Slideshare Is Almost Excellent

11/30/2010 by Sylvain Hallé

(Follow-up: I decided to create a slidecast myself after discovering the problems in mentioned in this post.)

I like Slideshare. It is a handy tool that lets everybody watch your presentations without bothering with hosting them yourself on some web site. You can even track how many people watch any of your presentations. For that basic use, I think the service works pretty well, and it's free.

However, after using it for some time, I also ran into a couple of (annoying) quirks that make the site just shy of being really good. Most of them could be easily corrected.

1) Thubmnails. For some reason, the thumbnails generated from the presentation look wrong with my slides: all the letters from the text are overprinted on the same spot in the slides --although they display fine using the viewer when you click on one of them. This looks very unprofessional; moreover there is no way to tell Slideshare which slide to use as the thumbnail (most of the time slide #1 is a title slide, and what looks more like a title than another title?), or to replace it by an image of your choice. Therefore, my homepage is littered with a string of nearly identical, and equally bad-looking thumbnails.

2) No way to edit the "transcript". Slideshare creates a "transcript" of the presentation, by basically extracting all text from the slides. If you're like me and your slides mostly contain graphics, then the transcript is just a gibberish string of random symbols. The sad thing is that apparently, transcripts are used for search engine indexing --so I guess my presentations can only be found by Klingons. However, I haven't found anywhere in the interface where you can actually change that machine-generated transcript for something more appropriate --such as your own text.

3) No way to control the presentation's URL. The URL for your presentation is the name of the file you upload the first time. So if you create a presentation and upload a PDF called "my-grandma-eats-bananas", the URL will be, NO MATTER how the presentation is actually titled or whether you upload a file with a new name afterwards. Be careful with your filenames when you have to pass that URL around after!

4) (Un)usability of the "slidecast" feature. It is clear that the interface for synchronizing slides with an audio track is made for the casual user. It is not buggy, but becomes barely usable if you want to use it seriously:

  1. The minimum space the tool lets you put between any two slides seems arbitrary. Sometimes it won't let me put two slides more than 10 seconds apart, sometimes less, and I don't understand why.
  2. In any case, I have never succeeded in placing two slides less than 5 seconds apart. A no-go when your slides are made of graphs or small bullet points that you want to introduce as you speak. I gave up on the slidecast feature just because of that.
  3. You can't change the zoom level for placing the cues on the timeline.
  4. When you play back audio, the focus is not kept on the current slide from the timeline --you have to manually scroll the list to keep seeing the current slide.
  5. While you can scroll the audio timeline using a sliding window, you can't scroll the list of slides similarly. To get to the 100th slide, you must click 100 times on the right arrow button. What?!?
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