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Storyboards for video design and review

I’ve just created two short instructional videos, introducing specific aspects of our APIs to developers. I used a storyboard as a way of outlining the video content, illustrating my ideas about the flow of the video, and requesting a review from my colleagues.

A colleague, Rachel, introduced me to the idea of storyboarding a while ago. This is the first time I’ve tried it.

What a storyboard looks like

This is what the storyboard looked like when I sent it out for initial review comments:

My first storyboard

My first storyboard

To get started, I looked at the examples Rachel had given me of her own storyboards, remembering her very useful comments about how she used them. Then I looked online to see what other people are doing. I found two examples that gave me more good ideas on how to represent my video design in a storyboard:

  • Storyboards, from the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. I like the Hunting Sequence from the Jane Animation Project.
  • Storyboarding, from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. The sketches at the bottom of the page are appealing, and show how different formats of storyboard are useful in different situations.

The design of my storyboard is a conglomeration of ideas generated by my colleagues examples and the two sources above. I shared my storyboard template with members of my team, and suggested they may like to use something similar when designing videos. They like the idea, and each person adapted the template to suit them. This approach works surprisingly well.

What a storyboard is good for

For me, the primary goal of a storyboard is to share an easily-absorbed way of representing the flow of the video.

This is what I wrote at the top of my first storyboard:

This storyboard is a precursor to a script. It’s an illustrative way of outlining the video before we start in-depth development of code and script. Note: All visuals are just mockups to give some idea of what’s happening, and are not intended to be the real thing.

Building out the storyboard

As time passed, I fleshed out the script on the storyboard, replacing the outlined content with the words I was planning to say during the presentation. So the storyboard evolved continually during the scripting of the video, the flow design, and the planning of the visual aspects such as screenshots, demonstrations and annotations.

A number of colleagues responded to my requests for review. After a few revisions, my script was ready to move to a separate document for final tweaking and practice runs. This is what the storyboard looked like at that point:

The storyboard ready to be transformed to a script

The storyboard ready to be transformed into a script

The resulting video

This is the very first instructional video that I’ve ever presented! (Apart from videos shot during conference presentations.) It’s short by design. The target audience is developers who are using the Google Maps Android API to include maps in their Android apps.

Producing the video

I could write an entire blog post about the process of filming the video. So for now, I’ll just show you a couple of photos of the video production studio.

The first photo shows me sitting in the hot seat, with the green screen behind me. In the foreground are the two video production screens, with ATEM Television Studio (the input stream switcher) on the right and Wirecast (which we used to define the video format and control the flow) on the left.

In the hot seat in the video production studio

In the hot seat in the video production studio

The second photo is a panoramic view from the hot seat, showing all the lights that glare down at you. The production centre in the middle at the back.

The view from the hot seat

The view from the hot seat


A storyboard is a good tool for solidifying my own ideas about the video, showing them to others, and conducting a collaborative review.

I’d love to hear your ideas about storyboarding, the format of the storyboards you use, and how you find them useful (or not). 🙂

Getting documentation feedback via customer forums – a story of UX and UA

I spend a few minutes each day trawling our online question-and-answer forum, answering questions when I can, and keeping an eye out for posts directly related to the documentation. This paid dividends yesterday when a customer asked where he can download the offline version of our documentation. After giving him the link, I delved a little deeper into his reasons for preferring the offline to the online version. It’s an enlightening discussion.

Kevin’s primary requirement was the link to the downloadable documentation. His question is therefore titled, Offline Confluence Documentation. I gave him the link. That was easy.

But the forum post also explains why Kevin wants the offline documentation. He mentions the fact that the online documentation was unavailable when he needed it. We did indeed have several problems with the server, now fixed.

It was this bit of Kevin’s post that caught my attention:

(Also the documentation has gotten much harder to use for experienced users because we need to wade through pages of fluff before we get to content found in the old user manuals right on the top level).

He had put that bit in parentheses, almost as if it’s not so relevant. That in itself is a worry for us as technical writers. We don’t want customers feeling that there’s no way of getting the documentation improved or getting their voices heard.

