I draw a lot of diagrams in InkScape, and I’ve often fantasized about turning my diagrams into dynamic animated presentations. I’ve seen several presentations lately using the excellent Prezi software, and as I was remarking on its coolness a friend pointed me at Sozi – a plugin for InkScape that allows you to turn any InkScape diagram into an animated SVG perfect for presentations. Since then I collaborated on a presentation using Prezi, and have some comparisons I would like to make.
The Sozi diagram I created is shown below (click it to see the presentation, progress the slides with the right arrow key). I put it together in order to kick off an Open Source meetup group we formed at the beginning of the year. I wanted something light and inclusive, so the talk focused on how to convey the concept of Open Source to the uninitiated.
I LOVED drawing the diagram. It was a fairly simple endeavor. InkScape is a tool I know and love. It is a powerful fully fleshed vector drawing program that rivals the very best in commercial software. Sozi, the plug-in, feels more like alpha code – very early development – an excellent and thorough proof of concept. And you must approach it in this light. It was particularly helpful to have viewed this Sozi Tutorial Video, presently one of the best places to get an overview on how to use Sozi. If there was ever an Open Source project deserving of a good UI developer’s love and attention it would be Sozi. Clean it up, tighten it, and you have a killer application. In the meantime, with patience, you can still produce stellar results (like the one above, If I do say so myself). And I believe it was worth the effort.
Another huge benefit of Sozi is that it is generating a presentation you can share with ANYBODY. It it producing standards compliant SVG that works just fine when I open it in Firefox or Chrome (and I suspect IE and Safari but I’m unwilling to test it.) without any additional plugins, security warnings, etc… etc..
Prezi, on the other hand, is a polished piece of work, that stands on its own and is well focused to the task at hand: creating a presentation. Because of this, getting started happens fast. Very fast. I was able to jump into the middle of another persons work, pick up where they left off, and with a bit of good natured fumbling around I was able to do all the things I wanted to do. I didn’t have to go watch a video, and click around blindly cussing at myself – it all fell into place.
Where Prezi falls short is that it /is/ a stand alone application – it isn’t built on top of a powerful graphics tool like InkScape, so you can’t create your presentation within it. You have to use it just like you would use PowerPoint – that is to create the artwork elsewhere, then finagle the creation into the confines of the presentation software.
I think, perhaps, there are two distinct types of users here – and these tools will evolve over time to meet the needs of those two groups. If you live and die by the effectiveness of your presentations (As I do), then you need something like InkScape and Sozi – which, while not 3D modeled non-linear video editing, offers up a set of tools that will well outstrip the mainstream. If instead, you just want a step beyond PowerPoint, just to up the ante on your 1990’s era competition, then Prezi is the ticket. Prezi’s sleek well defined and intuitive interface provides for very effective presentations that can take you just past the expectations of most audiences.
Ultimately, the software doesn’t make the presentation. But that wasn’t the purpose of this post. I’ll leave that broader subject to the master, Mr. Edward Tufte.