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HTML Slide presentations, students to the rescue by Peter Sefton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Thanks to Andrew Leahy’s organising skills I am now the client for a group of third year computing students from the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics at the University of Western Sydney who have chosen to work on an HTML slide viewer project for their major project. I’m not going to name them here or point to their work without their permission, but who knows, they might start up an open source project as part of this assignment.

You might have noticed that on this blog I have been experimenting with embedding slide presentations in posts, like this conference presentation on research data management which embeds slide images originally created in the Google Drive presentation app along with speaker notes, or this one on the same topic where the slides are HTML sections rather than images. These posts mix slides with text, so you can choose to read the story or watch the show using an in browser HTML viewer. I think this idea has potential to be a much better way of preserving and presenting slides than throwing slide-decks online, but at the moment the whole experience on this blog is more than a bit clunky and leaves lots to be desired, which is where the students come in.

Hang on, there are dozens of HTML slide-viewer applications out there – so why do I think we need a new one?

There are a few main requirements I had which are not met by any of the existing frameworks, that I know of. These are:

  • It should be possible to mix slide and discursive content.

    That is, slides should be able to sprinkled through an otherwise ‘normal’ HTML document which should display as plain-old-html without any tricks.

  • Slide markup should be declarative and use modern semantic-web conventions.

    That is, the slides and their parts should be identified by markup using URIs instead of the framework assuming, for example that <section> or <div> means ‘this is a slide’. Potentially, different viewing engines could consume the same content. You could have a dedicated viewer for use in-venue with speaker notes on one screen and presentation on another and another to show a slide presentation embedded in a WordPress post.

  • Following from (2), the slide show behaviour should be completely independent of the format for the slides.

    That is adding the behaviour should be a one or two liner added to the top, or even better dropping the HTML into a ‘slide-ready’ content management system like, um, my blog.

There are plenty of frameworks with some kind of open license that students should be able to adapt for this project. That’s what I did with my attempt, I wrote a few lines of code to take slides embedded in blog posts, get rid of other HTML and marshal the result into the venerable W3C Slidy format. The format is declarative, and the documents don’t ‘do’ anything at all until a wordpress plugin sniffs-out slide markup hiding in them.

I’m going to be working with the team to negotiate what seems like a reasonable set of goals for this project, but my current thinking is something like the following:

  • In consultation with me, define a declarative format for embedding slides in HTML that can cover (at least):

    • Identifying slides using a URI.

    • Identify parts of slides (the slide vs notes etc).

  • Allow slides to consist of one or both of an image of the slide or a text/HTML version of the same thing. Eg a nicely rendered image of some bullet points from PowerPoint with equivalent HTML formatting also available to search engines and screen-readers.

  • Improve on the current slide-viewing experience in WordPress with:

    • Some kind of player that works in-post (ie without going fullscreen). A simple solution that came up in our meeting would be to automatically add navigation that just skips between slides, with some kind of care taken to show the slide at the top of the screen with context below it.

    • An improved full-screen player that can (at least) recognise when a full-screen image version of the slide is available and display that scaled to fit rather than the sub-optimal thing I have going on now with Slidy putting a heading at the and the image below.

There are lots more things that could be done with this, given time, which might make good material for future projects:

  1. Adding support for this format to Pandoc or similar.

  2. Creating a converter or exporter for slide presentations in common formats (.pptx, odp) targeting the new format.

  3. Extending the support I have already built into WordDown and the ICE content converter to allow authors to embed slides in word processing documents.

  4. Adding support for syncronised audio and video.

  5. Allowing more hyper-presentations like prezi.

  6. Dealing with progressive slide builds.

  7. Slide transitions.

  8. Different language versions of the same content.

  9. Synchronising display on multiple machines, eg student’s ipads or a second computer.

  10. Master slides and branding – point to a slide template somewhere? Include a suggested slide layout somehow?

  11. Adding a presenter mode with slides on one screen and notes on another.

  12. For use with mult-screen rigs like Andrew Leahy’s Wonderama maybe the extra screens could be used to show more context, slides on one screen video of presenter on another – photos, maps on other screens. Eg a Wonderama presentation rig could look for geo-coded stuff in the presentation and throw up maps or Google Earth viz on spare screens, or other contextual material.

Of course depending on which framework, if any, the students decide to adopt and/or adapt some of the above may come for free.


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