Prezi, the infinite canvas style presentation tool, has released a new interface. The company is making an effort to simplify the somewhat arcane user experience of what is now known as the ‘classic look’. Which means the distinctive — but counterintuitive and slow — ‘bubble’ menu is gone.
In particular, the new approach creates a default ‘path’ — the sequence of screens in the infinite canvas that define a presentation — based on the order of frames created in the canvas. This default can be overridden, but making the path explicit and always present will decrease the cognitive load of Prezi.
I will take another, longer look at this tool, which I tried a few years ago but rejected because of the nausea-inducing swooping in transitions. I never understood why I couldn’t simply move from one frame to another without animation. A quick look suggests that this is still not an option, which is a shame.
I am always interested in new tools to help me think visually, so I immediately took a look at Mural.ly when I first heard of it last week.
Mural.ly provides a shared canvas – a mural, in their terminology – for visual ideation, and the tool borrows from a number of innovative and conventional approaches. It appropriates the Powerpoint idea of text boxes and images, but does so on a Prezi-like gigantic canvas. Mural.ly also lifts the Prezi notion of a sequence of framed areas as a way to make a presentation, but it does so without the nausea-inducing shifts in perspective that Prezi provides. And Mural.ly uses a Google Docs-like sharing model, where a group of collaborators can edit a shared mural, and even chat in real time through the tool as they are doing so.
Murals can be private – available only to those invited – or public – visible to the entire web (although only editable by collaborators). And they can be exported in a variety of ways, including embedded into other web pages or sites, like Tumblr or Wordpress.
I created a small mural to experiment with Mural.ly, and found the tool relatively straightforward, based on my experience with Powerpoint, Prezi, and Google Docs. Here you see one part of my mural, which is theoretically about Innovation In Pizza Cutters (you can see the mural here: http://mrl.li/QI5t6G).
I am the author of the mural, so I am presented with the authoring tools along the left margin, with the ability to add images, paste text, manipulate shapes and arrows, change backgrounds, and so on.
I found the tool’s features adequate, but I really wanted more options with text elements, like lists and individual styling: currently any changes in text style affect the entire text object, so you cannot highlight a single word, for example. Also, I was baffled by the provision of text boxes, comments, and post-its all with different limited options for fonts and styling.
The real-time chat is simple, but I can see it being very effective (although at present it seems to disappear at logout, so there is no history, which is a shame).
And the frames implementation – which allows the collaborators to create a sequenced walk through the canvas – is a great tool, as I said earlier, largely lifted from Prezi. I would like to see the capability for more than a single map, though, since different collaborators might want to wander through a body of information in different ways. Or a single researcher might want to collect a very large body of information and insights, and build different traversals for different purposes or audiences. As with Prezi, I found myself missing the capability of objects appearing as part of a slideshow animation, but a great deal can be done with movement, instead.
And lastly, I wanted to be able to record a walkthrough with voice and capture as a movie: this would be an awesome capability, since the tool supports embedding in other locales. I guess I could use a third party tool, but that would step outside the collaboration and sharing model the tool supports already.
I need to experiment with Mural.ly in a larger context – more collaborators, more materials – before I can tell exactly how rich the experience is, but my sense is that Mural.ly is already a great adjunct to brainstorming and group ideation, and with just a few more features could be indispensable.