be around.

    Kind regards,

  15. Hi!

    I was wondering if someone could help out with an excel question. I think this is pretty basic, but cannot figure out how to do it! I have a workbook within which each worksheet represents a month of 2008 Jan-Dec. Each month is formatted as a calendar with one meeting in each day. I would like to re-format all of these tabs as one long list so that I can see all of the meetings in 2008. Does anyone know how to convert this calendar into a list?

    Any advice would be helpful.

    Thanks a bunch!

  16. fzz – that brings back memories. Back in 1985, starting a new job and borrowing a copy of Lotus 123 from the accounts department, and half-guiltily working my way through the interactive tutorials. Half-guilily because I was an engineer, and shouldn’t have been wasting my time on a financial analysis package, even if the accounts department didn’t have a use for it.

    Rather strange that over 20 years later the standard of interactive tutorials has apparently gone backwards.

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