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An explorative research on the properties of the zooming interface of the editor Prezi for presentation of information and its effects on the cultural practices of using digital presentations
By: Kalina Dancheva (3721329) Course: Coding culture Programme: New Media and Digital Culture Teacher: Dr. Mirko Tobias Schäfer Teacher assistant: Nikos Overheul Date: 8 July 2011 University of Utrecht
Like alphabet, mathematics, printing press, combustion engine, electricity, and integrated circuits, software re-adjusts and re-shapes everything it is applied to – or at least, it has a potential to do this. Manovich 2008, 14.
In the contemporary computer dominated era, digital presentations have become a prevailing component in information presentation in governmental, business and educational settings. Microsoft software application PowerPoint is currently the most dominant presentation tool but its use and efficiency have been widely discussed by scholars, thus becoming not only the most used but also the most controversial presentation application. In recent years, the prevalence of slideware tools is challenged by new type of information presentation, which uses the technology of zooming user interface. This article will explore the potential of this type of interface by using the case study of the application editor Prezi. The paper argues that Prezi can be categorized as a new type of cultural interface which has the potential to overcome the drawbacks of PowerPoint. The paper will also show that the style of the interface presents new type of setbacks which can harm the information presentation and can interrupt the audience’s attention. By analysing the affordances of Prezi, the paper will finally suggest that this application highlights a moment of cultural transformation in the way digital presentations are used and consumed as epistemic objects.
Key words: Information presentation, Prezi, PowerPoint, new practices, cultural transformation.
1. Introduction 2. Prezi–the case study 3. Method of research 4. PowerPoint and Prezi as cultural interfaces 5. PowerPoint and Prezi as tools for information presentation 6. Changing the use of digital presentation as epistemic object 7. Conclusion 8. References
4 5 6 7 9 18 22 24
In the contemporary era, digital presentations have become a standard method for visualizing concepts and ideas in all areas of life. Among presentation tools, PowerPoint is the most dominant with ninety-five per cent share of the presentation-software market and a reported amount of thirty million new presentations made every day (Parker 2001, 4). Initially created as a tool for corporate communication, currently PowerPoint has turned into the most “ubiquitous form of digitally assisted demonstration” (Shark and Paravel 2008, 32) and has migrated into business, governmental, military, academic and casual settings. Even the co-creator of PowerPoint Robert Gaskins confirms the pervasive effect of PowerPoint in the corporate world by stating that “[a] lot of people in business have given up writing the documents. They just write the presentations, which are summaries without the detail, without the backup” (Gomes 2007). The prevalence of this software has provoked vast debates by scholars and writers in popular media about the usefulness of PowerPoint for presenting information. American writer Ian Parker was among the first to criticize the use of this software stating that it can affect one’s thoughts and its properties have the influence to “edit ideas” (Parker 2001, 1) in a harmful way. Statistician and information design professor Edward Tufte sharply criticises PowerPoint presentations stating that they “reduce the analytical qualities of a presentation” (Tufte 2004, 3) and claims that we need to find “a better way to make presentations” (ibid, 4). Even the US Pentagon has banned the use of PowerPoint presentations in preference of written reports (Jaffe 2000).1 On the other hand, the value of PowerPoint has been defended by cognitive science professors and public speaking consultants. Scholars Donald Norman and David Farkas both defend the qualities of PowerPoint presentations as effective components that support speakers in an oral presentation (Farkas 2009; Norman 2005). In the midst of the debates about the efficiency of PowerPoint as a tool for information presentation, software developments have given a rise of new type of tools for digital presentations using the technology of zooming user interfaces. In order to explore the potential of this kind of interface for information presentation, I am going to analyse the affordances2 of the online application Prezi (2011) which uses the technology
On July 2010 the Anti-PowerPoint Party in Switzerland pleaded for banning PowerPoint claiming that its use cost the Swiss economy about 2.1 billion Swiss Francs (McCormack 2011). 2 The term ‘affordance’ has been defined by scholar in design and usability Donald Norman (2011) as “the possible actions a person can perform upon an object” (Norman 2011, 228).
