Ad Lagendijk Ad Lagendijk 11 April 2012

Important feature all slide-sharing-services lack

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Posted in Presentations quality, Speaking in public, useful software, Web 2.0


Ten years years ago the major computer company Sun  Microsystems advertised in all media with the slogan: “The network is the computer”. And I must admit they knew where they were talking about. They saw the clouds coming. Sun has been taken over by Oracle in 2009.

Sharing files

We store our files somewhere in the cloud. Access rights can be set so as to exclude everybody except the owner, or to include only a group of people or make the data public. Finer-grained access models are also supported. The next thing to sharing reading rights is sharing change (edit) rights. Who is allowed to change what? This immediately brings about the nightmare of version control, every software company is struggling with.


A powerful way of communicating about shared data without changing them is the introduction of comments. When one of my colleagues, working in a laboratory far from my own, sends me a draft of a paper of which I am a coauthor I preferably get the concept as a pdf file. Programs like Adobe Acrobat that allows me to read and edit pdf files gives me the opportunity to introduce comments at any place in the manuscript without changing the manuscript. Possibly while looking at comments made by other authors.


A crucial part of surviving in science is giving good presentations. I guess that on average a scientist gives a formal presentation, with audience and video projector, at least once in fourteen days. The format could be varying from that of a closed group meeting, a seminar for specialists, a presentation for an evaluation committee, a popularized talk, all the way to a plenary talk at a major conference. In the natural sciences the file representing the presentation, a PowerPoint file or a Keynote file or a pdf file or yet another file format, is the most important part of the presentation. The presentation is much more than just the file, but with a file containing a low-quality slides it will darn difficult to deliver a good presentation. Of course with a fabulous presentation file it still possible to bore the audience to hell. A high quality of a presentation file is also a good means of support for the speaker.

Given the importance of a presentation the act of delivering that presentation is often rehearsed once or twice. In my book I have described in details how I think that should be done. During the rehearsal a person delivers a talk for a few people as if she is at the conference. After the talk the people in the audience give general comments and then always go through the slides one by one and make comments on each and every slide. The presenter has a notepad with her and jots all the remarks down. After the rehearsal the presenter will spend hours and hours to implement all the comments. As a result of all these efforts the quality of her presentation and of her slides has improved tremendously.

This rehearsal is time-consuming for the audience and it is not always possible to fit the seance into the calendar of enough people forming the audience. For this reason the slide-sharing-services could come in handy, but unfortunately they do not.

Shared comments on each slide

Rather that participating on a particular time and participating at a particular place it would be much more convenient if comments could be introduced from any place in the world at any time. If in addition while you prepare your comment you have a full overview of all the comments put forward earlier by your colleagues on the same slide the commenting procedure will become very convenient, much more flexible and of high quality. So this is my plea to all slide sharing services “Please introduce the following feature to your service”:

  1. Allow people to comment on each slide separately. While doing this the commenter should be able to see all the previous comments on the same slide. As a result each slide has possibly a number of comments of different people.
  2. If possible introduce at least three access groups for comments: (i) owner , (ii) group, and (iii) public. A number of comments could be embarrassing when made public and public access might restrain commenters in their reactions.
  3. Allow the collection of comments to be downloadable as a simple text file.
  4. In addition leave the overall comments facility in place.
  5. If possible introduce version control, with for each version a possible new set of comments. This could be implemented in a later stage.

Rewards for companies implementing comment-per-slde feature

The first company implementing this feature will have all members of the whole scientific community as customers. But it does not stop here. At high schools teachers would like to comment on presentations of their students. So they will use it. And after some time the business community will discover it. People love to have their presentation improved with the help of their colleagues and my suggestion will just allow that.

I would even go further: a company implementing this will soon be bought by Facebook for over one thousand million dollars. So what is keeping the companies?

Why didn’t you tell them

Well I told them (SlideShare, SlideBoom and authorSTREAM). And they promised they would implement it. But they just did not do it. Why not? I guess their personnel is largely consisting of marketeers rather than of developers. Implementing this feature is not difficult. I would be able to program this for WordPress in six weeks. In the next post I will prove to you how poor the quality of the presentation engines of the slide-sharing companies are. My Twitter timeline gets polluted by authorSTREAM with totally superfluous marketing information. They have their model of what a presentation is about wrong. A presentation is not a collection of photo’s. Not a collection of marketing one-liners. But all the examples the slide-sharing companies feature on their web sites as brilliant examples are just that. Slick presentations, but boring as hell and with zero content.

In essence a presentation is much more about conveying information. Telling the audience something they did not know and they might want to know. Only after the slide sharing companies will have introduced the features I have outlined above the other customers will come, by the thousands.

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