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Summary:

If you’re a website or software developer, then surely you’ve heard of usability testing before. To many web developers, “usability testing” is one of those buzz words that clients and developers love to use, and something that is very rarely actually done. The reason? Usability testing […]

If you’re a website or software developer, then surely you’ve heard of usability testing before. To many web developers, “usability testing” is one of those buzz words that clients and developers love to use, and something that is very rarely actually done.

The reason? Usability testing requires you setup a lab of computers (or at least one) with specialized software that records the users actions and clicks on the computer, and potentially their expressions and eye movement through the use of a camera. Usability software can be very expensive and complex.

Until now.

Clearleft just released Silverback, a simple usability testing software that’s only $49.95. And it comes with a full-featured 30-day trial.

Silverback sits in the background, capturing the user’s screen activity in the form of a Quicktime video, and also records audio and video from your Mac’s iSight camera (or any webcam). The finished test can be customized and output as full-resolution Quicktime movie or saved down to a smaller file size suitable for email or web use.

How it works

So how does Silverback work? The software is so simple, you don’t even need instructions. Just open the program and you’ll be prompted to create a project (such as “The Apple Blog Usability Test”).

Then add users to the project. You have the option to add notes, or you can wait until after the session. You can maneuver them to the perfect position with a video preview and then click “Start Session.” Everything in the window (except the Silverback app windows) will be recorded. Users can resize windows, change applications, and interact with the operating system. Everything is captured.

Users clicks are recorded and accentuated in the final video with little “dots” that show you visually where they clicked (even if it wasn’t on an actual link), which is very useful information. When recording the test, there are no visual queues. Silverback sits in the background completely silent.

You can pause the session or add chapter markers using your Apple Remote. To add a chapter marker, press the “+” on the remote. To pause/un-pause, press the “Play/Pause” button.

When finished you can stop by clicking the menubar icon, or by selecting the application and clicking “stop.” You can add notes, start another session or export your data to Quicktime. To export, you’re given just a few options and can save your video out at 100%, 75%, 50% or 25% of it’s original size, and at Best, High, Medium and Low quality settings.

Silverback is a really elegant application and was very easy to use. It really reminds me what great Mac software should be like. If you’re a web designer or develop desktop software for Macs, check out Silverback and start usability testing!

Screenshot Gallery

 

Here’s a short video from the Silverback website:


Silverback screencast from Jeremy Keith on Vimeo.

By Brandon Eley

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  1. So, would it be considered ironic that I don’t think their website is very usable? I have my browser window sized such that the webpage cuts off right below the Mac-icons, beneath the “purchase” button. It clearly looks like that’s the bottom of the page. I spent a couple seconds clicking around looking for links before realizing that homepage scrolled for two more pages.
    Ever heard of pages, guys?

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  2. Joe, did you not see the scroll bar?

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  3. obviously I saw the scroll bar, and realized after a second or two that there was more page beneath the current window.

    my point, though, is that the design of the page should make it obvious that the page content continues. If they had used the Silverback application with people using various screen sizes and resolutions, they probably should have picked up on some hesitation from some users as they looked for navigation links or wondered where the rest of the content was.

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  4. ScreenFlow has been doing this for some time. It’s a bit more expensive, but works flawlessly, and records everything. In fact, combined with VMWare, it gives me a cross-platform usability testing solution that simply cannot be beaten.

    What’s the big deal?

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  5. Silverback is similar to Screenflow but designed with usability testing (not screencasting) in mind, so it has features designed accordingly. It’s also cheaper.

    That said, either program could do the job of the other in a pinch and do it well with minor changes. Both also appear to be incapable of capturing keyboard and mouse activity very well (e.g. showing modifier keys being held down, indicating drag operations, showing which mouse button is pressed).

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  6. I’ll probably give this a try. As indicated, it ain’t expensive. I was at the NNG conference a couple of months ago, and they were pushing this multi-thousand-dollar Windoze-only product. Both Silverback and Screenflow are almost exactly the same thing. I THINK (Can’t remember for sure) that the product they were pushing did keyboard capture.

    >Both also appear to be incapable of capturing keyboard and mouse activity very well (e.g. showing modifier keys being held down, indicating drag operations, showing which mouse button is pressed).

    Yeah, this is annoying. I’d like that. I believe there are some hacking tools that record this…

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  7. Thanks for the write-up, Brandon.

    @CDM – Silverback is aimed at a different market to ScreenFlow, and although the feature-set is similar, the workflow is completely different and aimed at usability testing rather than screencasting. From the project/session management in Silverback to the fact that mouse-clicks are recorded despite being invisible (in ScreenFlow, mouse-clicks become visible DURING the recording) – Silverback is much better (not to mention cheaper and compatible with more operating systems) for the job it’s designed for. And naturally, ScreenFlow is better for screencasting.

    @Joe L. – Thanks for the advice. In our usability tests of the site none of the participants had trouble finding out more about what the software does. The target audience is web-savvy designers and developers, so it really doesn’t matter if less experienced web users hesitate or don’t realise they have to scroll. Your point highlights why basing a site’s layout design on the results of usability testing rather than on gut instinct or previous experience is important.

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