Adobe® Flash®. This application has been addressed by popular media as “the coolest online presentation tool” (Wauters 2009). But the present paper will step out of this discourse and will look critically to the properties of software to present information in a meaningful way. This article will argue that the interface of Prezi can be categorized as a new type of cultural interface which has the potential to overcome the drawbacks of PowerPoint, addressed by Edward Tufte. The paper will present that the affordances of Prezi exceed the low resolution, sequentiality3 and the deep hierarchical style of PowerPoint and they encourage new practices for meaningful presentation and comprehension of information. The article will also show that the style of the interface presents new type of setbacks which potentially harm the information presentation and can disturb attention of the audience. By analysing the affordances of Prezi, the paper will finally suggest that this application not only changes the presentation of the information, but it also marks a moment of cultural transformation in the way digital presentations are used and consumed as epistemic objects.
Prezi – the case study
Prezi (2011) is an online application which enables the design of presentations in a linear as well as non-linear fashion. It was founded by architect and expert in zooming interfaces Adam Somlai-Fischer together with Peter Arvai and Peter Halacsyin in 2009 and since then is enjoying a growing popularity with currently three million users, as reported by Arvai (Pollack PR Marketing Group 2011). The software of Prezi presents an alternative to the slideware style of presentation design which we see in applications such as PowerPoint, Apple Keynote or Google Docs. When using the tool, users create the presentation on a single high resolution canvas. They can then zoom into details and zoom out to see the presentation from a bird's eye view. It is possible for the user to write text, insert images, draw simple lines and arrows and embed video on the canvas. Other objects such as text documents, tables and graphs can only by inserted in a pdf-format. The author can prioritize the elements by playing with the size in order to put an emphasis on the most important parts or hide the minor details. After all parts of the presentations are arranged on the canvas, they can be individually framed or grouped within a common frame. The size of the frame is not strictly fixed but depends on the amount of space that the elements take on the canvas. Users can place a path between the components and by this way they create a linear story.
A term utilized by Tufte in The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.
But despite the implemented direction, the author can leave presentation open for an off-the-path exploration, meaning that when readers are viewing the presentation they would be able to step aside the established direction and move freely between the elements. When traversing the canvas, users swirl and pan around the canvas with smooth “camera” transition between the elements. Presentations can also be made collaboratively by a group of users. Most of the presentations are made and hosted online in the web site of Prezi and can be viewed by every user with a Prezi account.4 The creators of the tool purposefully encourage the use of the product for educational purposes and have created a special educational licence which provides teachers and students with a free of charge service of one of their paid products. Prezi has also been studied and tested by teachers who share their experience in blogs and in the community forum of Prezi (Prezi Community 2011).
Method of research
In this research the paper will present a software-cultural analysis based on the comparative examination of PowerPoint and Prezi. In order to do this, I will explore three main components – the cultural conventions of their interfaces, the affordances embedded within them and the implications that both programmes have on the practices and use of digital presentations. The view point in this article derives from the perspective presented in the analytical texts in the book Software Studies. A lexicon with editor Mathew Fuller (Fuller 2008). In this collection of critical texts, the authors present the notion that the technical characteristics of software programmes has to be studied from a critical humanitarian perspective which can reveal their embedded conceptual aspects and implications on the cultural practices. In the same vein, new media scholar Lev Manovich (also an author in the Software Studies. A Lexicon) coins the term “cultural interface” by which he means the "ways in which computers present and allows us to interact with cultural data" (Manovich 2001, 80). This notion leads us to the theoretical perspective of the agency of non-humans to affect the social processes, developed by scholars of ActorNetwork Theory (ANT) Bruno Latour (2005), John Law (1992) and Madeleine Akrich (1994). Cultural interfaces include the interfaces of web sites, games and other media objects for which Manovich argues that they embed conventions from previous media.
Not all of the presentations are made available due to the freemium business model, in which the basic service is free and presentations are made and hosted on the web site, but there is a paid option which provides additional extras, one of which is a desktop application.
