It’s always important to test the cool new ideas you find against the cold hard realities of making things work, with genuine requirements, and a firm deadline. Overall, i’d rate my experience of using Slidy for my SBL presentation as a B-. This is not a slam on Dave Ragget’s fine tool: if i used it again tomorrow, things would doubtless go a bit more smoothly, and your mileage may vary. But here’s a scorecard on my own experience, as someone who’s definitely not a W3C-grade wizard, but probably still in the top 5% technically of the potential user population.
- Once you understand the basics of organizing slide content (at its simplest, each slide is a
div,and bullets are
liitems), laying out the textual content is dead easy.
- Including images was mostly straightforward, provided the image was appropriately sized and you played a little with float:right and other placement. (but you’ll see plenty of places where i didn’t have time to get it right: the screenshot of the NYTimes article scrolls off the page, and i wish i’d been able to get the text overlaid on the Google Earth map of Miletus.)
- One big win illustrated by that last point: you can link directly to individual slides because they all have URLs. Likewise, you can embed links to create a genuinely hyperlinked presentation. Sure, Powerpoint allows that too, but there you have to switch application contexts to visit the link. Here, everything lives in the browser.
- Creating a new theme takes detailed understanding. I was able to get rid of the W3C logos, and make a few simple color changes. But i just didn’t have enough time or insight to adjust the size of the header box (too big, i think as a consequence of the layout incorporating the W3C logo), or improve other cosmetics. I would have liked to add my own logo: but i struggled with creating appropriately transparent PNGs (don’t have the right image editing tools), and couldn’t get the sizes right. There’s no comparison here to Powerpoint, where you can directly select and resize images to fit (after the fact i re-read the slidy help and saw i missed some things about sizing graphics using the width and height attributes: i’ll have to play more with that). So i wound up with text-only theme: that’s not very visually appealing, but when it’s midnight the night before your talk, you really need to focus on content over cosmetics. The CSS layout has lots of internal dependencies: change the size of one box, and another box then gets messed up. So you can’t fiddle with much unless you understand and modify it all: that’s a high barrier to adoption. Once you create a new theme, of course, then you can just use it repeatedly without tweaking every time: but creating my own turned out to be more of a challenge than i could conquer.
- Browser portability is still an issue. For reasons i don’t understand, my theme works fine with Firefox and Opera, but it’s messed up under Internet Explorer 6: the footer winds up in the header, and boxes aren’t laid out right. The blame is probably a combination of gaps in standards support by Microsoft’s fault, and errors in my CSS coding as they pertain to these gaps: i can’t fault Slidy for that. But IE still owns the browser space, and much as i’d like to encourage people to switch, they’re not going to do that just to view my presentation.
- If you look at how the W3C Slidy users create their presentations, they are always addressed by a slash-terminated URL like http://www.w3.org/Talks/Tools/Slidy/. I couldn’t figure out how that works or make that happen on my server: probably something about the server configuration. So my link instead goes to an actual file: http://www.semanticbible.com/other/presentations/2006-sbl/Weaving.xhtml. Again, not really a Slidy issue, but i wish i knew how to resolve it.
In summary: if you know basic HTML and don’t care about tweaking the theme or advanced details, you can use Slidy right off-the-shelf (i guess that should be off-the-web). I’ve tried to make this easier for the next person with my Quick Start Template. If you want to do more advanced things, well, there’s a learning curve: that’s life. But this is not (yet) the drag-and-drop, menu-driven Powerpoint process most folks are accustomed to. And if you want to modify themes, you need a very good knowledge of CSS and a lot of patience. I definitely hope to use Slidy (or some future variant of it, or S5, a similar idea with slightly different execution) again, because i think it’s the right thing: there’s just no reason to lock presentation content away in proprietary formats that aren’t web-friendly. Hopefully i’ll have enough time to create an more personal and appealing theme to use.