October 29, 2008

PPTPlex - Zoomable presentations not quite yet for the masses

Figuring out the clearest and most engaging way to communicate ideas is fundamentally important. The world seems to have settled on just a few key approaches: Text, video, and computer presentations along the lines of PowerPoint (or Keynote). The latter, as we all know, are valuable for their ease of creation, and ubiquity of authoring tools. However, they also tend to be boring, and in presentations of any length, the audience can get lost and not know where they are.

I created a PowerPoint plugin called CounterPoint back in 2001 with then grad student Lance Good. It offered a pretty sophisticated mechanism to create zoomable presentations consisting of PowerPoint slides. But the authoring tool was pretty clunky, and its dependency on Java made deployment pretty difficult.

So, I was delighted to see that Microsoft Labs recently put out PPTPlex, which is remarkably similar in spirit to CounterPoint. They created a plugin for PowerPoint which makes a reasonable trade-off of much, much more accessible and simpler authoring tools - and much less creative flexibilty. Still, this is probably the right move to consider commercializing this kind of approach. I was delighted to try it out, and sure enough, the authoring was simple enough that I was able to create a 70 slide "vision" talk on the future of HCI (with Allison Druin) using it quite readily.

Sadly, I wasn't able to use PPTPlex for my presentation because the technology was just not up to it. It seems to rasterize every slide - which not only takes a long time, but uses a *huge* amount of memory. My presentation actually used over a Gigabyte of RAM! And then PowerPoint (with PPTPlex) crashed. So, instead, I tried something else.

I was able to duplicate most of the visual feel that PPTPlex offered entirely with plain vanilla PowerPoint animations. I suffered by performing unnatural acts with PowerPoint to build the animations I wanted - but my PowerPoint ninja buddy John SanGiovanni had taught me the art, so I created the following presentation which I presented with Allison Druin at CMU last month. Take a look - and be sure to look at the PowerPoint presentation (15 MB) in Show mode to see the full transitions.

What do you think?

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