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Since the demise of ScreenToaster (and I can’t even get to their site today) and my expectations that ScreenJelly may not last long, I’ve been looking for a new favorite among the free, online screencasting tools. Screencast-O-Matic has greatly improved since I last looked at it, and the editing options with the oh-so-affordable $9/year Pro account, make it even more compelling. I’ll have a more in-depth review of Screencast-O-Matic and its newer features later. However, today, I was impressed while playing around with Screenr. I used to consider Screenr primarily as a tool for Twitter users. But what I realized today is you can use Screenr to record a screencast (up to five minutes) and then upload to YouTube where you can use the Annotations function to add call outs. It is not full editing, but it does give the ability to create text bubbles and notes over the video, and that is one of my favorite editing capabilities.

Here’s the screencast, embedded. I’ll have to create another one to show how to do this. If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, the call out annotation is at 1:58.

Or go direct to it on YouTube.

Updated Screencast.com

A few weeks ago, Techsmith announced new features available at Screencast.com. I was a bit confused by the announcement, but now I think I understand what’s new and who has access to which new feature. So here’s my attempt to explain:

Twitter and Facebook buttons
First, there are now quick links to share a hosted screencast via Twitter and Facebook. The Tweet and Facebook Like buttons show up just above the hosted screencast window. However, these will only appear on screencasts that are in a Public folder. Screencast.com also lets you create Hidden, Password, and Authenticated folders. Any screencasts in something other than a Public folder will not have the social buttons. Note that  Jing uploads are in a Hidden folder by default.

Second, Google Analytics users can put their Google Analytics code so that Analytics can track the number of visits to particular screencasts and can integrate that with the rest of your site’s Analytics data. Just click on the My Account link in the upper right corner and then add your Google Analytics key in the new box for it. Note that you should not put the entire Google Analytics code that you use on pages on your web site. Just put in the code that looks like UA-XXXXXXX-X into the box.

Third, Screencast.com Pro users (not free users) can add or edit captions to any screencast from within Screencast.com. Some other technical requirements must be met. See Techsmith’s tutorial for more details.

Fourth, Techsmith is asking for feedback on Screencast.com and is using a Feedback button on the right side of the screen. This button connects to a Get Satisfaction account for Techsmith. Not only can you send feedback, but you can send it privately or publicly. Curious to see what others are asking? Take a look at the Screencast.com questions, answers, and comments or see the full Techsmith feedback

Lastly, HTML5 support has been added. What this means is that for hosted items with Flash hotspots (and table of contents and close captioning) will work even on devices like the iPad that don’t know how to support Flash. It is nice to see all these new features.

Of the various free online screencast recorders, my favorite was ScreenToaster. It was free, included hosting, and it did not limit the screencast length as severely as others. In addition, you could add text to sections of the screencast. Unfortunately, in June 2010 ScreenToaster announced that it was closing down, even though it had been acquired by Veodia back in July 2009 who then launched Screenjelly. Even though they were considered “sister products” (see the ScreenJelly Twitter feed), it is not at all clear that either will survive.

Since the summer, ScreenToaster has been up and down. The site itself has been down at times.  As of Jan. 2011, the site remains, but every time I try to record I just get the recorder down message whether I’m logged in or not.

Screen recording is currently unavailable

Strangely enough, other users seem to find ways to make it still work. The “Just Toasted” gallery on the site has several screencasts from Feb., although none seem to have sound.

Meanwhile, I have to wonder about Screenjelly and Veodia itself as well. Screenjelly still works, but check the footers at ScreenToaster, Screenjelly, and Veodia. All have a 2009 copyright date, when they were all most active. Check the ScreenJelly Twitter feed (last post April 2010), Veodia’s blog is empty and the news page has no content since 2008. ScreenToaster’s Twitter account is similarly dated.

As an intermittent blogger myself with long gaps in my activity, I know that sites can return, but when these three have been so long incommunicado, I suspect that it is time to move on. Fortunately, Screencast-O-Matic remains active and has made some improvements (which I’ll cover later). As to ScreenToaster, I am reluctantly saying it is now time to declare it “toast.”

Linux Screencasting

Probably of interest to only a few readers, but just in case you have some Linux users in your organization or have Linux-using friends (mostly systems managers or other computer-intensive users with some mathematicians and physicists thrown in for good measure), take a look at 5 Ways to Screencast Your Linux Desktop from LinuxHaxor for some possible solutions.