By analysing Prezi and PowerPoint as cultural interfaces, the paper will search for the different conventions which allow the affordances of the software applications. In defining the potential of Prezi as an efficient tool for presenting information, I will use the critical analysis of Edward Tufte on PowerPoint. In the monograph The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint Tufte criticizes the software by outlining several major drawbacks which according to him decrease the “quality and credibility of our communication” (Tufte 2004, 24) and make the tool inappropriate for use by scientists and experts. The paper will present the main points of critique towards PowerPoint and will use them to analyse the potential of the affordances, enabled in the software of Prezi. For the purposes of the study, 68 Prezi presentations, presented in the case studies section Explore (Prezi 2011) in the web site of Prezi were analysed. Finally, the paper will examine how the affordances of Prezi shape the practices of creating and consuming digital presentations. I will base my research on the analysis of the use and purpose of PowerPoint presentations elaborated by information design scholar David Farkas (Farkas 2006; 2008; 2009; 2010) and media scholar Rich Gold (2002).
PowerPoint and Prezi as cultural interfaces
In order to explore the potential of the affordances of Prezi for presenting information in comparison to PowerPoint, the paper will first analyse the environment in which the affordances are enabled. In this part I’d like to argue that the interface of Prezi embeds different type of conventions than PowerPoint which will then allow for new practices in information presentation. In the view of Lev Manovich, cultural interfaces are shaped by the cultural traditions of “print, cinema and human-computer interface” (Manovich 2001, 36). In this perspective, we can define that the interface of PowerPoint implements the conventions of the printed word page. These principles are typical in books and newspapers which include separate pages, linear reading of the story and a table of content which marks the individual pages (ibid, 83). The interface of PowerPoint embeds similar principles which we see in the single slides with fixed dimensions, a linear slide transition. Also, in academic settings, it is a common practice that presentations begin with a content of the topics that are going to be discussed. Non-linear elements can be included by embedding hyperlinks within the slide which would lead to a new document – an element that in the print tradition can be compared to the reference list. 7
In contrast to the conventions in PowerPoint, the interface of Prezi embeds a cinematic way of suturing time and space. The canvas of Prezi can be described as a "navigable space" (ibid, 212) in which authors arrange the content in a non-linear fashion. In this type of interface, data is accessed through zooming and panning and the objects are subjected to a cinematic “camera” vision. In Prezi we can also distinguish the conventions of "spatial montage" (ibid, 269). This notion is defined by Manovich as an alternative to the temporal cinematic montage which replaces the "traditional sequential mode with a spatial one" (ibid, 269). In spatial montage, time becomes spatialized over the surface of the screen and it includes "a number of images, potentially of different sizes and proportions, appearing on the screen at the same time" (ibid, 269). In this type of montage, Manovich argues that we can include unlimited amount of text and data. The interface of Prezi also incorporates these conventions as the narrative of the presentation becomes spatial and different in type and in size objects exist simultaneously on the single surface of the canvas.
Moreover, the spatial arrangement of the text in Prezi also invites users to employ the conventions of the type of hypertext called “stretchtext” (Nelson 1967). This term is coined by computer theorists Theodor Nelson (1967) and which he described as “the easiest possible hypertext” (ibid) in which the text is “stretched” and pointing to specific areas leads to “new details and additional clauses popping into place” (ibid). The term hypertext, as defined by Nelson is a “non-sequential writing-text that branches and allows choices to the reader” (Landow 2006, 3). The prefix hyper implies an additional “extra dimension” (Douglas 2000, 16). Stretchtext has the advantage to the traditional notion of the hypertext because it keeps readers to get oriented and prevents them from getting lost as they are redirected to external sources. As analysed by hypertext theorist George Landow together with his former student Ian Lyons, in stretchtext “text becomes context as new text is added, or rather, the previously present text remains as new text appears and serves as its context” (Lyons and Landow 2005). The text in this kind of hypertext has fixed dimensions and it is accessed through vertical navigation throughout different levels. In Prezi such a vertical navigation is an immanent part of the zooming interface. By performing the actions of zooming in or out on existing text, new information, which used to be hidden from the view, is being revealed to the users (Figure 1). In Figure 1 this feature of Prezi has been pointed as a useful teaching tool. Moreover, in Prezi the zooming interface can support the contextualization of the content not only with text but also with sound, video and animations and hence turning the presentation into a hypermedia object. 8
Figure 1 Description: Stretchtext in Prezi Source: http://Prezi.com/rfsnedhqmhqa/thoughts-on-using-Prezi-as-a-teaching-tool.
