Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Misunderstanding Viewgraphs

Edward Tufte is probably best known for his disdain of Powerpoint. I noticed an article where he criticizes NASA on their use of the application, "Engineering by Viewgraphs", and before I had the chance to read the article, an alternate presentation mode came to mind.

Imagine an interactive mind map with automatic summaries generated continuously for various levels of detail. This would separate the content of the presentation from the presentation itself: the content is the map — its nodes, connections, scribbles, images and graphs — and the presentation is a path through it. This solves the problem of "unnecessarily deep hierarchies" needing to be continually restated, as the listeners will be aware of the "position" of the presentation at every moment. It would aide the clarity of a presentation, by forcing a reasonable order on the presenter (clarity could even be determined algorithmically based on connectivity, and possible presentations could be suggested from the map). If the listeners have personal access to the presentation as it was running, this overcomes the "linearity" problem. And, of course, the "low resolution" problem is solved by the textual LOD engine. I would expect this to ease the preparation process as well — I'm sure plenty of people already work non-linearly when preparing slides, writing out the next few slide titles before filling out their points. Group presentations would be enhanced as well by agreeing on the initial structure and allowing each person to contribute higher resolution information to the final presentation.

In case someone ends up making this, a few minor recommendations come to mind:

  • The textual LOD must have smooth transitions. Choppy resizing (as was popular with JavaScript + DIVs not so long ago) would be really distracting.
  • Instead of equally zooming into everything, it would be better to zoom more into the focus than things on the border (in order to retain a sense of location).
  • "Every slide is a node" is a copout analogy. I see nodes with more amorphous shapes that can be molded and reframed as needed (e.g.: multiple nodes occupying the screen at once).
Anyway, this is not what Tufte's article was about...

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