My new favorite tool

September 11th, 2012 10 comments

I don’t know about you, but even though I enjoy watching some videos online, I almost always find them to be   t o o    s   l   o   w.

I don’t mind if a film noir from the 40′s drags when I’m watching it on TV; that’s part of the fun. But most webinars (frankly), and even things like TED talks (although I know it’s heresy to say it aloud) can seem to go on forever.

And as soon as my attention starts to wander, I start kidding myself that I can actually multitask, which amounts to a) opening up my inbox and working through some of the email languishing there while I half-listen, and b) gradually losing the thread of what the speaker is saying, which makes it seem even more boring. Eventually, I just close the video.

One problem is the inherent difference between print and video: You can skim print. In fact, we do it all the time. We’re constantly adjusting our pace, all the way from “just glancing at the headings” to “rereading the same sentence until we finally understand it”, with dozens of gradations in between. This flexibility lets us skip over (or at least breeze through) the parts that just aren’t of much interest or value to us.

Granted, the system isn’t perfect. We’re not always the best judges of what we need to pay attention to. And it can often lead to skipping over the harder stuff (the parts we don’t understand), which may be exactly what we do need to read carefully. But for the most part, it’s very effective and efficient. (Personally, I instantly skim past any description of a landscape in a novel. I can’t picture them well in my head, so they add nothing to the experience. If I couldn’t skip them, there are many books I’m sure I wouldn’t have read.)

Which brings me to my tool tip.

Many years ago (perhaps 20), I sometimes found myself watching videos of usability tests that someone else had conducted. As much as I love usability testing, watching a batch of prerecorded tests can be, quite honestly, like watching paint dry. The first few can be fascinating, but after that….

So I went looking and found myself a VCR (Video Cassette Recorder, for those of you under 25) that had variable speed playback WITH AUDIO. Almost every VCR could vary the playback speed somewhat, but 99 percent of them muted the audiowhen you did it. This one played the audio and  adjusted the pitch proportionally so you didn’t get the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” effect.

A few years ago, while again watching some usability test recordings online, I started hankering for the same functionality. In fact, I suggested to the folks at UserTesting.com that they add it as a feature. (I had suggested it to some other vendors in the past, but they just nodded their heads and pretended to be making a note about it.) I figured by now somebody must have solved the problem, so I went looking around online, and sure enough, I found just what I wanted.

It’s a tool called MySpeed from enounce.com.

For $29.99 (Windows or Mac), you can use it to speed up or slow down online Flash and HTML5 (FLV and MV4) video. (There’s also a premium version that works with offline files, but it costs more.)

My experience: There’s hardly any informational video that can’t be improved by watching it at 1.4x normal speed. And many can be watched happily at 2x, depending on the content and the speaker’s style. And if you miss anything, you can easily rewind a little and switch (with hotkeys) to normal speed. It can be very satisfying to watch a video in half the time.

There are some caveats, of course: Some sites, like Ted.com, stream video just fast enough to be played at normal speed, so if you play it faster it will keep pausing to refill the buffer. But Enounce has a free trial version. Check it out. Or let me know if you know of a better one.

BTW, UserTesting.com did recently implement it as a feature for the benefit of people watching test videos, and they did a very nice job of it.

Categories: Other
  1. September 11th, 2012 at 16:02 | #1

    I’ve done something similar in the past when watching videos. Earlier versions of Quicktime, I believe, had a variable speed setting that allowed you to speed things up when necessary. If you combine this feature with the “Go Back 30 Seconds and Play” button now commonplace on remotes like DirecTV and TiVo, this would sound perfect to watch many webinars and other similar recordings from speakers with a snooze worthy delivery.

  2. Steve Krug
    September 11th, 2012 at 17:51 | #2

    Exactly right, Dan. I’ve found speed controls in various versions of Quicktime and Windows Media Player over the years, but they always seemed to disappear and reappear when new versions got released. Sometimes the functionality was still there, but the controls had been cleverly hidden in the latest UI.

    The “Replay the Last 30 Seconds” button would be the perfect addition, but it’s always seemed like too much to hope for. Maybe I’ll suggest it to Enounce and Usertesting.com.

  3. September 27th, 2012 at 12:32 | #3

    Back when I was single and had free time, I watched movies on my laptop using varying speeds of up 1.4x using a player which I don’t remember. Every movie I watched came with a great feeling of knowing I had an extra 20 minutes life compared everyone else who watched the movie.

    Definitely looking forward to getting that same benefit now with webinars. Thanks for a great recommendation.

  4. September 28th, 2012 at 13:10 | #4

    “There’s hardly any informational video that can’t be improved by watching it at 1.4x normal speed. And many can be watched happily at 2x, depending on the content and the speaker’s style.”

    And hardly any talk that can’t be improved by skipping the first 10 to 15 minutes. The first 20% is the stuff I already knew that made me want to watch the talk to begin with.

  5. October 5th, 2012 at 23:33 | #5

    When I was in college I used to do this with video correspondence classes and it worked great! I didn’t realize that there was a tool for doing that with online video though. Thanks for the tip.

  6. November 2nd, 2012 at 03:23 | #6

    Dude… I just sat through 3/4 of your article before you finally coughed up a name. Where’s that x2 button when you need it :-P

    The solution to the problem you’re describing is higher quality content and smarter arrangement, distribution and presentation thereof. Videos should include advanced playback features – even scene/category/topic markers as with DVDs. Hey, you know what would be amazing? Using voice recognition to capture and embed an interactive keyword/tag index which corresponds to timeline markers.

    Great work, Steve.
    Floris

  7. January 10th, 2013 at 03:17 | #7

    That’s a nice idea! Lynda.com has this feature but unfortunately not YouTube.
    Right after reading your post i went to Google Chrome extensions and searched for “Video speed” there…as expected, they already have a free solution. :) It is called SmaSurf that works with HTML5 video (you may join HTML5 testing in YouTube)
    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/smasurf-for-web-browser-e/kbilhcaegfmcpmlnpcogdgfchpodhcih

  8. March 19th, 2013 at 09:27 | #8

    That’s a nice idea. Thanks for the tip.

  9. Steve Krug
    March 31st, 2013 at 21:56 | #9

    Polina :

    Right after reading your post i went to Google Chrome extensions and searched for “Video speed” there…as expected, they already have a free solution. :) It is called SmaSurf that works with HTML5 video

    Thanks for the tip. I never thought to check, because I don’t use Chrome that often.

    I have to admit, though, that one thing about SmaSurf worries me enough to probably keep me away from it: “This extension can access: – Your data on all websites. – Your tabs and browsing activity.” My problem is I can never figure out just how bad a thing that is.

  10. Frank Ralf
    October 29th, 2013 at 06:10 | #10

    SmaSurf is also available for other browsers: http://www.smasurf.com/web-browser-extensions

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