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Show HN: I'm a professor who has developed an interactive Powerpoint alternative (2sli.de)
244 points by twoslide on Jan 12, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 64 comments

I have taught for years using UW's Classroom Presenter software, hacked up to be more responsive and usable with a tablet and pen. So I'm fully on board with the concept.

But frankly, the execution seems lacking. The qrcode/sms polling is fine, if you care about that sort of thing, but there are many similar and better solutions [1] out there. You can already mirror and do remote displays easily even with stock powerpoint/ooffice/keynote.

The one feature this and UW CP really bring is the annotation. In UW CP, especially my hacked version, the annotation tools are very good quality. You can use an active pen (e.g. wacomm digitizer on a Lenovo laptop/tablet) for accurate writing and drawing, and it has very low latency response, pressure sensitive line width, etc. In software you can zoom slides, delete/move annotations, change colors and pen types via a tablet-friendly palette. You can save your annotations and import them back into ppt as "ink" objects, and vice versa.

I don't see any of that in the poster's demo. The drawing is clunky, unresponsive, and looks bad. Can you imagine trying to write a note on a slide with that system?

Having worked on the guts of UW CP, I know that one of the hardest things was export/import from powerpoint. It is very hard to get right, especially with build animations. Font size 24 doesn't export correctly in many cases. Margins and objects shift and move slightly. Exporting can be very slow -- many seconds per slide, depending on complexity. Parsing the actual pptx files and replicating the actual look without using powerpoint APIs is essentially impossible.

Thanks for the feedback (ouch!). I agree that the app is not-suitable for fine-grained drawing, and for target users specialised hardware won't work.

I'm curious about the link referenced in [1] - there is polling software out there (e.g PollAnywhere), but it is limited to polls. I think the text responses and future developments (image uploads, audience-designed slides) could provide better interactivity.

Yes, powerpoint import/export sucks. Import is functional in terms of pictures and text, using python-pptx. Export is probably a longer-term goal and not a high-priority (if people want to make pptx, powerpoint is always going to be the best option).

Sorry about the missing reference. I was thinking of (a) classroom clickers, (b) poll everywhere, which as you point out is limited to polls, and (c) UW CP's student feature, which allows more interactivity but requires students to install the UW CP client on a laptop or tablet.

Big picture, I'm sure you are right that there is a lot of unexplored/unexploited classroom tech that could leverage smartphones and sms for better collaborative and interactive work.

Incidentally, if you are looking for powerpoint export, the best way I found was to basically to export each slide as an image, including every animation step. Pathetic, slow, but mostly reliable.

There's TurningPoint as well, and it integrates with the office suite + the Student-Teacher backend (D2L, blackboard, etc): https://www.turningtechnologies.com/higher-education

One of the biggest features of PowerPoint is that it runs offline. This is very important for many reasons. It's the Doctor Sues of business tools. You can use it on a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train, and you can use it ANYWHERE. If you can match that feature, than this might be worth another look. Otherwise, you have effectively created another Prezi.

You can run it offline two ways:

* Choose the "offline download" option in the main menu. In your browser do some version of "Save" with the type "Webpage Complete." This saves as a webpage with all associated CSS and JS. You can run it anywhere. If you have an internet connection, you will receive interaction data (e.g. poll responses)

* Download a full-slide PDF (less desirable, but more familiar)

These features need to be better documented, I'll try to work on a blog entry on this!

It is NOT the same as Prezi as the emphasis is on interaction. Last time I checked, Prezi (and Powerpoint) presentations are deterministic: from the minute you hit run there's not much you or the audience can do to change the slides. The goal is to change that as much as possible: if you're going to take the audience as serious participants in your presentation, they need to be able to influence it's outcome. The presentation should be less about information transfer, more about brainstorming or co-creation. I have a long way to go there technically, but that's my thinking!

> Last time I checked, Prezi (and Powerpoint) presentations are deterministic: from the minute you hit run there's not much you or the audience can do to change the slides.

I started using Prezi since soon after it came out, and this was never the case. You can build guided paths, though even that isn't quite like saying "run", but what was powerful with Prezi was that if you use it for content where it really makes sense, content that is inherently spatial (which isn't actually most of the content I give in talks, so I haven't really used it much over the years), you can rapidly move around the content, you can edit it if you want (as the tool that you use to present is the editor), and effectively decided how the presentation will play out as you give the talk. In this article, the talk I'm giving is done with Prezi, and while I've given this talk many times, I've never twice did I do the talk in the same order, and often decide how to order the content based on the questions and feedback I get from the audience, and no one is any the wiser as Prezi is actually really good at that.


