Last weekend, after successfully procrastinating the preparation of slides for a 4 hour training session next Wednesday, I really needed to get going. And since I did not bring my company computer home, and don’t have MS Office on my private one*, I had an excellent excuse to try something new, and so I signed up for Prezi.
Prezi displays one infinitely large canvas where you can place your presentation elements on, and then navigate through the presentation by zooming in and out, and moving around on it. Compared to the linear structure of as classical slide show, this lets you freely break out of the sequence if you feel like it. This looks like a real problem-solver to me – I repeatedly find myself shuffling through slide decks in order to go back to a already shown slide to answer a question, or worse, peek into a code sample five slides ahead to explain something. What you can do in the same situation with Prezi is zoom out until you see the code sample, zoom in to it, and then go back to where you’ve been – and it looks like an organic part of the presentation, not an accident.
Another thing that I love about Prezi is that since it supports precise scaling and rotating of text, you can do great things with typography. Here’s a chart that I’ve done (it is an affirming version of the number of open defects in a project that did not have QA resources): http://prezi.com/mlrgvrwb5oea/
When presenting, you can either freely move around, or follow a defined path. Or both. The path consists of frames that you put around elements you want to appear as a unit, and then you arrange an order between these frames. The transitions between frames look extremely dynamic and smooth: a LOT better than what you can do with PowerPoint. Yep, the effect is going to wear out once an audience gets used to it. But until then, you can really make an impression and stand out.
OK, that was how far the unmitigated love relation to Prezi went. As in most relationships, there are some hardships to endure.
The first one came right after the start: although it looks like Prezi had a classical “Freemium” revenue model that lets you try a reasonable amount of their functionality until you’re so convinced of a service’s value that you just _love_ to contribute some money, Prezi puts a very crucial feature behind the paywall: control over your content. In the free version of the service, all your presentations are public, full stop. For 60$/year, you get the ability to create private presentations, or to share them with a defined group of people. Outside the academic world, most presentations will however strictly be nonpublic, I suppose. Even if the content is not a secret in any way, the presenter will want to have an advantage over the audience in order to build suspense and channel the exposure of information. You don’t want an audience where half the people bore out because they’ve already seen it all. So for a trial with serious content, you have to have a payed subscription. On the other hand, the first month is free.
The other issue I have with Prezi is that it has an overly strong opinion about pureness of style. For each text block, there is a choice between three different style, two of them are named “Title” and one “Body”. These styles differ mainly by their color. For the presentation’s style, there is a selection of eight predefined styled that define font, background and text colors. You can not apply your personal or corporate branding, or even just have a text block in a monospace font (duh. Code samples.) There are hints in the community forum that a style editor is being developed, but today, the statement is that if you need a customized style, you need to commission Prezi to build one, for an unspecified amount of money.
And finally, I’d really like some more shapes. Prezi, you can draw arrows, but that’s it. I’m not asking for clip art (I am really not asking for clip art. I never use any.), but I’d really appreciate a rectangle, ellipse, or line. Pretty please? It would make drawing simple diagrams a lot easier.
In the community forum you can pick up that there’s a design process is going on on how feature-rich vs. pure Prezi should be. A really important point in the discussion is that the anti-patterns of PowerPoint are to be prevented. My two cents on the questions is that a) people without some talent are going to discover anti-patterns in anything anyway and b) that making Prezi somewhat more productive would not hurt anyone.
Anyway, I’m very much looking forward to presenting my session on next Wednesday.
* I do have OpenOffice, and I’m perfectly satisfied with it; especially with Writer. It’s like WinWord 2, which IMO was the best version of Word ever. But the PowerPoint derivate Impress does not grow on me; it feels clunky to me, repeatedly gets the bullet points and indentation wrong, and the results just don’t look that good.