I came across another screencast that only uses audio to add a music soundtrack. I was checking out the CrossLoop page which has a link to their demo video. Like the excellent CustomizeGoogle demo, the CrossLoop demo uses text within the screencast to communicate its main points. While I liked the screencast and watched most of it, I found that with this sound track I turned the volume all the way down part way through it. Is it more a sign of my musical tastes or do others share the opinion that the music at CrossLoop does not work while the CustomizeGoogle does?

Not to sound too negative to this screencast, I do like a couple of other aspects of the CrossLoop demo:

  • Small size (video window about 320×240 pixels, delivered by default as a pop-up)
  • The way it zooms in to the relevant section (it looks to me like it was created with Camtasia Studio 5 using the new SmartFocus pan and zoom feature.

For me, this is a good example of how adding music may turn out to take too much time and energy to find an engaging track that is not distracting from the information content.

I always enjoy reading others’ advice about screencasting. Today, I came across a post from earlier this week from Under the Raedar called My Rules of Screencasting.  I especially like finding advice that agrees with my own, and from his list of seven points, I’ll fully support 1,2 , 3, 5, and 6, at least. Here’s my abbreviated summary of the list of seven:

  1. Sound interesting but do not speak too fast
  2. Record the screen at sensible size
  3. Publish in Flash
  4. Use a good microphone
  5. Go easy on the ‘special effects’
  6. Plan but don’t script
  7. Aim for a standard format

While waiting for Techsmith to produce a Mac version of Camtasia, Mac users have more limited choices for screencasting software. But at least those choices are expanding. See, for example, a recent comparison of eight options at the TUAW Faceoff: Screencasting. The most advanced option reviewed, ScreenFlow from Vara Software has recently been upgraded to version 1.1.

While I cannot test this, lacking ready access to a Mac (and note that ScreenFlow requires one Leopard), based on its own screencasts, it has some interesting editing features and seems to take good screen video and audio. For general library screencasts, the lack of Flash output and the inability to easily add text call outs (as noted by Paul) are concerns.


So I’ve been playing around with some of the newer, free screencasting programs that including hosting. I created a quick and short screencast with each on the topic of finding the ERIC thesaurus from our library site. See what you think of the output. I’m using five different programs that all offer a free screenrecording program along with some level of free hosting: uTIPu’s TipCam, Webinaria, FreeScreencast’s Screencast Recorder, Jing, and Screencast-o-matic.

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This past weekend I was updating the WordPress software that runs this blog to the latest version, and I came across a screencast that shows some new features. The page hosting the screencast even notes that “This was my first screencast, but I hope we can have more on WordPress.org and our documentation in the future.” I like to evaluate new screencasts both to see the process others use and to see what they plan on demonstrating.

Intrigued by this one, I watched what looks like a Camtasia-created screencast, hosted locally, and embedded in the blog. What struck me right away was the narrator saying, “I apologize for sounding a little funny. I actually had five teeth removed. . . ” Now that is way more than I really cared to hear, and it almost made me stop watching. Since I did not know his regular voice, I would never have noticed that his voice was any more unusual than that of most other screencasters. Fortunately I watched the rest anyway, since it was demonstrating aspects of the software that I wanted to learn.

Musing afterwards about my reaction, I find both advantages and disadvantages to that approach. On the negative side, the comment distracted me from the content I wanted to see and made it take longer to get there. On the plus side, it did help make the audio track more informal, conversational, and less stodgy. I guess I’d rather have strange, personal comments than someone sounding overly scripted and pedantic.

While I have known for some time that Camtasia can output a video to an animated GIF, I never had need of it previously. But as I was updating my search bookmarklets page, I thought that it would be nice to have a visual example of how the transfer search bookmarklets work. So using Camtasia Studio 5, I recorded a short video (without audio), edited it a bit, and then generated it as an animated .gif.
example
Camtasia gave me several settings to choose from, including how many times to repeat the animation. I went with 3 and added ending title slide so that it would end on that description of demo. One great advantage of an animated .gif is that is is very easy to embed it in a blog post like this one or on a Web page like the search bookmarklets page.

The disadvantage is that viewers lose the controls of a standard video file. The stop, rewind, and replay functions are not easily available. I toyed with the idea of using a small .swf-based video instead of the animated .gif. But that takes much more work to get all the appropriate coding on the page, the JavaScript in the header, and all the embed codes working correctly. Despite their documentation’s claims, I did not find an easy way to use Camtasia’s ExpressShow to embed the small video on my page when I host it on my own site. If I use Camtasia’s option to upload to screencast.com, then I get a much easier embed code snippet to use. Trying that here in WordPress, it pastes fairly well, but for an unknown reason to me, it runs the 14 second video in about 3 seconds. Assuming that it ran correctly, I’m curious as to which version most people would prefer to see on a page like my search bookmarklets page.

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