Yes, fair enough the path is not deterministic (although I think slide content may be). Ironically, in 2Sli.de the path is deterministic, and the content is not! Maybe something to work on there.

There is another problem for, I am assuming, many people on here. Giving a copy of your presentation data to a 3rd party company is horrible for opsec.

In the financing industry? Get ready for someone to take advantage of all of your investing knowledge. In the contrasting business? Get ready to be sued, or if you're working for the government get ready to take an all expense paid vacation to Guantanamo.

You need to be able to make sure that your data stays offline ALL the time. Something like this is not practical as I cannot ensure that my data will stay as secret as can be.

edit: Fixed Guantanamo sentence.

Fair enough, but in every instance in my professional experience where presentation data has leaked (unauthorized) - or full presentations themselves - they were sourced/obtained/provided by a former internal employee of the prior firm, or a current employee with strong enough ties to the recipient to justify the procedure.

Granted I'm somewhat biased in that a lot of the work experience I did in presentations was for public entities who had significant channels for obtaining submitted documents by all interested parties (e.g. Florida's Sunshine Law). Even with marking certain things "Proprietary and Confidential" there were judgment calls to be made about what to put in and why.

Yes, on several occasions the submitted materials ended up being used by the potential client and their current service provider (i.e. investment strategies), and with little to no recourse. Cost of doing business. Can only protect so much.

Yes, that is a good point. I had really only envisioned this as a web app: I think a web-based editor with all data offline would not be easily accommodated in the design: I'd have to advise someone with those particular needs to look elsewhere!

I realize that you're trying to show off the features of your software, but overuse of slide animations is a really bad look. In addition to explicitly communicating the features of your product, your example slides should inherently make me think 'I wish my presentations were like that'.

Thanks, that is a good point. The demo presentation is actually a bit dated and could use updating. The demo video is actually better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YXthp3vcJs

One less-visible feature of the site is that users can edit the theme, including the CSS, and save as a new theme (either public or private). I'd love to attract some good designers who might make themes. My own design skills are limited and ultimately designers are going to make better looking slides.

I'd like to mention the tool I use: Slidify[1,2]

Basically HTML5 slides from R Markdown. Interactivity also available. [3,4]

Perhaps not was WYSIWYG as 2sli.de, which looks quite nice, but Slidify is great if you know R and want to include code snippets too.

[1] http://slidify.github.io/ [2] http://slidify.org/samples/intro/#1 [3] https://github.com/slidify/interactive [4] http://slidify.github.io/dcmeetup/demos/interactive/

One of my college physics professors had a more low-tech solution: hand everyone a set of cards labeled A, B, and C and have everyone answer powerpoint questions that way.

Visiting MSR/Bangalore I was shown a neat demo using very simple QRcode-like paper and image recognition. Basically, each student had a paper they could hold up. On the front was a simple QR-code (facing the prof and camera). On the back on the edges were 4 possible answers, something like A/1/YES, B/2/NO, C/3/MAYBE, D/4/DONT-KNOW. The student would rotate the paper so their chosen answer was on top, then hold it up. A camera in the front of the room would detect in realtime and display the results. They even had an augmented reality smartphone app that would cover/highlight the students and their responses.

Oh, and the QR codes were per student, so answers could be tracked.

This sounds like so much of a physical struggle that doesn't scale very well.

I'm not sure what scale you mean. The demo I saw involved 100+ students in a crowded low-income rural Indian classroom with one teacher. The qrcodes were printed on regular paper on an inkjet printer. The image recognition software ran entirely on a cheap desktop with a webcam. The whole thing was designed for that type of environment.

I doubt it will be used much -- teachers who care seemed to be in even shorter supply than the minimal tech needed to run this -- but the guys at MSR that created it had put an surprising amount of work into making the image recognition fast and efficient. They had a smartphone-only version too, but it had some limitations, if I recall, because the processing power just wasn't quite there yet.

Teaching in general doesn't scale very well.

This sounds fantastic. Are you able to remember any hint of the name of the software?

The guru of visualization and Powerpoint critic, Edward Tufte recommends projected presentations (not necessarily using ppt) be accompanied with well designed 4-5 page handouts.

