I don’t normally blog on tools, but having just being introduced to two that I’ve found very useful, I thought I would share my experience (invading Profhacker territory). Both these came up while experimenting with a blogsite.
The first thing I’ll be shouting about is a screen-cast tool. It occurred to me that a good way to introduce users to the blog – how to navigate the blog, how specific features work, or how links might be used – would be to put a screen cast in there. I first tried using QuickTime player but ended up with a huge file and in a format that my basic free WordPress package couldn’t upload. Luckily a colleague mentioned Jing. This is a really easy to use tool that allows you to record screencasts with audio commentary: when you open it a sun-like icon sits in the upper-right-hand corner of your screen. The downside with Jing is that the maximum record time is 5 minutes (though there’s a handy countdown timer for you). In practice, however, this is a positive since it limits your screencast to the essential point and to a specific task: reactions to them have been good. But the really big advantage is that your site does not have to host the file. Jing uploads your recording to Screencast.com: the URL to your screencast can then be simply embedded in your site.
The problem with my blog coping (or not) with complex files came up again when I wanted to upload an audio recording of a lecture. Having recorded it on Garageband, the resultant file was – you guessed it – huge, and in a format once again that my WordPress package could not upload. The answer to the problem lay in another sharing-type tool. SoundCloud seems primarily intended for musicians to upload and share music, but (again thanks to a colleague for pointing this out) it was useful for sharing any audio files, including lectures. You can record direct to SoundCloud, but having already recorded my lecture I wasn’t about to do it over again, so SoundCloud also allowed me to upload my audio file. The result was a URL to my audio file that I then embedded in my blog.
Of course, more sophisticated blog packages might be the way forward, but for the moment these cloud-based sharing services are easy-to-use and attractive options for hosting more complex media.