Screenshots: Why do we want to see them?

Usually when I’m trying to decide whether an application is worth downloading, one of the first places I go to is the Screenshots link. I noticed that I’m disappointed when I can’t find any on a project page. In fact, it is very unlikely that I will download something without seeing a screenshot. Even if it is a console app. Even if it is a plugin of some sort. I want to see how it looks!

I’m not the only one who does this. In fact, I think most people act this way. Regardless of the nature of the application and the way it functions – we want to see it. Sometimes it can get out of hand.

Users: Post sum Screensots!

Developer: But… It’s a console app…

Users: Screenshots or GTFO!

Developer: But… For God’s sake, it’s a compiler!

Users: SCREENSHOTS!!1

Developer: What do you want to see? Ok, I’m going to take a snapshot of my terminal window where it says “Done”. Happy now?

Users: Awesome! downloading it now!

Developer: *bangs head against desk*

Why is that? Why do we always want to see a picture before we download and install something? I guess we are visual beasts by nature. We respond better to visual stimuli than to lengthly descriptions. We even have a saying that explains this: “a picture is worth a thousand words”. You can write a lengthy essay about the features of your application, and I could read it 50 times and still not be sure if I like it or not. But it will take just one look at the screenshot for me to decide if I hate your app, or if I’m interested in it.

A screenshot is as close to a live demo as you can get without wasting my time and bandwidth or your resources. Sure, you could put a long flash screencast illustrating the functionality of your application, but who want’s to sit through the whole thing and listen to the sales pitch?

You could create a flash mock-up that mimics the functionality of your application, but that’s a whole side project in itself. And every minute you spend coding and debugging it, is a minute you don’t spend on improving your actual project.

If your project is a web application, you could provide an open demo, but then you have to host it and either lock it down or moderate it, unless you want it to be spammed, or flooded with offensive material.

Screenshots are the simplest, fastest and most direct way you can show us the functionality and features of your application. Even if it is a console app. Even if it just displays text and has no discernible GUI. I still want to see how the output will look on the screen. If you don’t post them, one of two things will happen:

  1. If your application is relatively unknown, lack of screenshots will alienate new users. They will stop on your site, look for the link to the pictures, and if they don’t find it they will likely move on without ever downloading anything
  2. If you get linked by someone, dugg or just build steady user base, your email inbox and bug tracking system will fill up with screenshot requests.

There is just no reason to avoid posting them. It only takes few seconds of your time to create them, and for one reason or another, the users will be grateful.

[tags]screenshots, screen captures, pictures, images, projects, open source projects, project page[/tags]

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One Response to Screenshots: Why do we want to see them?

  1. Word to your mother. This is so true its not even funny.

    especially the “or GTFO” ;) i liked that.

    Reply  |  Quote

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