Presentations should be presentations and handouts should be handouts is a really nice idea for many circumstances. And utterly impractical for many of those circumstances. Even getting decent speaker notes into a presentation is often tough to get people to do.

(One of) the problems is that if you're asking me to do a presentation, you're now also asking me to create a second document. It's not actually all that difficult (and I've done it) but it does take an extra piece of work--which might take a day or two--which goes beyond the initial scope.

Nice job, yet I'm curious how many Interactive Powerpoint apps are out there now?

Slides.com offers the ability to use your phone as a remote and I'm guessing there's a few others out there?

I think this is a growing area Bunkr is another alternative but I have not tried it much myself. 2Sli.de also offers phone-as-remote (plus annotation on the phone, move objects on the phone and sync to the screen, etc).

And thanks!

The interactive polling stuff is neat, though it seems like it would occupy a lot more time in a presentation than the old-fashioned "show of hands" it's replacing (given the time an audience would need to pull out their phones and try to scan the QR / type the URL / send the SMS).

The on-device view of the current and upcoming slides (as well as speaker notes, and maybe even drawing) are also built into the Google Slides app's UI when you are casting to a Chromecast.

You could have all of the students scan the QR code or enter some text at the beginning of the lecture and keep a session running so that the voting controls work throughout the lecture.

There are some things that can be done better. There are some things that can be improved. This isn't a perfect product. But it's one that I want! Good job!

Other people covered most of the issues well enough, I think. One key thing that I think you should do is make the cursor change in the appropriate ways when hovering over certain things. It's not a terribly hard css change and I think it would make the app look a lot more polished.

Thanks, yes that would be appropriate (e.g. a movable object should have a movable cursor). I'll check through the app for this, although any specifics are much appreciated. I'd be grateful for feedback on your experience, my email is on the "About" page.

The presentation industry was stagnant for almost two decades until Prezi and a bunch of new software brought some life in to it. Thankfully the focus has slowly shifted from the “software” to the “presenter and the audience”.

There are a few exciting tools in the market that focus on audience engagement and interaction.

ShowTime from Zoho is one such product. It’s a cloud based service that brings interactivity into presentations by connecting the presenter to the audience and is quite popular in the market currently. It works well with PowerPoint too.

It’s a product that will suit any type of presentation including classroom set up where presenters/lecturers want students to interact with them during a lecture. Students can ask questions privately, rate slides, share feedback etc, using their smartphone or their laptop. Plus, advanced analytics will tell how well their session fared. I would suggest you a look at it if you have plans to refine your app.

Here are two other tools in the same space: Presentain and SlideKlowd (both very effective for live presentations). Hope this helps. All the best. :)

Keynote was released in 2003, do you consider it being part of the stagnation of the presentation industry?

A few little thoughts:

I love that your graphics are decently large by default and the text is reasonably sized. Biggest complaint with PowerPoint and Excel for me is that the default settings make no sense and are next to illegible when projected.

That said, this seems like an application ripe for the use of the figure style guides from long ago, which you may appreciate. This link shows some really clever thoughts on how to present data most legibly, and since you're dynamically generating a lot of it this seems ripe for implementation.


I do think the typography needs some work, I'm personally having a rather hard time tracking a line of text due to weight/line spacing or something. Or maybe there's just too much text on the slides in the demo? But I'm not a typographer so I'll leave that to other people to comment on more productively.

This has an impressive feature set for such a young product.

I'm a cofounder of https://www.swipe.to/ and we support some similar things:

- Markdown slides

- Embedding YouTube and Vimeo videos

- Control presentation on your phone by swiping

- Privacy by default

- Live collaboration

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek but based in reality question: Before your software embeds the YouTube or Vimeo videos, it opens up an email or contact system by which the presentation author must contact and get approval from the content owner before being embedded, right?

In terms of building a title and effective presentations, better than PowerPoint or Keynote combined, I use LectoraOnline.com. It has everything I need: QR code generator, embedding of video, HTML export, SCORM compliant, editable themes, and Responsive presentations. That's a short list, as there's more, but it's an incredible app. It's close relative, I'd venture to guess, is Captivate or maybe even Storyline.

Great job on this cool concept! I will definitely check it out. Thank you!

Thanks, I'll check out LectoraOnline too to see what I can learn.

