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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Major Update to Sharing Tool: Screencasts & Slideshows

We've released a major update to the Sharing Tool which includes a completely new way to share! Originally, you could send screenshots to the guest, and invite the guest to share their screen with you. Those original features remain (with a few neat upgrades), but now, you can also record your own screen to create silent screencasts which can then be transformed into simple, annotated slideshows.

Plus all of this sharing goodness is available within AND outside the context of a chat. If you use the LibraryH3lp 3mail module, you'll find that we've integrated snapshots so you can use the drawing tools to annotate images you’d like to insert into email drafts. And beyond LibraryH3lp, you can use snapshots, screencasts, and slideshows as standalone tools in your daily workflow for doing things like creating content for documentation, tutorials, and guides.

The technical requirements remain the same: You do not need to download or install anything and neither does your guest during a chat. Everything runs in the web browser, no extensions, downloads, plugins, or non-standard settings needed.

Before we dive in and instead of sticking this at the end of our post because it is important to us, we'd like to ask that you let us know what you think after giving things a whirl? We'd love to hear any suggestions you might have for improvement.

Now without further ado, here's a video overview of the updates and additional details are below.

Screencasts and Slideshows Overview

Screencasts are silent recordings of your own screen.  You can save and share the raw recording as a webm video. Or you can create and share a simple slideshow by selecting and optionally annotating frames from your recording to further emphasize the steps you're illustrating. Slideshows are saved as animated GIFs.

One potential issue you'll run into with screencasts is that support for webm, although pretty good across devices, is not universal. On the other hand, slideshows WILL work everywhere and on ANY device, regardless of its ability to play various kinds of true movie files.

Creating a Screencast

You can create a silent screencast during a chat or via direct link (by regional server):

To begin, you’ll start recording your screen. Your web browser will prompt you about what you want to “share” with the recording tool. If you are working within a chat, you probably want to avoid including the webclient’s screen, so you might want to only capture an individual browser tab.

Screencast screen prior to starting your recording
Then, you move through the steps you want to illustrate, and return to the sharing tool to stop your recording. You’ll have a movie player built in, and you can watch what you've captured and send it to the guest, save it to a local file, etc... This will generate a webm file, which many devices will play.

Screencast screen after recording is finished and showing built-in movie player

Creating a Slideshow from Your Screencast

Click the “Create Slideshow” button after you've recorded your screencast to begin selecting individual frames from your movie to compose a slideshow.

In the slideshow editor, there's a green slider along the track that you can use to navigate through frames.  Once you've found a frame you'd like to capture as a slide, click the "Add Slide" button. Slides can be annotated with editing tools (just like snapshots).

Slideshow editor with one annotated slide

You can do things like select nearly the same frame twice, and annotate the second one, in order to help draw the eye to the desired content.

After you've created all the slides you want, you are ready to send your slideshow to the guest, save it to a local file, etc... This will generate an animated GIF file.

There are a few settings you twiddle before saving your slideshow:
  • The time (in seconds) each slide will be displayed before moving to the next slide.
  • The color quality for the GIF. Lower quality renders the GIF file more quickly, but color conversions may not always be true. 
  • By default, a replay slide is included at the end of a slideshow. Since this is an animated GIF file, no movie player is required on the part of the viewer. If you’re sending one of these during a chat, the guest will view it in its own tab, and this replay slide at the end will help them understand that they can reload that tab to watch your slideshow again. However, if you are creating an animated GIF for use in elsewhere such as in a tutorial, you may not want that replay slide included.

Screencasting Limitations

We would love to tell you that screensharing, screencasts, and slideshows work in any web browser. But we simply cannot do that yet reliably given the current state of web browser technology.

Right now, you have to use Chrome 72+ or Firefox.

Edge should work once it becomes Chromium-compatible.

Safari might eventually work. Someday.

And sorry but Internet Explorer 11 will never work. As Dr. McCoy would say, "He's dead, Jim."

But there is a bit of good news!  Snapshots WILL work in any browser, including Internet Explorer 11.  And speaking of snapshots...

Updates to Snapshots

The functionality of snapshots remains largely unchanged, though there has been a little bit of reorganization.  Here's a rundown of new features:

  • Resize snapshots in pixels or by percentage.
  • The drawing tools are now located on the right side of the window and auto-collapse to give maximum screen real estate to the image being edited. But you can expand them if needed.
  • Two new color choices for drawing tools: blue and green

Snapshot editor with drawing tools collapsed

Snapshots now have a direct link (by regional server) which you can use outside the context of a chat or 3mail:

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