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    Mar242013

    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!

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