Also very interesting is the fact that Kevin describes himself as an experienced user. He knows the product (Confluence wiki) and he therefore also has an expectation of how the Confluence-based documentation will work. He wanted a quick fix for a problem (how to recover a deleted page) and was frustrated enough to resort to PDF to find it!

So I asked Kevin if he’d be kind enough to give more details about why the documentation has become harder to use.

His response was awesome. He described his troubled workflow in detail, giving us technical writers an excellent insight into how an experienced user is navigating through our documentation. If you’re interested in the details, take a look at this comment and the subsequent discussions.

It’s great when people take the time to respond like this. It shows a high level of commitment to the product and the various types of help that we offer, including the documentation and the forum. It also shows how willing people are to help each other. Thanks so much, Kevin!

The Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate wiki has moved to a shiny new site

The Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate wiki is a companion to my book about technical communication, technical writers, wikis and chocolate. This week we moved the site to a shiny new Confluence OnDemand server. Please take a look, sign up if you like, and also please consider changing any external links you may have pointing to content on the site.

The new address of the Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate wiki is:

The old address was:

What does the move to Confluence OnDemand mean?

Confluence, Tech Comm, ChocolateConfluence OnDemand is Atlassian’s new hosted platform. Our site will now automatically get the latest and up-to-datest version of Confluence. It’s currently running an early version of Confluence 5.0! So we’ll be able to play with the latest Confluence features before anyone else. If you’re interested, keep a watch on the frequently-updated Atlassian OnDemand release summary.

My seat-of-the-pants feeling is that the new site is significantly faster than the old one. 🙂

The hosted platform restricts certain functionality, primarily add-ons and customisations of the wiki. I won’t be able to install add-ons or plugins that are not pre-approved by Atlassian. This won’t have a big effect on people using the site. We no longer have the awesome add-ons from K15t Software for creation of ePub and DocBook exports. The Copy Space plugin isn’t there either. Gliffy, for drawing diagrams, is available in Confluence OnDemand, along with the add-ons listed here: Atlassian OnDemand Plugin Policy.

Existing content, redirects, and external links pointing to the site

This bit is for the 77 people already using the wiki. 🙂 All your pages, blog posts, comments and other pieces of information are safely on the new site. Please let me know if you spot anything amiss.

Atlassian has put redirects in place. If you try to go to the old address, you should automatically end up on the new site. The old site will be decommissioned in a few weeks’ time. There’s no scheduled date for the shutting down of the redirect service, but it’s probably a good idea to update any external links you may have, to point to the new site.

The book

The book is called Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate: A wiki as platform extraordinaire for technical communication. It’s about developing documentation on a wiki. It’s also about technical communicators. And chocolate.

Do come and join the fun at the book’s wiki site: Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate wiki.

Mozilla Popcorn Maker and a tour of the Confluence documentation

Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker is pretty neat. You can grab a video and augment it with clickable text boxes. You can also add other interactive widgets, such as a live Twitter stream or a fully-functioning map from Google Maps. I’ve been playing with Popcorn Maker for a couple of weeks, and I thought other people may like to have a go. So I’ve put together a video for you to mess up… hrrm… review. It’s cunningly disguised as a tour of the Atlassian Confluence documentation. But actually, it’s a bit of fun. 😉

Popcorn Maker is all online. There’s nothing to download. You give it the URL of a video from YouTube or another supported location, then drag and drop events onto the video. The Popcorn Maker editing environment adds a timeline, a bit like the one you see in a Flash editor, but driven entirely by Javascript, HTML, and CSS. You also get a library of widgets to add and configure, such as text boxes, popups, maps, Twitter streams, and so on.

Jumping right in

Are you keen to try Popcorn Maker? Try making a remix of my Popcorn Maker movie, “Popping the Confluence docs“. I’d love it if you’d add a comment on this blog post with a link to your remix!

Mozilla Popcorn Maker and a tour of the Confluence documentation

Making the video itself

I used Screencast-O-Matic to record the movie itself. It’s a great tool too. Just like Popcorn Maker, everything is online. You do need to install Java on your computer, and it’s handy to have a webcam for the audio part of the movie. Other than that, all you need is your connection to the Internet. You can use Screencast-O-Matic free of charge, if you’re happy to have a watermark at the bottom of your movie.

