Okay, first a little disclaimer: I won a subscription on a Twitter Quiz and therefore have not paid for TekPub. So my view might be slightly biased, but I try to be neutral. But if you want the TLDR version: TekPub is great and I recommend it.
A few weeks ago, a new site called TekPub launched, created by Rob Conery and James Avery. If you don’t know them, here is a brief bio: Rob used to work at Microsoft on the ASP.net team and also created SubSonic, an open source ORM. James is a long-time developer and founded several advertising networks, including The Lounge. What they provide is Training Videos about several technologies.
Currently (December 2009) they have Git, NHibernate, Building a Blog Software and two newly launched series about jQuery and Linux. Also, there is a free series about Concepts and evolving from a Coder to a Developer. Those are pretty “hip” topics, but more importantly, those are topics that (in my opinion) are not very well covered. Sure, there are tons and tons of documentation, tutorials and samples about Git or NHibernate, but a comprehensive, A to Z, Start to Finish series is rare. That’s the reason I still buy books, and that’s the reason I immediately became excited when I first saw the TekPub announcement.
Let’s start with some technical details first. The Videos are large. The WMV Version of the Git series is 1000×748 Pixels, and it shows positively. You can download the videos in WMV or MP4 format without DRM if you have a yearly subscription or buy a series. For monthly subscribers, there are no downloads. In all cases, you can stream them through their Silverlight player. There seems to be an issue with download links pointing to the wrong files, but that only seems to happen if you open multiple videos in tabs and try to download them – downloading them one by one caused no wrong files. Overall, the picture quality is very good. The fonts are readable and the slides are usually concise.
The audio quality is also very good, and this is one of the very strong sides. English is my second language and while I believe to speak it quite well, I do have problem understanding people who speak muffled (I cannot understand one word of Marlon Brando in The Godfather…) or too fast. On the other hand, people who speak too slow and too clear are boring me to death and often I watched Webcasts and wanted to shout out loud “Dude, get to the point already!”. TekPub so far has great speakers, regardless if it’s Rob, James, or Ayende on the NHibernate series. They have the right pace, they have a clear pronunciation and usually they get to the point fairly quickly. It has a very casual feel to it, which is exactly what I like. I hope they can keep it like that; I used to be a customer of another video training website (Lynda.com) and saw a lot of Hit and Miss when it comes to the speakers.
There are a few minor issues in the early episodes though. Every video starts with a short intro, playing some music and the logo. On some of them, the volume of the music is too loud compared to the narration, so I have to turn the volume down at the beginning and up as soon as the talking starts. Luckily, that is fixed in the newer episodes.
Now to the actual “meat” – the content and its presentation. I watched most of the Git and Build your own blog videos, giving the NHibernate ones a quick look as well. Each episode in a series focuses on one or two points, and the episodes usually build upon each other. That makes it more a Training than a quick reference. With the help of these videos, I managed to start understanding and using Git and I consider them a very good introduction for people who already know Source Control and want to switch or use Git in parallel. But sometimes, I feel like there was no flow. The Git and Build your own Blog series jump from Topic A to D to B to F to C. You may need to watch them a few times as some of the stuff explained later makes it easier to understand some of the concepts before. Also, sometimes the speaker either does not fully know about something at the time of recording or makes a small mistake, and in those cases there is an overlay on the video explaining the mistake or giving more detail. That’s okay because I know that re-dubbing or re-recording a section can be painful, but it can be confusing. But these mistakes are very rare. I think I saw them twice.
You can clearly see them improving and you can clearly see the different directions. Build your own Blog is more like a Video Blog of “Rob builds a blog software for himself” whereas Git and NHibernate is straight training.
Would I pay $200 for a yearly subscription? Good question. So far, there is not that much content and you are investing in a promise. On the other hand, they started two more series in the past 2 weeks. They are also clearly improving, as the later videos are better than the earlier ones. Also, they are not some no-names and also they are not known for abandoning projects and letting people down. Finally, one could argue how much the NHibernate series alone would be worth if they wouldn’t sell it for $25.
The alternatives to the yearly subscription are a monthly subscription (no downloads, only streaming) or purchasing a series. These options are easier to recommend, I definitely think that Git and NHibernate are worth their purchase prices. I’m undecided on Build your Own Blog and it’s too early to judge the jQuery and Linux for Softies series.
But overall, I am very positively surprised. For me, the pace and clear pronunciation is a huge thing, and the content is certainly top notch. Not flawless, but you can see that they know what to talk about and that they are not misleading anyone. They may need to improve the overall flow a little bit, but so far I haven’t found any video that wasn’t at least good. I definitely recommend keeping a close eye on it if you’re interested in video training.