For those interested in more, please also check out the demo video: https://youtu.be/Sc6cIAJBkmU

Just a side question because you mentioned being a professor: is this work/project related to academic research (in other words, do you plan to publish about your usability findings)? Or is this a product that will become more feature-full over time? The tool looks neat and I like the preview feature that can only be seen on the smart devices. I'll certainly use this for my next presentation. Thank you! :)

In a similar vein: https://presentio.us

Disclosure: I'm the developer of this.

I briefly checked out the "See Presentious in action" section. I would have preferred to see some more engaging sample presentations. In fact, those presentations seem to exhibit most of the reasons why Powerpoint slides considered bad.

Bad presentation traits include:

- Walls of text or bullet points

- Cliché stock imagery

- Reading exactly what is on the slide

- Lack of emotive connections with the imagery

- Dry and monotone voice

- Each slide should really convey one key point

One story I heard from an audiobook was the CEO of a company attending a nervous staff member's presentation. The CEO sat in front of the screen and faced the presenter, not looking at the slides. Appearing that this may be a disaster, the CEO later expressed, if there's something important to be said, the presenter would say it, not hide it in the slides.

I can't claim that having the ability to record your presentation will instantly cure all of the ills common to bad presentations.

Our hypothesis is that if you know what you're saying is captured along with your slides, you'll put less information in the slides. That should remedy the walls of text and bullet points. The same goes for reading the slide - if it's not there, you won't do it.

Stock Imagery, Dry and monotone voices, Lack of emotive connections with the imagery --- If you know of an algorithm to correct this stuff, holler at me: george@presentio.us

One of my friends is the creator of Wooclap : https://www.wooclap.com/ It's quite cool to compare how a similar idea (engage your audience by text/web) lead to different execution. Congratulations on your product :)

What is the use of the QR Code displayed on the demo slides ?

Thanks, wooclap looks really good and possibly more simple. Will check it out in more detail!

The QR code leads to the web-response (e.g. it encodes the URL g.2sli.de) I found some audience members had trouble with the short domain, they would write things like g.2sli.de.com or g.www.2Sli.de - the QR code made it easier for some to respond! Taking a picture of the QR code with the default android camera offers an option to open the link.

I'll toss out another piece of software - http://www.socrative.com/

Does similar stuff as noted in all these comments.

I'm not 100% sure, but since you're using a de domain, you probably have to include legal information in your about page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impressum

The requirement is for German websites. German websites are defined as being published by individuals or organisations that are based in Germany, so an Impressum is required regardless of whether a site is in the .de domain.

why wouldnt you just use reveal js?

I think I would highlight the following features: * Interactions: last time I checked RevealJS does not offer any kind of interactions. It tends to be hosted as static HTML files, so you need some kind of logic to process interactions * Control: Although I believe slides.com allows phone as remote, a user-hosted reveal JS presentation would not. * Ease of use - many users don't want to edit HTML files. Even I didn't want to keep editing HTML files.

However, I agree that RevealJS is great and I did use it in my lectures after I gave up powerpoint!

My thoughts exactly. RevealJS is missing some of the features that 2sli.de is advertising, but the foundation (e.g. socket.io, multiplex-plugin) to develop these plugins for revealjs is already there.

I seriously was contemplating a business idea on my way home from work today that was based on making polling via sms easy.

While others have rightly pointed out pollanywhere, I'm looking to go beyond just polls. I have text based discussions and will be adding audience annotations (useful for small meetings, brainstorming, etc) in the near future.

Not really related, but I had another idea (more of an art project) about installing a projector in a public place or maybe on a uni campus that you could text to and have it project your message. Some kind of experiment of uncensored amplification of speech.

They do this at a lot of conferences, at least using Twitter instead of SMS.

Haha, cool. I think I could compete with that, as a hobbyist business for non-profits in my home market at least.

Are slides built using a WYSIWYG editor?

Yes, please try it out! I'm also planning to add a "rapid compose" version using markdown (for some people point and click is slower than typing).

Why is a sign up required to use this?

Well, the presentation is private by default. It would be hard to associate that data with you without a sign-up (I guess unique URLS would be an option). I also made it for myself to use in the first instance, and having some kind of login worked well for me!

The user authentication uses a fairly mature package that follows good practices (e.g. passwords not stored in clear text).

How well is video handled?

Try it and tell me (please)! You can embed youtube and vimeo very easily. I'm planning to use an API like oembed (http://oembed.com/) to handle a greater variety of media soon. You can also control your slides using a tablet, which can be pretty slick.

> experimental > may be bugs

Ah yes.. let me give a presentation with this software.

you're the man

pretty cool!

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