Once I’d made the movie, I uploaded it to YouTube and then used Popcorn Maker to annotate it and make it available for remixing.

Some thoughts on Popcorn Maker

It’s pretty cool to be able to grab a video from YouTube (or Vimeo, Soundcloud, or an HTML 5 video) and add bits to it online, all within your web browser. Nifty technology!

But I think the huge potential lies in the fact that anyone can remix the videos. Just grab a movie that someone else has created, and decorate it yourself.

This has very interesting possibilities for collaborative development of “how to” videos. Another use that springs to mind: The review of videos. Instead of writing separate notes, people can paste their comments directly onto the relevant spot in the video. And they don’t need specialised tools to do it.

The icons and styling in general could do with some tender loving care from an artist or designer.

The integration with Twitter, Flickr and Google Maps is awesome! It makes me wonder what other integrations would be useful. Perhaps a HipChat room. Or an RSS feed from WordPress?

I’d also love to see some way of finding and sharing remixes of a given video. Ha ha, searching for “Popcorn remixes” brings up a number of song remixes!


Book review – SOCIALIZED! How the most successful businesses harness the power of social

Book review - Socialized!I’ve just finished reading Mark Fidelman’s book “SOCIALIZED! How the most successful businesses harness the power of social”. The publisher offered me a copy of the book for review, an offer which I accepted with alacrity and pleasure.

This is an inspirational book. Read it for an injection of excitement. It’s also a practical book. Read it for its action plans and social business playbook, and for the many real-life stories that illustrate the pitfalls and triumphs of organisations navigating our brave new world of social media and organisational change.

First impressions

The copy on the inside cover is excellent.

It’s not about the platform, it’s about the people.

Hire people who can bend the latest technologies in innovative ways to achieve your purpose. People who will not be afraid, nor complacent, when the next new thing comes along.

I opted for a printed copy of the book rather than an ebook. It’s a pleasant hard-cover format. The cover design combines a light and airy colour scheme with an interesting, detail-filled graphic. The book is easy to hold, and feels satisfyingly smooth and soft to the touch. The fonts chosen for the content are easy on the eye. Congratulations to Mark and the publishing team on a well-presented and attractive book.

Diving in

In this post, I’d like to take you on a tour of the bits of the book that leapt out and grabbed my attention. But the book is jam-packed with information. When you read it, you’ll find plenty more sections that speak to your specific environment, whether you are already part of a social business or just want to be.

At this point, you may be wondering exactly what a “social business” is. On page xiv of the book is this definition:

“[Social businesses] are businesses that have learned the philosophy and strategy of using social technologies to create more adaptive businesses. Think of a new kind of business that’s agile enough to capture new opportunities, can change shape when confronted with threats, and can call on vibrant communities to support its initiatives.”

Mark goes on to explain that such organisations cultivate internal social networks (digital villages) as well as external ones. But how? The aim of the book is to give the reader a playbook for the social era, to answer just that question.

Getting started with a social mindset

Right on page 1, Mark compares the old and new ways of doing business. In the old way, still prevalent in many organisations, the mindset among top-level management is “do as I say”. The new way is, “I want to hear your opinion”.

Executives must recognise that, to succeed, they must harness the wisdom of the organisation they run. They must set up a cultural framework to gather and manage this wisdom. Part of that framework is formed by collaborative and social technology platforms. Mark makes this bold assertion (page 14):

Some people argue that we should focus more on developing the skills of people and not on the technology to support them, but that is completely false. Technology can be used to influence people’s behavior – it always has.

(There’s a bit of a tension here with what’s on the inside cover: “It’s not about the platform. it’s about the people”. I only noticed the contradiction when reading through this post just before publishing it. I think it’s true that the skills and technology complement each other. They’re pretty entangled, actually. Have we reached cyberpunk utopia? We’re pretty close.)

Mark also puts the interesting and persuasive notion that you need an internal social culture before an external social business will work (page 100).

