web 2.0 isn’t a cure-all

26 10 2006

there’s been a bit of excitement about a new application called slideshare.  as michael arrington on techcrunch calls it powerpoint + youtube.  now it’s been my belief that for an application to truly be a noteworthy web 2.0 application it should enhance a user’s experience beyond what they might otherwise be able to do.

edward tufte must feel like he’s shouting into the wind with this latest powerpoint "enhancement.’  tufte has said "powerpoint is evil" because it forces presenters into a format of endless bullets and non-expository statements of 10-20 words per page with an obligatory piece of clip art.   i do agreeBlog_review_box_slideshare
with him that unfortunately the vast majority of presentations made with powerpoint are just as he describes.  (usually with some manager or teacher reading word-for-word through the endless bullet points.)  however, i am less ready to blame the tool than i am the user.

i strive to use powerpoint as a demonstration tool or, at worst, a set of guideposts for my presentation.  i use images, animations and motion to demonstrate or illustrate a concept.  for example in a presentation on what newborns know for a learning theory class, i created an animation in which a ball rolled behind a screen.  sometimes it came out on the other side, sometimes it didn’t.  this illustration of a classic perceptual experiment conducted with infants was praised by my audience because it made them "feel" the experience as i was discussing the concept.  another slide in the same presentation i played with the looming ball concept (babies will raise their hands when a ball is coming at them evidencing an understanding of distance) just for a bit of fun and to maintain attention.  a third slide i used images and motions to explain how categorization develops in a child from 6 – 18 months.

so back to slideshare.  after alan levine’s glowing review of slideshare, I had to check it out.  so i grabbed the powerpoint presentation i just mentioned, signe dup for a slideshare account and uploaded that sucker.  the upload interface is very nifty and it didn’t take long for my presentation to be fully converted in to a flash presentation ready for viewing and sharing.  one of the cool things about slideshare is that you can embed the resulting presentation in a blog or website very easily.  like this:

if you take a look at the presentation you’ll see that slides 6 (ball and screen illustration), 7 (looming ball), and 11 (demonstration of categorization) don’t work.  so it dawned on me.  they take pps files as well as ppt files so maybe a powerpoint show (pps format) would work.  wrong!  same damn thing.  so the result is that if you do somehow break out of the paradigm of powerpoint usage that tufte blasts, slideshare will bring you right back to it!

while the interface is quite slick on slideshare, it’s functionality takes away any positive features powerpoint brings to the table.  you can see my full review of slideshare on eelearning wiki, but in short, slideshare might qualify as a web 2.0 application, but it it’s a poor example of web2.0.



3 responses

26 10 2006
Amit Ranjan


My name is Amit and I am from the Slideshare team.

I am sorry that SlideShare does not match up to your expectations. Unfortunately thats the way this technology is at this point in time. Hopefully some time soon, we’ll should be able to handle this much better.

Specifically, I did a quick investigation of the presentation that you uploaded. SlideShare does not support slide animations at present and thats why your slide 6 & 7 dont have the animation in the swfs. It shows the snapshot of the slides when the animation has ended.

Secondly, on slide 6 of the uploaded slideshow, I noticed two rectangular coloured boxes that don’t seem to appear in the original presentation. On inspecting the actual presentation, we found that it does contain two transparent objects, and thats whats been shown though in the slides, though its coloured and not transparent.

We’ll use your feedback to improve our product. Hopefully (in the not too distant future), we’ll try to give you a delightful experience with our product.



26 10 2006

I’m not sure what your scale of “web 2.0-ness” you seek. I never really looked at slideshare as a means to do everything in PowerPoint in a web format.

So what it adds (IMHO) is:
* Much easier format to share a basic presentation, not a bloated giant file that requires a download and client.
* ability to tag presentations, comment on a presentation using the YouTube like interface
* A subtle feature is there is a way you can have a URl that loads a slidesare show at a specific slide, so perhaps it can create micro-content

Another thing you have to like is how developers, like Amit, are staying in tune with people’s usage, it is the first public version of the product that will evolve (flickr was not all it is now in 2004). I want hyperlinks to work! Evem if it is in the extracted portion.

Lastly, the “evilness” of Powerpoint is not the tool (like blaming a hammer for the crooked shelves I build)… it does not “force” you into anything. I have seen beautiful, elegant PPTs presentatiosn that are not death by bullet 60 slide text firehoses.

Once more, it is the craft, not the tools, that make a difference.

I’m not shilling slideshare, and likely would not use it all that often (since I almost never use PPT), but see it as promise as a better way to share PPT content.

27 10 2006
dave lee

hi amit and alan:
thank you both for your comments. as i said in my post, i’m in total agreement with you alan that the problem is with the carpenter and not the hammer. but i know that if you tell a carpenter he has to drive nails to get paid but never give him a hammer, he’ll use whatever tool is available – a brick, the heal of his boot, whatever. the job won’t be done right but it’ll be done.

i agree that powerpoint can be an incredibly compelling tool. amit says the problem with my presentations in slideshare is that i didn’t strip out the animations and motion paths (and hidden boxes – i had no clue they were there!) and thus my presentations in slideshare look terrible. that certainly sounds like “give me that hammer, and use this boot instead.”

amit i did address the issue of the web just not being capable of handling slide animations and motion paths in my review of slideshare on eelearning wiki. and i agree with alan that the interface that you folks have build is among the best i’ve seen. it’s just too bad it’s used to dummy down powerpoint presentations.

but i’m most concerned about statements like michael arrington’s in techcrunch that slideshare will be perfect for salespeople to share presentations with clients and each other. without the ability to keep a presentation private on slideshare, a salesperson would be fired before their presentation finished uploading.

so yes, amit, i would agree that your product is an excellent attempt at solving a problem that can’t be solved give current technology. that doesn’t make it good, it makes it premature.

ps – you might want your engineers to look at some of the presentation capture appliances out on the market – sonic foundry’s media site, anystream’s apresso coursecaster, winnov’s cbox3, or accordant’s capture station. these folks are solving your problem today.

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