To sum up, the analysis of the interfaces of PowerPoint and Prezi shows that they can be defined as different types of cultural interfaces. Therefore, I’d like to suggest that the affordances of the software would support the implications of respectively print tradition or the conventions of spatial montage and stretchtext. In the following part the paper will explore how these affordances of the software of PowerPoint and Prezi affect the visual presentation and comprehension of information.
PowerPoint and Prezi as tools for information presentation
In this part the paper will present an analysis of the software of Prezi as an instrument for efficient information presentation in corporate and academic settings. The exploration of the potential of the software is based on the criteria for visualising information in presentation tools defined by Edward Tufte. Here I’d like to argue that the affordances of Prezi can overcome the limitations of PowerPoint but also imply new type of challenges for the presentation-makers. The analysis of Tufte is being broadly opposed by scholars such as David Farkas (Farkas 2006), Jean-Luc Doumount (Doumount 2005), Cliff Atkinson (Atkinson 2003, 2011), Barbara Shwom and Karl Keller (Shwom and Keller 2003), who argue that the inefficiency of a presentation should be traced in the authors themselves, not in the tool. However, in this paper Tuftes’s observation is relevant because it emphasises on the embedded model within the software which invites users to adopt certain methods for presenting information. The components that he analyses are the spatial resolution, the sequence of slides, the bullet-point style, the tools for statistical graphs and the decorations in the template which will be used also in the presented article. 9
Spatial resolution In his analysis, Tufte opposes the low resolution of the PowerPoint slides and argues that the dimensions of the slide are too limited to comprise the information sufficiently. This feature is related to what Farkas describes as the “slide metaphor” (Farkas 2008, 5), which defines that the content in slideware tools is organized in chunks which are arranged into a sequence of slides with fixed dimensions (Farkas 2008, 5). Space limitations are also acknowledged by proponents of PowerPoint who plead for the use of minimal text for the purposes of clarity on the slides (Reynolds 2008; Hart 2004). For the same reasons, rules for small amount words per slide such as six by six rule5 are also promoted on the official web site of Microsoft (Microsoft Office 2011). According to Tufte, the low spatial resolution forces the authors to find ways to fit their content which leads to little information per slide and incomplete and over-generalized statements (Tufte 2004, 4). Tufte analyses that a typical slide in PowerPoint includes 40 words or about “eight seconds-worth of silent reading” (Tufte 2004, 12), which shows very low rates of information transmission. In contrast to PowerPoint, the canvas of Prezi enables the authors to arrange all the information within the single large canvas. The slides are replaced by frames which do not have fixed dimensions but take the size of the information that they outline. The spacious area overcomes the need of shortening the statements so that authors can include longer sentences and can import whole pages on the canvas. We can see this approach in two educational types of presentations – in the first one the author presents historical facts using several paragraphs (Figure 2) and in the second, the author has used the software to present a syllabus of biology (Figure 3).
Not more than six words per line and six lines per slide.
Figure 2 Description: An example of whole paragraphs used in the presentation Source: http://Prezi.com/qiknryuwyzjt/ipt-Prezi-history-class.
Figure 3 Description: Implementation of whole written documents Source: http://Prezi.com/e-l9gy35scmw/honors-biology.
The affordances of the software of Prezi also provide the possibility for adding more dimensions to the image which illustrates what Tufte calls the “escape [of] flatland” (Tufte 1990, 11). This concept is one of the principles for information design and is described by Tufte as the need to overcome the limitations of two dimensional displays in order to increase the amount and complexity of the information (data density) (ibid, 32). The opportunity that Prezi presents with this feature is that authors can include additional information in the deeper levels on the presentation without losing sight of the overall context (Figure 4).
The high resolution of the interfaces and the possibility for zooming in are also closely related to another principle of information design by Tufte which refers to the factor “micro and macro readings” (Tufte 1990, 37). This rule states that simplicity of reading comes from the context of complex information. In Envisioning Information, Tufte argues that in order to present clearly information, we have to “add detail” (ibid). As illustrated in Figure 4, the interface of Prezi enables the integration of high-resolution images in which additional details can be implemented on the lower levels which makes the tool an appropriate instrument for experts who need to present complex information.
