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It is now more and more popular to have video tutorials of the software or technology instead of writing long articles. As for me, it makes perfect sense, especially for such areas like "Getting Started" or "What's New".

What do you think is the most appropriate duration for such a videos? If you record the video tutorial yourself, would you just touch main points to keep it brief, or rather split it into a number of parts to keep the same level of details? And why?

I know this question isn't implied to have one and only answer. I'd like to hear the reasoning behind various opinions.

I have personally come across a video tutorial 45 minutes long today, and I got tired at around minute 10... So, my own impression is it's better to keep it from 5 to 10 minutes to gain visitor's attention fully.

Thanks!

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An excellent and very relevant question, in my opinion. –  Adam Crossland Oct 28 '10 at 17:17
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6 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I would tend to agree with the 5-10 minute rule. When I see a new technology, most of the time I don't want to get into the nitty-gritty details; I just want to get a general overview of it so that I can decide if it's something I want to learn more about. If the video does a B-tree traversal of everything one needs to know to use the tech, you can't get the general picture of WHY you would want it in the first place.

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I would also add Search Engine Optimization to the reasons to keep it shorter. –  MIA Oct 28 '10 at 17:17
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@Jim: How does SEO apply at all when you're talking about a video? –  Aaronaught Oct 28 '10 at 19:36
    
When someone is trying to find out how to do something. If you have a long tutorial that covers several areas, it's going to be harder to find out that it covers the one area you're looking for. For instance, a "how to use jquery" won't turn up when someone googles "how to use selectors in jquery". –  MIA Oct 28 '10 at 20:46
    
+1 and accepting your answer –  Yan Sklyarenko Apr 7 '11 at 9:05
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This is perhaps slightly off-topic, but hopefully still useful feedback for anyone considering doing video tutorials

If the video is basically slides with speaking, please provide a non-video version with images and a transcript as well.

I can read far faster than people can talk, and it can be incredibly frustrating having to sit through even a short video - especially so when I'm listening to music, and just want to know how to do whatever the tutorial is teaching.

(This has the added benefit of allowing the content of the tutorial to be indexed, thus increasing exposure to the tutorial in general.)

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+1 +1 +1 +1!!! I hate having to wait 5 minutes for a video to download, and then watch the (typically) crappy thing for another 5 minutes just to get whats essentially 30 seconds of actual information that could better be summed up in text. –  GrandmasterB Oct 28 '10 at 19:24
    
+1. Good points, thanks! –  Yan Sklyarenko Oct 29 '10 at 6:49
    
+1. I much prefer reading to watching video tutorials. In fact, I've seen only one video tutorial I liked: xiph.org/video/vid1.shtml. –  TRiG Dec 7 '10 at 10:15
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I would keep the introduction to 5 minutes. That should be long enough to hook people who are going to get hooked. Then they will be willing to watch longer videos, but even those should be no longer than 15 minutes, long enough to introduce one or two keys ideas, illustrate how they work and give the viewer some exercises for putting into practice the new ideas.

I am a very firm believer in tangibly reinforcing information very quickly after it is delivered. In addition to increasing the likelihood that the information will be truly understood and retained, it reduces the odds that the viewer will become fatigued.

I think that the Khan Academy videos are an excellent model and might even be the best and most well thought-out video instruction created to date.

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I have checked a couple of Khan Academy videos - they do look good. –  Yan Sklyarenko Oct 29 '10 at 7:31
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I think the lenght doesn't really matter. I often watch Google Tech Talks, which last around 45 min - 1 hour. While I often can't sit through the whole hour, every 10 or 15 min I do a little break, grab some coffee or check e-mails, then continue. Actually, what I hate more is having to switch between videos around the same topic every 5-10 minutes.

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I think it's more important to focus on communicating a single topic than getting hung up on length (within reason). A lot of things can be done in 5-15 minutes - but don't shy away from something longer if the audience is prepared for it and it's required.

By about an hour the audience is going to be fatigued - so if you're going to be doing something that's maybe 45min+ then you should probably have a small change of pace in the middle - maybe an aside or something - to wake people up.

More than an hour and people will be getting uncomfortable so try not to go over that.

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Let's assume for the sake of discussion that you are (or can enlist the services of) an excellent speaker and editor and you're able to cut out all unnecessary material, which is depressingly far from the truth with most tutorial videos and "screencasts" which tend to be full of stumbles and pauses and monotone blathering.

The answer is:

Two and a half minutes.

What's that number based on? I hear you asking. You just pulled it out of your backside, didn't you? Well, I'll tell you where I got it from.

Two and a half minutes is the average length of a YouTube movie.

You could not possibly ask for a better pool of data. We are talking about over 50 billion videos and over 2 billion views per day. And averaged out of all of these people and all of these videos, the majority are watched for well under 3 minutes, which is only a minute short of the average song length and about the same length as a typical commercial break on TV.

Some studies show that a typical attention span is 10 minutes, but that statistic is for college students in a classroom environment. That is, they are trying to focus their attention. Most users who watch your tutorial video are already in the mindset that this video is just a nuisance, it's something that they have to get through in order to start using some other thing that was too complicated and unintuitive to understand without a tutorial video. They desperately want to get through it as quickly as possible and get back to their "real" work or activities.

Two and a half minutes. That's it. More than three minutes and you're going to start losing people.

If you've got a lot of material to get through then split it up over multiple videos. One concept or task per video. Do not make people sit through a 10-minute video just to learn a single concept.

Attention spans seem to be declining every year with the advent of services like SMS messaging and now Twitter. Row against this current at your own peril.

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That's interesting statistics. However, it would be good to know how many of YouTube videos are actually technical tutorials. That would be more relevant pool of data. –  Yan Sklyarenko Oct 29 '10 at 7:31
    
@Yan: No, it's actually completely irrelevant. People's attention spans are the same regardless of what they're watching; if anything, they're lower for boring technical material. The only things that may make a difference are environment (is it noisy/distracting/etc.?) and mood (are they really trying to learn or just trying to get something done?), neither of which you can control. You're looking at this from entirely the wrong perspective; statistics show that people don't typically watch for more than two and a half minutes no matter what the content is. –  Aaronaught Oct 29 '10 at 14:04
    
Why would you think that watching the video is a nuisance? Outside the classroom environment they're almost certain not to be watching it at all unless they're interested. –  FinnNk Oct 30 '10 at 14:42
    
@Finn: You're joking, right? Are programmers really so far divorced from the world of their users and customers? Normal people don't want to watch training videos any more than they want to read a manual - they're most likely doing it because that's the only way they're able to get the information they need to actually do they're really trying to do. And besides which, it doesn't matter because the statistics are for all videos including entertainment. The inmates really are running the asylum on this site... –  Aaronaught Oct 30 '10 at 14:46
    
They're not divorced from the real world at all - since when has the typical length for a video been 2.5 minutes? As a programmer, if I want information quickly the last place I'll go is a video. That's doubly true if what the video contains can be covered in 2.5 minutes. –  FinnNk Oct 30 '10 at 14:50
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