Designing Slidecasting: a new multimedia format for the web

When SlideShare launched it was a place to share PowerPoint on to the web. TechCrunch called it the “YouTube for PowerPoint”. And while it was not my choice of words, I did not disagree! Yesterday, we moved beyond that initial description. SlideShare is now a place to share and create a new multimedia format: Slidecasts!

Slidecasts are a mashup of slides with audio. As it was pointed out time and again, slides by themselves can feel bare. Our users wanted to add voice tracks, music etc.

We did not just want to add audio to slides. We wanted to create a multimedia format suited to both creation and consumption on the web. What does that mean? The main developer on the project Kapil and I debated this time and again. We were inspired by the philosophy of “small pieces loosely joined“. For video, the visual and audio stream are generally recorded together. For Slidecasting, we wanted the multimedia format to suit the nature of the web, where multiple streams (slides and audio) can be loosely or tightly coupled.

Slidecast authoring experience: We wanted to allow the Slidecast creator to take the two separate streams (slides and audio) and tie them together, loosely or tightly. If the creator gave us the information about how the slides and audio tied together at a precise level, we would take that. But we would also let them take a more laid back route and simply divide the audio between slides, or not do any synchronization at all.

We also did not want to restrict the SlideShare community to audio that they uploaded to our servers. Slidecasting will take an audio file from any server – just give us a url and synchronization information.

Slidecast playing experience: We wanted to give the end user the ability to navigate the audio using the slides. As many have talked about, audio is not easily scannable unlike text or pictures. We imagined the slidecast player as a way to visually navigate the audio. You can scan, jump ahead, come back to the parts of the audio that are interesting using the slides. Since you can link to an individual slide on SlideShare, this also makes it possible to bookmark a point in the audio, or email someone – “Listen from Slide 5-7.”

Personally, I think this will finally get me to listen to podcasts. I often don’t have the patience to listen to a whole podcast, and look for information about what parts to listen to. Now, I can find the slides that interest me and start there.

But this is not the only choice. For some slidecasts, you might want the more sit back and watch or video like experience. Well you can do that as well. Just start playing the slidecast and sit back.

This was by far, the most challenging design problem I have ever worked on. We started with many designs, chose one, discarded it, started again. We did many iterations. With every iteration, we kept on reducing features, taking it down to its bare minimum. There is a lot of room for improvement, especially with the authoring experience. But this just Slidecast version 1. We have a lot more planned ahead, which I cannot talk about right now. But this does show the type of multimedia direction we are planning to take with SlideShare. Stay tuned!

An Slidecast embed of Larry Lessig’s Free Culture talk (of one of my all time favorite talks)

A screenshot of the Slidecast authoring experience
Slidecast authoring