Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Prezi - A quick review

I spent a couple hours playing around with Prezi, an online presentation builder being promoted as an alternative to the slideshow format of powerpoint, keynote, etc. Instead of a series of slides, Prezi presentations consist of a series of views over one large image. The format parallels drawing on a whiteboard, instead of clicking through slides on a projector. A good concept, but the execution is a little clunky.

My review: Preparing good presentations is time consuming, for two reasons: 1) it takes some trial and error to figure out the best way to express an idea, verbally and visually, and 2) presentation software is clunky, requiring a lot of fiddling to get things right. In my experience, spending time on (1) is fun and creative; spending time on (2) is frustrating and stressful.

Because of the "whiteboard" metaphor and brand emphasis on good design, I was hoping Prezi would deliver a slick and streamlined user experience. Being free from interface hassles and able focus on creative expression would be wonderful. Alas, I quickly ran into many GUI annoyances.
  • The interface for importing images is very clunky. You have to download or save the image to your desktop, then upload. On the plus side, you can batch upload several images at a time.
  • The whole image is static, which means that you can't mark up images over the course of a presentation. To some extent this makes sense -- dynamic images would mess up the concept of arranging your display in space rather than time. However, it breaks the whiteboard metaphor. When I do whiteboard presentations, I often have an agenda that I revisit, adding checkmarks and lines to relevant content. I can't do that in Prezi.
  • Rudimentary tools for grouping object are not available. This one really gets me. You can accomplish the same thing (visually) by putting several objects together in an invisible frame. But every time you want to move the group, it takes several extra clicks to select everything and drag it around. Poor usability.
  • You can only use a handful of presentation styles. Your only alternative is to hire Prezi staff to build a custom style for $450.
Summary: I would really like a tool that lets me express myself clearly, fast. Prezi offers some advantages for clarity, but not really for speed. Overall, I'm mildly impressed, but not overwhelmed. For the moment, the main benefit of Prezi seems to be novelty.

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