Figure 4 Description: An example of a detailed exploration of a high resolution image Source: http://Prezi.com/ucbqnfjsurg9/what-is-Prezi-press-the-play-button.
However, despite its high resolution, it has to be noticed that Prezi does have its spatial limitations. Due to technical issues, since May 2011, the zoomable space has borders which are not specified by the creators. A message which restricts the zooming can appear if the difference between the largest and the smallest object exceeds the limits. The working canvas of Prezi also does not have a scale, by which users can be aware about the ratio between the elements. Furthermore, due to technical issues, images with dimensions more than 2880 by 2880 pixels can cause problems and are not supported by the company’s technical team (Prezi Community 2011). In addition, if the uploaded images are too small, when zooming into them, they can disappear. With regard to these restrictions, presentation makers are subjected to change the size of their objects if they exceed the limitations. Sequentiality Furthermore Tufte argues that the limited space on the slide causes the fragmentation of information on a series of slides. By this way, the narrative is broken into temporal sequencing which makes it difficult for the audience to understand the context and see the relations between the statements (Tufte 2004, 5). The brake down of the narrative 12
happens not only slide by slide, but also line by line then bullet points are revealed gradually by the presenter. By this way, the speaker controls the content, instead of letting the audience see the overall concept. Keeping the narrative as a whole is particularly important for the analysis of the information for which experts need to see the data on a single space within the eye-span6 in order to be able to make comparisons. In Prezi the canvas allows the narrative to be kept in its integrity instead of being distributed into separate slides and the information can fit within a common view. An example of this features is visualized in Figure 5 where the author has inserted four PowerPoint slides showing pie charts which are arranged on the canvas so that the connections between them are easily seen by the audience. Whole charts can also be presented and as Tufte states in this essay, the best way to present statistical data7 is to show “the original table with its good comparative structure” (ibid, 18). Animations between the lines are also not an embedded feature of the software so that the narrative is kept in its whole.
Figure 5 Description: Comparison of data in the presentation Source: http://Prezi.com/szhe6n39bv6p/copy-of-statistical-analysis.
Moreover, not only are concepts spatialized instead of being temporally fragmented, but the affordances of Prezi encourage authors to present their ideas in a new way by
"Eye-span" is referred to the amount of text someone takes in with the eyes for each stopping, or "fixation" of the eyes (Caldwell 2009).
The analysed case by Tufte is the visualization of data regarding cancer survival rates.
group arguments within a related concept, which additionally helps the reasoning between the parts of the concept. This feature is promoted also in the tutorials of Prezi where the organization puts an emphasis on the use of frames for grouping ideas into related topics (Prezi 2011). By grouping and placing a path between the arguments, the authors create a “concept map” (Novak and Gowin 1984). This notion is developed by education scholars Joseph Novak and Bob Gowin who define them as maps, which represent “meaningful relations between concepts in the form of proportions” (ibid, 15). By proportions they mean “concepts labels linked by words in a sematic unit” (ibid 15). The method of concept mapping was particularly developed to support the process of learning and in this sense, the affordances of Prezi for grouping ideas improve the cognitive style of PowerPoint by enabling a model for meaningful comprehension of ideas. The grouping of ideas can take place on a horizontal level, on a vertical level of a nested micro and macro levels or in a combination of horizontal and vertical arrangement. We can see the use of this method of presentation in Figure 6, where the three main elements (Internet search, information search and math search) are horizontally differentiated with their sub-components but on a higher level, the groups present the main pillars of the concept. Micro level grouping Macro level grouping
Figure 6 Description: Example of grouping of ideas on two levels Source: http://Prezi.com/mohshuoe-qcf/google-search-tricks.
Similar approach is also used in the presentation of Figure 7 where the first concept is presented in a micro level by several arguments (the small parts within the circle) which on a higher level are part of a larger marketing strategy. We even see a third 14
level, on which the three elements are grouped and form the main pillars of the company, which is presented by its logo. Thus, by this way, the affordances of the software encourage users to employ relational thinking between the ideas of a concept which can facilitate the understanding by the audience. First level grouping Second level grouping Third level grouping
Figure 7 Description: Example of grouping of ideas on three levels Source: http://Prezi.com/hkuxznq1akuf/inbound-marketing-kit.
