Screencasts show off software

Functionality and features shine when they can be demonstrated online

One of the oldest rules in the creative writing handbook is “Show, don’t tell.” The idea is to use dialog and action, as opposed to narrative, to flesh out things such as a character’s motivation or belief system. It’s a fine practice in novels, but tough to pull off in nonfiction, where the emphasis is, rightly, on the facts.

That brings us to the software review, a nonfiction form that InfoWorld knows something about (we do roughly 300 of them per year). It’s also a format that cries out for a bit of “showing.” After all, if you’re reading about how something works, you want to see it in action. That’s where the Web’s presentation capabilities open up stunning possibilities.

To see what I’m talking about, check out our review of six toolkits, “Surveying open-source AJAX toolkits.” As you’d expect, AJAX guru Peter Wayner offers up the requisite deep-dive analysis. But he supplements the reviews with a series of screencasts -- online demos, with accompanying voiceovers -- that step through the UI and feature set, showing off what each piece of software can do and how it does it.

[Watch AJAX screencasts: Dojo, Google, Microsoft Atlas, Rico, Yahoo, Zimbra]

“Screencasts are a natural progression in the evolution of the software review,” says Senior Editor Stephanie McLoughlin, who worked with Wayner to pull all the pieces of the article together. “They allow you to show a single feature or even demo an entire product in just a few minutes, where it might take thousands of words to explain the same thing in print.”

Our own Jon Udell pioneered the concept (and even came up with name “screencast”) a few years back. His monthly demos in The Screening Room are must viewing for anyone interested in software’s cutting edge. Now, though, Jon’s got some company in the screencast game. And that means we can all look forward to a future of showing, not telling.