This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Recording Douglas Engelbart: Skype + Camtasia + Ourmedia

[Update: I've removed this screencast, since it accidentally caught some private information on screen.]

One of the things that is amazing about Douglas Engelbart's Augment system is how powerful and generic it is; it is almost like a thought spreadsheet, a hypertext programming environment. The closest software I've seen that comes close is both the existing World Wide Web as well as HyperCard. Lotus Notes probably had some of the same feeling.

When an environment is so generic, it is hard to get a feel for what it can do just by reading the manuals or seeing a list of commands; it's like trying to understand painting by looking at paint brushes -- you have to see how the tools are used in context to see what they are capable of.

All of us on the Hyperscope team have been spending the month reading the original Augment manuals and learning the software; one challenge, though, has been seeing how an expert user would use the environment like an artist uses their paint brushes.

Alex Russell, one of the cofounders of the Dojo Toolkit, was at one of our weekly status meetings and had a great idea -- why not instrument Douglas Engelbart's Augment machine in such a way that we could record how he would use the system, in order to see and study how an expert user works?

We all agreed that this was a superb idea, and set out to figure out how to do it in a way that would be easy and wouldn't require us to be physically present at Doug's house with a camera crew. We came up with a workflow that is pretty unique and which is completely remote:
  1. First, Doug signs into Augment on his machine at home; I sign into Augment using a Java based terminal emulator. Augment has screen sharing capabilities, the first system that ever had such functionality. In Augment it is known as the Conference subsystem, and Doug and I enter Augment Conference mode so that I can view his Augment screen remotely.
  2. Doug and I make a Skype connection using audio headsets, so we can talk and narrate as he uses the system.
  3. I start up Camtasia Pro, screen capturing software that can produce Flash and Quicktime videos and screencasts.
  4. I start up HotRecorder, audio capturing software that can record Skype conversations.
  5. I start recording the Augment screen using Camtasia Pro, and start recording the Skype conversation using HotRecorder. As Doug works in Augment, everything he does is shown on my Augment screen through the Augment Conference subsystem. We do a 30 minute session.
  6. I stop the audio and video recording and mix them together in Camtasia, and produce a Flash file that shows the full process.
  7. Since this file is about 50 to 100 megabytes, I Creative Commons license the file and upload it to Ourmedia using the Ourmedia Upload Tool. Ourmedia automatically copies the file into the Internet Archive's massive petabyte data cluster, where it can easily be downloaded and viewed. Special thanks to Eugene Kim who suggested using Ourmedia.
The whole process actually takes only 50 minutes, 30 minutes to record and 20 to mix and upload. The result is almost like a fly-on-the-wall perspective on how Douglas Engelbart uses the system he created, a generic hypertext programming, thinking, and collaborative environment.

We recorded a 30 minute session this week, and plan to do sessions on a regular basis. This is actually the second session we've done; the first session had no audio and was a test session.

[link removed for privacy reasons]
Technorati Tags: hyperscope, engelbart

Comments:
Brad, KUDOS!!! I am sooooo glad I stumbled across your article. I'm an independent consultant (read: home office, NOT fully loaded usability lab) who has been pulling her hair out trying to cobble together a remote testing solution for 2 weeks. I've gone through 3 sound cards, 2 mics, lots of unhappy salespeople who processed my returns, numerous software (Gizmo, PrettyMay, Audacity, Virtual Audio Cables, Skylook), countless calls to Creative Labs, Yamaha, local radio stations (who understand broadcasting hardware), Tech Smith (the folks who make Camtasia), Bolt Peters (who make Ethnio), Skype, GoToMeeting, friends and family who've helped me test various configurations.... AAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH! Thanks to your article, I was finally able to produce a "home movie" of a remote user testing call. I'm using a Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi ExtremeMusic soundcard, Yamaha CM500 headset (with built-in mic, not using the battery booster), Camtasia Studio 3, GoToMeeting, Skype and HotRecorder. Nothing else worked for my unique situation, which is user testing Web sites with blind users who use screen readers (JAWS, WindowEyes). If I can't record their screen readers reading a page, there's no point recording at all. Skype and HotRecorder are the only way for me to get decent sound quality of their screen readers reading to them. FINALLY, I can actually capture audio on both ends. Yee-gads!!!!! Bless you, good health to you, have a nice day!!
 
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