Bullet point style and hierarchy Another consequence of the low resolution is that slide-makers adopt a “compressed language” (ibid, 5) in the form of bullet points, which he argues is the most common format in corporate and governmental presentations. According to a research of Harvard Business Review that Tufte quotes, bullet points in corporate presentations show a “generic, superficial, simplistic thinking” (ibid, 5). The use of bullet in business presentations is also opposed by proponents of the software such as consultant Cliff Atkinson who pleads against their use as part of the corporate culture of organizations (Atkinson 2011). Tufte argues that bullet point style harms the critical analysis and reasoning because it breaks the narrative into small fragments which might mislead the analysis because they do not show the causality of the statements so clearly as whole sentences and paragraphs. Bullet points are part of the embedded hierarchical style of PowerPoint which begins with the title and continues in bullets with different size and shape. Tufte makes an analysis of the presentation made for high level officials in NASA which aimed to report the condition of the space craft Columbia. In this presentation he notices that the content is deeply fragmented in a structure of four to six levels. By this way, the complex information was presented in a complicated way (Figure 9). Here we can also employ also the notion of scholar in cognitive science and design Donald Norman (2011) who argues that the good design can “tame the complexity” (Norman 2011, 4) and make it clear and understandable.
In Prezi the hierarchization of the text is possible but it is not embedded as a feature of the software. Each text can be formatted in three types (title, bold, body) which differ in style and colour but not in size (Figure 8). This means that the hierarchization is left in the hands of the authors and if they want to create hierarchy, they have to manually adjust the size of the text.
Figure 8 Description: Illustration of the three types of text formatting in Prezi Source: http://Prezi.com/3fr1r-98zkmh/test-Prezi.
Bullet list are enabled by the software, but their use is possible only on one level instead of the increasing hierarchy enabled by PowerPoint (Figure 10).
Figure 9 Description: A slide of the presentation of NASA, analysed by Tufte Source: http://www.edwardtufte.com/b board/q-and-a-fetchmsg?msg_id=0001yB.
Figure 10 Description: Testing the bullet point hierarchy of Prezi Source: http://Prezi.com/3fr1r98zkmh/test-Prezi.
However, the bullet point style is not described in the tutorials of Prezi which explain how to present information using the application (Prezi 2011). Moreover, in the community forum of Prezi, a member of the team sates that "[b]ullet points can be dangerous because they can create an illusion of understanding and the illusion of control” (Prezi Community 2011). Hence we can see that this component is not a central element for the tool and it is not encouraged as a method for presenting information. In order to get a deeper understanding of the use of bullets in Prezi all of the 68 presentations in the section with case studies section Explore in the web site of Prezi were examined. The results showed that 16 out of the total 68 presentations used bullet points (3 of which had the same content but in different language). Moreover, in all examples, bullets were used as a minor part (usually once) among the other text and visual elements in contrast to their prevailing use in PowerPoint, mentioned by Tufte. In this sense, the analysis showed that the bullet point listings are not a characteristic of the cognitive style of Prezi. Graphic visualization tools Tufte also criticized the templates for statistical graphics and argues that they create “incoherent graphs” and “thin data-density” (Tufte 2004, 16). For this point, Prezi cannot be analytically compared because the software does not offer tools for data visualization. It enables only the presentation of data in tables, graphs and charts, which was already visualized by another tool. As a consequence, in relation to statistical data, the affordances of Prezi create a dependency on data visualization software. Moreover, there is an inherent reliance specifically on programs that can convert the information into a .pdf format which is the only possible format in which tables and charts and can be inserted. Non-content elements The final argument against the cognitive style of PowerPoint is what Tufte calls “phluff” (ibid, 19). By this he means the design of the slide templates which reduces the space of the information as well as the decorations and branding elements. In these criteria, we can see that Prezi does not suggest any templates that would limit the area on which information is presented. The templates only provide different background, fonts and text colour. But the software does its drawbacks in terms of effective presentation of information which can be categorized as “phlyff” in Tufe’s terms. A very significant issue is the fast panning on the canvas which can distract the 17
audience from the content and can cause motion sickness. In order to solve it, Prezi creators suggest grouping the elements which reduces the extensive movements of the camera. But even in this case, the author is not let to control the speed himself but is subjected to the properties of the software. To sum up, this part of the analysis presented that the affordances of Prezi enable users to cope with major disadvantages of PowerPoint for effective information presentation. The high resolution allows large quantities of information to be presented in a way that the whole information can be encompassed and analysed within the common view and users can explore it in details. Presentation-makers are no longer constrained to shorten their content and to use the compressed style of bullet points to fit their statements. In addition to this, the grouping of ideas enhances the cognitive process of readers for building relations and meaningful learning. At the same time, the interface at this stage of development has its setbacks which refer to the size and ratio limitations of the objects, the lack of a tools for visualizing data and also in the fast camera movements which challenge authors to find new ways for present their ideas in a comprehensible manner without losing the attention from the content.
