Have you ever been in an IM or email conversation and wanted to quickly show someone a screenshot or screencast/video of something on your screen? But didn't want to go through the hassle of saving a file and then uploading it or attaching it? Or you wanted to add something to your Twitter feed but didn't want to put the image somewhere first?
Well, yesterday the folks over at TechSmith (makers of SnagIT and Camtasia Studio) released an "experiment" to do just that in the form of a project called Jing at the URL www.jingproject.com. As they talk about on the Jing blog, and also on the TechSmith Visual Lounge blog, this is truly an experiment in how to enhance communication:
The Jing Project is our journey to discover how we can improve everyday conversation. Think of all those IM chats, emails, blog posts and comments you’ve made over the years. Now imagine a more visual world where integrating screen captures and screencasts into those took nothing more than a matter of seconds. Can you imagine it? I can - I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it - it’s Jing.
Our goal is to explore this with all of you and together see how we can bridge the visual world and our daily conversations into a richer, more effective way to communicate.
I have to say I'd admire any company that experiments publicly (although one could argue that pretty much all of "Web 2.0" is one big "beta") and they have been very up front about the fact that Jing is really a "proof-of-concept" more than a "product"... they aren't sure what this will turn into, what the business model will be, etc. They are more just throwing it out there to watch what people do with it.
So what is "Jing"? Well, essentially it is a screen capture program that sits on your Windows or Mac and, when triggered, captures an image or records a video/screencast - and then uploads the image/video to screencast.com and... this is the key... gives you a URL on your clipboard that you can paste into an IM chat, email, Twitter post, whatever. So the Jing logo I have above is now also available as a screenshot at:
It's pretty cool in that you can just make a quick screen capture or a quick video/screencast. For instance, here's an incredibly riveting video of me updating my status on Facebook:
Now, not terribly exciting in a blog, where I can just embed a video, but could be quite useful in an IM chat, Twitter/Jaiku/Pownce post or an email. For instance, just this morning I used it to email my corporate help desk and included a pointer to a screen capture of my Task Manager while trying to diagnose some performance problems. (And being security paranoid as I am, I didn't have an issue putting the screen cap on an external server because it didn't really show anything about my machine other than the fact that I'm pushing my laptop way beyond what I should! ;-)
Since it's hosted on screencast.com, you can actually login there and then find other ways to share the screencast or screen capture. For instance, I can do the much more blog-appropriate thing and embed the screencast right here:
So in my limited experimentation, I can definitely see the use for it. The one "catch" that some of the others playing with the released version have latched onto is that right now it is tied to screencast.com, which actually is a commercial hosting service that you have to pay $70/year to have an account there. Right now, and according to TechSmith "for the life of the Jing project", however long that may be, you don't have to pay to use it. This is again an experiment and TechSmith seems to be figuring out how or if they can turn this into a business. At the moment, Jing and the associated hosting on screencast.com is free.
Now the program does show its pre-release rough edges a bit when you first download and install it. For one thing, because it uses Windows Presentation Framework on a PC you have to download Microsoft .Net 3.0 which took a while and was a separate install process. The other major issue I had was that once you do the install... it seems like nothing happens. If you are an astute observer (or have been clued in by someone) you will notice that you now have a new icon in your systray - If you click on that icon and choose "Preferences" you get the big yellowish-orangish ball that you see in the image on the right. Yes, that's the preferences screen. (The TechSmith folks are perhaps going a bit overboard on the "experiment" angle, although it is at least interesting to see someone thinking about a different UI for dialog boxes.) The middle button gets you into the preferences where you can create a screencast.com account and set up a hot key to trigger the Jing capture. (And yes, I submitted feedback with my concerns about some of the UI roughness.) When you are done, you press the checkmark icon and you're set to go.
After that, it's just a matter of triggering Jing to take a capture. You do that either through the hot key you assigned or through the strange little ball (half-circle, really) that appears at the top middle of your screen above all other windows in the title bar area:
When you go up to that ball with your mouse, it expands and you can initiate the capture. (Funny, but I can't seem to find a way to capture a video of it because the ball disappears as soon as you start the capture.) Personally, I'm a keyboard guy, so configuring it to be Ctrl+Shift+S worked fine for me.
I guess my only major knock is that even just sitting there idle waiting to be triggered Jing seems to consume about 15-20% of my CPU (per Task Manager). The TechSmith folks seem to think this is related to .Net 3.0 but it is a bit annoying (see previous mention of performance problems on laptop).
All in all, I think it's an interesting "experiment" and it's great that TechSmith has made it available for people to play with. It's definitely still got some rough edges, but I know that the TechSmith folks are currently drowning in feedback right now so I'd expect they'll be making some changes. I don't know how much I'll honestly use it, in part because I'm a bit reluctant to put content on a service where I'm not sure how long the service will be available... but I will continue to experiment with it when I have the need to add visuals into IM or other communication.
Could you see yourself using something like this which makes it easy to include images or video? What do you think about it?
UPDATE: There is a good amount of conversation going on right now about Jing. Some posts you may find interesting:
- Tris Hussey - Jing could make sending a screenshot or screencast painless
- Lifehacker - Take and share screenshots and screencasts with Jing Project
- Lockergnome - Jing! Timing is everything