Sharing thoughts across time and space

I have a friend, named Tim, who lives all the way across the country. Tim is a wonderful, affable, total geekhead, and I mean that in the very best of ways. He’s smart, he’s fascinated by minutiae, and he loves sharing his discoveries of the hidden treasures in the mundane world as he finds them, using his own special mental lens.

He has been a technical writer for… a while. He’s worked for some of the biggest names in the technical world. Happily, he decided to study communications at Royal Roads University at the same time as I did, which is how and where we met. Most of our academics were conducted long distance, done through an extensive university system built on a free platform called “Moodle.” We learned how to type ever faster in order to meet those firm, Sunday-at-midnight deadlines; we tried out collaborative and communication tools such as wikis, instant messaging, and Skype; we discovered online rabbit holes called “EbscoHost” and “ProQuest.” For two years, we worked together with classmates spread out all across the continent, putting together major class presentations without the benefit of proximity.

Tim has now started a personal project that he has invited me to take a look at. I know I’ll get my thinking-cap jammed firmly onto my head as I browse through Tim’s work, and he’d like me to share my thoughts with him, including how usable I find his wiki site. Instead of sitting here and taking notes as I go, and then trying to convert my scribbles into something cogent and coherent for Tim’s edification, it occurred to me that I could record my onscreen activities (I use ScreenFlow for Macs) and send the video to Tim, so then Tim could see for himself what I do and how I use the site (heuristics). I can even record my verbal comments as I wander about and, fifteen or twenty minutes later, Tim will have a much greater sense of how well his wiki construction works for new users. As he says, “I’ve worked hard at filling the site with ideas, instructions and pointers, but how well it fits together is difficult for the site implementer to understand.”

Sometimes the best way to see how someone uses something is to watch them using it.

Happily, with today’s technology, we don’t even have to be in the same time zone!