Changing the use of digital presentation as epistemic objects
After analysing the affordances that the software of PowerPoint and Prezi provide for presentation and comprehension of information, the research will finally examine how these affordances shape the epistemic culture in which they are used. Here, I’d like to argue that the digital objects, created in Prezi possess a hybrid nature because they can function as knowledge artefacts within the oral presentation performances as well as stand-alone digital artefacts. Hereby, they mark a transitional period in the way digital presentations are used by authors and consumed by the audience.
The digital artefacts, created in PowerPoint are defined by scholar David Fakas as “presentations supported by computer-based visuals employing a slide-show metaphor” (Farkas 2006, 163). According to him, the central elements of a PowerPoint presentation are “the presenter’s performance, the participation of the audience, and the deck” (Farkas 2008, 6). This definition shows that the aim of the presentation is to “support a speaker” (Farkas 2010, 2) and to be the “speaker’s guide” (Hart 2004). Media theorist Rich Gold also emphasises on the relationship between the presentation and the presenter. He defines PowerPoint presentations in a category of communication 18
tools that are public synchronous group reading which means that the object is presented in public space and is consumed by the a many people at the same time (Gold 2002, 259). This type of medium is contrasted to books which are usually read in private spaces, asynchronously by each reader. Gold also states that the content in a PowerPoint presentation has to have an “oral gloss” (ibid, 260) which is the elaboration of the text and graphics on the slide. In this sense, the core function of digital presentations is to support the face-to-face presentations, consumed during the actual performance of the speaker. Hence, the low spatial resolution of PowerPoint is not a drawback when the content is supposed to be orally glossed. But in the contemporary network society (Van Dijk 2006; Castells 2000) living in the age of information, presentations do not only belong to the space and time of the act of giving, but their “life” is extended as they are sent via e-mail and shared freely in the online space. Thousands of new presentations are being uploaded on the web sites such as Slideshare every day8, building an exponentially growing database. Presentations are now used as stand-alone objects which we can define as “knowledge artefacts” (Salazar-Torres at al. 2008) and online platforms for presentation sharing have become a kind of digital libraries which are perceived as valuable “sources for education and learning” (Centre for Learning and Performance. 2010). Can PowerPoint presentations, the main purpose of which is to be part of the oral performance, also function effectively as stand-alone artefacts of knowing? According to Tufte, the limitations of the oral performance supported by slides can be overcome by additional hand-out materials which can provide more information, larger tables and graphics that can be compared when they are spatially arranged. However, I’d like to state that the software of PowerPoint is not adjusted for being an effective medium for hand-outs according to Tufte’s criteria. PowerPoint does provide the space “Notes” which can be used for speaker’s notes or for additional text. Images are also possible to be inserted, but this functionality comes with several issues. First of all, images cannot be interested and viewed in the regular Notes space under the slides, but they can be placed and seen only in a separate view called Notes Page. This functionality assumes a pre-existing knowledge of the readers in order for them to extract the information. Moreover, the space in which images can fit, is a quite limited to fit large graphs or comparisons. While long text is supported and can be also printed on several pages, images can only take a limited space of about half of the slide (in red on Figure 11). This drawback has significant implication on the function of the object because it shows the
Slideshare currently has 45 million users (Business Wire 2011).
incapability of the artefacts to include additional materials and to transfer them in a non-direct communication. In this sense, PowerPoint presentations can enhance the oral epistemic culture but they cannot function efficiently as stand-alone artefacts of knowledge.
