My company is starting to do some long overdue work on our online help/tutorial system, and the goal is to make it more lively, integrated, and interactive. We have a large database of medical information, with complex forms and tools for data collection, sharing, and aggregation, and there are a lot things that need explaining. I understand that the best design doesn't need explaining, but unfortunately in our case, there's enough complexity that many things need illustration.
Our current system is a bunch of long-form videos (2-10 minutes each) that explain our tools and forms with basic screen capture videos (mouse movement, clicks, occasional zoom in/out) with a narrator describing what he/she is doing over the top. We've had complaints - not surprisingly - that these longer videos are too long and too bland, and no one wants to sit through them, so that's why there's interest in making the tutorials/help system more interactive and lively.
The current proposal is to replace these longer videos with a series of punchy little narrated animations (built with Flash) that describe a single feature in 10-30 seconds. Short, sweet, and hopefully more digestible and interesting. When the user is finished viewing help for one feature, they can either watch the next snippet, or return to working with the tool/form.
It should be noted that budget is a concern here, so keeping this project as simple as possible is a concern. In fact, that's one of the reasons for the "shorter animations" proposal: as site features are tweaked and change over the months and years, we won't need to spend as many resources re-recording full 10-minute videos with updated information/graphics; we can simply update the small animations pertinent to features that have changed.
A few questions have arisen - Are we going in the right direction? Is using Flash to make tutorial animations wise? What DIY video screen capture tools are available for easily building software tutorials on a budget? What about interactive help/tips that are built right into the webpage? - but none of those are particularly appropriate for UX StackExchange.
But I think this question is:
What are some examples of beautiful, well-designed, usable help/tutorials systems that you've seen around the web?
Basically, I'm looking for "help system inspiration". I'm trying to find some examples of both video/animation help integration, and interactive help that's built right into the page - in the latter case, I'm thinking of some of little helper tips that I've seen in a number of places, e.g., Facebook and Gmail have both used little tips to explain new features. I'd love to find an article showcasing a variety of great help/tutorial user experience design options, but I'm open to absolutely anything.