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    Research tool roundup part 2: Silverback

    Silverback is the best UX research tool you can buy, hands down. If you're considering desktop screen recording tools for research, buy this first. For $70, it's an incredible value. I'm not in any way affiliated with Silverback. I just think it's awesome.

    Silverback uses the iSight camera on Macs to record a picture-in-picture video. It records four things: the participant's screen, the participant's face, the audio of what the participant is saying, and the participant's clicks. It's unobtrusive while recording.

    You can play the video back right in Silverback or you can export it to share or edit the file. When playing the video back, the screen is the primary recording with the participant's face embedded in the bottom right. You can control the transparency and the size of the picture-in-picture. Clicks are also visible on the screen with a semitransparent circle, so you can see participant actions as they're navigating.

    Of course, this will only record experiences that people have on computers. If you need to watch people use physical products, tablets, or phones, Silverback won't work for you. I have used workarounds before to use Silverback to record mobile research sessions by streaming a video feed on a computer while it's running Silverback. I don't recommend doing that for reasons I'll explain below. I'll recommend some mobile research recording tools in another post. 

    There are a few issues with Silverback.

    First, participants will need to use your computer. If you need to watch people on their own computers, Silverback won't work for you; you should use a remote research tool instead. I'll go over some options for remote research recording in another post. I've run into this problem when I've needed to watch how people organize photos on their computer, for example. 

    Second, it's Mac-only. I haven't found that to be a big issue when researching experiences in the browser since browsers are generally the same on Macs and PCs. If you're researching desktop software, it will be a bigger issue, and you should probably consider other recording options. If you want to use Silverback to research experiences in the browser, you can recruit specifically for people who are familiar with Macs. If you're concerned about a Mac-user-only bias, you can include PC users and ask them to let you know if anything is confusing about the computer while they're using it. I've found that participants are sometimes thrown off by the scrollwheels and scrollbars on Macs if they're used to PCs. You may want to set the scrollbars to always show, and/or have a few browser options for your participants to pick from. 

    Third, Silverback won't let you choose a different webcam for the picture-in-picture. Not having this option often means that I can't use Silverback. Sometimes I like to plug the laptop into a monitor and keyboard for a desktop setup. When I do that, I'd like to be able to choose an external webcam for the picture-in-picture since the laptop isn't pointing at the participant anymore. Like I said earlier, I also sometimes want to use Silverback to record mobile sessions by recording a video input streaming on the screen. When I use Silverback to do this, I lose the chance to have picture-in-picture because I can't point the iSight camera at the participant without also distracting them by showing them a streaming video input of them using their phone.

    Overall, I highly recommend Silverback. They also offer a 30-day free trial. Give it a shot!


    Research tool roundup part 1: Microsoft Word

    Word has a little-known feature that makes it one of the best research tools around. The best part? You probably already have it on your computer. I use this tool for interview projects. It's especially well suited for phone interviews, since it records audio but no video. It syncs audio with notes as you type, so you can easily find and listen to the exact point in the interview where your participant said something interesting.

    The feature is called "Word Notebook Layout" and you have the option to create a new Notebook document in the Word Document Gallery, which pops up when you open Word. The Home and Appearance tabs have a bunch of features that I don't understand or care about, so skip those and click on the Audio Notes tab. Click on record and write notes. Hit enter everytime you want to start a new audio marker. After you stop recording, you can click on the speaker icon in the margin at the beginning of each line to listen to the audio that corresponded to that note.

    You can share the documents as Word Notebook documents, but you can also export the audio as an .mp4 if you're sharing your recordings with people who don't have Word.

    When I use this tool, sometimes I take notes on what participants are saying, but sometimes I just note section headings from my interview guide, since Word makes it easy to find the right point in the audio. I can take fewer notes and pull quotes or take notes on specific sections easily later. 

    I always recommend recording with more than one device in case something goes wrong. It really sucks to lose research data. Word is a great recording tool, either as your primary tool or as your backup.