Figure 11 Description: Print screen of a Table, presented by Edward Tufte in the space of the Notes in Power Point.
In comparison to PowerPoint, the cognitive style of Prezi can be defined as a hybrid which can enhance the oral performance as well as asynchronous communication. As shown in the previous case studies, Prezi enables the integration of large documents, tables and graphs which can serve as additional materials to the main presentation and therefore the affordances of Prezi enable the digital presentations to function as standalone artefacts of knowledge. But how can we relate the affordances to the practices of making information presentations? On one hand, Prezi presentations can be used to support speaker at a public performance. This was also shown as result of a non-representative survey of 29 master students, one third of which stated that they did not find Prezi as a tool that can be used differently than any other presentation applications. Moreover, from the twenty five students who reported to have used Prezi, eighteen stated that they employed practices from the slideware style such as the rules to use little or bullet points. As shown in Figure 12, bullet point hierarchy, although not prevailing as an element of the presentations, still can be used in the same way as in PowerPoint.
Figure 12 Description: Bullet point hierarchization in Prezi. Source: http://Prezi.com/aasiz2fqeciy/the-power-of-10-event.
On the other hand, the affordances of Prezi allow the appropriation of the tool so that it can be used specifically only for asynchronous communication. We can see this in the example of Figure 13 where the software is used as an independent digital brochure. Another common use of the tools is be used for personal portfolio presentation as it is done in Figure 14. In the web site of Prezi there is even a special category of case studies with portfolios, which shows that this practice is encouraged by the company (Prezi 2011).
Figure 13 Description: Prezi used as a stand-alone brochure. Source: http://Prezi.com/0jh1_ayhfxrx/tedxbkk-speaker-package.
Figure 14 Description: Example of the use of Prezi for a presenting a personal portfolio. Source: http://Prezi.com/maem2x3btkok/catherine-freeman-portfolio.
These case studies show that the affordances of the tool alter the traditional use of digital presentations as being the guide of the presenter and encourage users to adopt new practices and purposes of their presentations. We can also see that application affects not only the goals of the author, but provides a new role of the audience. In this type of presentations the public is potentially every single user with account in Prezi. The fact that Prezi is both the tool and the platform on which the presentations are viewed and shared is an additional factor which encourages the distribution of the object to an audience which is not present at the live presentation-giving. If we employ the terminology of Gold, we can state that Prezi presentations can be used in private spaces, asynchronously and each individual reader. Moreover, presentations in Prezi can be copied and edited by the users and by this way they turn the audience into an author. In this sense, the affordances of Prezi transform the cultural practices for creating and using the presentations as epistemic objects.
In the past twenty years, PowerPoint has been the dominant interface on which presentations are made and has shaped the information into the embedded slideware style of presenting. But innovations in interface design are bringing new opportunities for information presentation. The next stage in the presentation tools seems to be the era of zooming interfaces. Microsoft’s engineers have already been developing such a prototype called pptPlex since 2008, which arranges the slides non-linearly on a canvas and lets users zoom into them (Microsoft Office Labs 2011). In this paper, the analysis of Prezi showed that its zooming interfaces embeds the conventions of spatial montage and herby can be 22
defined as a new type of cultural interface, which can function as an effective tool for information presentation, overcoming the limitations of PowerPoint. However, the application is still in the process of development and currently the software also presents setbacks which can harm the visual presentation. An important conclusion of this article is that the affordances of Prezi highlight a transitional period in the use of digital presentations. Although users still employ practices from the slideware type of applications, the affordances of Prezi also transform the epistemic culture in which presentations are used and consumed. By creating stand-alone digital objects of knowledge, Prezi presentations can encourages the oral communication as well as the asynchronous computer mediated communication. This effect presents an opportunity for using Prezi presentations as digital artefacts for educational purposes and especially in e-learning, which opens a broad field for a further academic research.
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