Six steps towards a business case

The book goes on to present guidelines on using social tools such as Twitter and Facebook. It’s not good enough to use them as just another advertising channel. The key is to interact with customers via those channels, and to give real and valuable information.

Pages 28-36 describe how to build a case for becoming a social business:

  • Find the types of people you need (they have cute names like “social butterfly” and “quant”)
  • Define the vision
  • Find the gaps
  • Set your goals
  • Create a purpose to rally around
  • Build and present the business case

How would your company fare in transforming to a social business?

A survey on page 44 provides an interesting exercise in determining your company’s culture, and then deciding how easily it could transform itself into a social business. The book describes 5 cultural profiles, some of which will make the transformation more easily than others.

(In my own responses to this survey, Atlassian comes in as a mix between profile 1 and profile 5. Interesting – the two extremes, in terms of Mark’s assessment of ability to become a social business. Of course, as Mark points out, individual experiences differ, as do experiences in different business units within the same company.)

The story of IBM

The book tells the fascinating story of how IBM dragged itself out of a pit by revolutionising its social strategies (page 53 onwards). A large part of its success comes from the development of BlueIQ, a centre of competence for social initiatives and collaboration. The aim was to share success stories, methods and patterns, and train volunteers from other areas to become more collaborative and social. More and more people took part, and culture change was underway. Cultural change going viral!

The technology platforms

Mark lists the primary social platforms that companies use to support their digital villages: SharePoint, Jive, Yammer, SAP Streamwork, IBM Connections, with Chatter and, and Drupal (page 74).

(I was a bit surprised that Confluence isn’t in the list. I guess there’s an opportunity for Atlassian there.) 🙂

Titbits for technical communicators

If you’re a technical communicator, like me, you’ll find plenty of points in the book that ring true. Here are a few:

  • 28% of people who follow a brand on Twitter do it because they want content. 61% want to be first to know information about the brand.
  • There’s an entire section describing how “content really is king” (pages 114-7).  It’s what technical communicators know from the bottom of our hearts. Mark makes some great points about creating simple, powerful content.
  • Businesses need to “hire fantastic writers and a content creation team… Don’t skimp here. Their ability to shape the organization’s story has never been greater” (page 166).

Oh yeah. 😉

The playbook

Chapter 6 is all about developing a “playbook” and using it to drive your social business plan. The playbook outlines the strategies you want to follow. You will continuously update and refine it based on feedback and results. For me, the core of this chapter is on pages 148 to 167. Here Mark lays down the 15 best practices to follow in your social business playbook.

The social employee

Are you an employee who wants to take an active part in catapulting your company into the social business stratosphere? Some people would say that’s part of our duty to our employers now. Chapter 7 is all about the rise of the social employee, good reading for managers and team members alike.

Nothing can go wrong… go wrong… go wrong…

What happens when things go wrong? And they can go wrong in a big way, when social media are in play. Throughout the book, Mark tells stories of social successes and failures, using real life examples. For the failures, he analyses what went wrong and why, and how the organisation concerned could have acted differently. On pages 243-4, he gives a strategic synthesis of measures you can take to protect your organisation.

Any suggestions for the next edition of the book?

The book has a number of examples of “the 10 ways to do this” or “the five rules for that”. It became a little difficult to differentiate between them and to remember where in the book they occurred.

The table of contents is very high level – it contains just the chapter names. Perhaps a more detailed table of contents would help the reader gain an organised view of the content, and find specific bits again later.

It would also be extremely useful to have a separate list of all the “10 ways” etc sets. They are very valuable and it would be great to have the overview and be able to find them quickly.

Did I say “suggestions for the next edition”? Yes, because this is an excellent and timely book. It’s easy to read and packed with useful information and guidelines. I’m sure there’ll plenty of demand for it now, and for an update in a year or so.

In conclusion

Mark ends the book by saying, “I, for one, am excited about our world’s future. ” An exciting future, yes. And a bit scary. I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about handling both those aspects of social business.

The book is SOCIALIZED! How the Most Successful Businesses Harness the Power of Social by Mark Fidelman, published by Bibliomotion, 2013.

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