Media publishing on the web has evolved tremendously in recent years and now the real question on developers’ minds is how to depart from the traditional web narrative in favor of dynamic storytelling, interactive content, and intelligent data manipulation. These features are also particularly germane to the shifting landscape of higher education. Universities have witnessed dramatic changes in pedagogical methods and have even pioneered many of their own, but the trend toward digital scholarship demands a new way of thinking about research, teaching, and learning that can be daunting to navigate.
I experimented with three contenders in the world of digital media publishing, Klynt, Zeega, and Prezi, in hopes of exploring not only the implications of evolving web narratives but also the emerging culture surrounding them. I created a small introductory presentation on the history and context of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as though I were designing a lecture and wanted to supplement it with an engaging and interactive narrative piece.
Klynt made its original debut as software for publishing in the fields of journalism, photography, and filmmaking, but it is also an excellent companion for academic presentations. Its creators boast an impressive clientele including UNICEF, the World Wildlife Federation, and Radio Télévision Suisse, but they are also established in the Academy. Klynt creations can be found on the websites for the University of Florida and Northern Ohio University among others.
My introductory lecture entitled Metanatomy: Body, Psyche, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (身體 心靈 中醫) makes use of various Klynt features including text/image animation, music, and interactivity. At the time of this publishing Klynt was unable to incorporate YouTube videos and other social media directly into presentations, but I understand that new versions of the software do in fact have this capability now.
Klynt users will notice a number of useful features packed into a lightweight and easy to navigate UI. It is capable of producing beautiful web-native presentations, but the program itself does not run directly from the web unlike cloud-based applications such as Zeega or Prezi. For some this may be an inconvenience, but others like myself will greatly appreciate the locality and privacy of their stored work.
Each project also has a timeline that users of Final Cut Pro or Adobe Flash will recognize immediately. This timeline bestows a cinematic quality to presentations, certainly a shout-out to Klynt’s roots in documentary filmmaking, but also a useful tool for working with digital media or simply to curate perfectly timed animations.
Klynt is a web of narratives, a non-linear storyteller that accommodates creativity with poise. The development team maintains an active and lively support forum on their website that not only builds community among users but keeps the team abreast of bugs or errors as Klynt evolves.
Whimsical Zeega approaches the concept of web-native media publishing as a shared experience, not simply as the efforts of any one designer. The Zeega interface is directly integrated with social media databases including SoundCloud, Flickr, Giphy, and YouTube, all of which allow for easy drag-and-drop importing of media into any presentation. In fact, integration is the perfect keyword for this application, and it is certainly one of its most appealing features.
Beginning a new project in Zeega is as simple as one click after creating an account, and there are a number of design options that allow the user to construct a rich multimedia experience. I recreated my original intro lecture, Metanatomy: Body, Psyche, and Traditional Chinese Medicine using the Zeega interface and by the end the entire aesthetic of the presentation had completely shifted. I was able to upload some of my own media, but at times opted to include public images from Flickr instead. With an entire sidebar full of shared images, audio, and video it was difficult not to indulge my curiosity and explore what was available.
The presentation format is considerably more linear than Klynt; instead of a storyboard, Zeega makes use of a reel of pages that can be created and edited at will. Each page links directly to the following page, and the WYSIWYG model generally takes precedence over more complex curating, but the minimalist UI and overall straightforwardness have an appealing quality especially for users who are sick of PowerPoint but still want to keep it simple. Better yet, no downloads are required for Zeega. It can be run directly from the browser and everything is automatically saved on the cloud.
From the Zeega perspective adding text may finesse a project, but it should not dominate it. Similar to Twitter, text boxes cannot surpass 140 characters. This turned out to be somewhat counterintuitive for my own project because of its linguistic orientation comparing Chinese and English, but it also encouraged me to think about how I might reinterpret the project in the future so that it would assimilate well with the Zeega culture of less text, more media. Critics of Twitter have often attacked the lack of depth one can attain in 140 characters, but Zeega can thrive in this respect because of its ability to combine brief statements with powerful images, video, and music.
Zeega’s thriving culture is palpable. Their adage, create the web you want, entices and challenges users to experiment and produce. I noticed the application encountered occasional glitches when I uploaded some of my locally stored media, especially when uploading images with an alpha layer, but as an ever-changing work in progress fueled by its users, Zeega is always improving its usability. It is also clear that Zeega’s developers are invested in the creative evolution of the product into the future.
Prezi combines spatial flexibility and nonlinearity to produce a minimalist yet highly refined interface for brainstorming and presentation creation. The application is packed with useful features, importing media is a cinch, and it is prepackaged with a beautiful collection of templates that can save users a lot of time if they need to throw something together quick.
Prezi helps users explore the potentiality of their ideas. The workspace is a large desktop that can be resized simply by zooming in or out. Spreading out all of my ideas on a large canvas resonated well with me, and once I had coherent groupings I was able to simply draw a box around each area to automatically produce the frames for my presentation. The size of the content in each frame was not an issue because Prezi automatically zooms to make each frame fit the screen. Once I had my frames together I was able to animate the transitions between them and also animate the text in each frame so it would fade in and out for a more dramatic effect.
When you load a Prezi presentation you can move around and view the entire desktop workspace if you choose not to follow the animated frame-by-frame progression that the author originally intended. This gives the user a view into the conceptual process behind the presentation, which can be an interesting perspective and also quite unique because most applications of this type attempt to hide the process in favor of the final product. Of course the actual frame-by-frame progression is still of primary importance in general use. The project may pan around the workspace, or it may begin with a large concept and zoom in deeper and deeper to elucidate the details and then pop back out again.
The interface, along with being open-ended and malleable, is also highly intuitive. The developers certainly understand the finer details of presentation formatting. For example, as I moved objects on the desktop close to one another a straightedge tool appeared to help me line everything up – a tremendous help!
Prezi is a mind map and a storyteller, a desktop workspace and an entire presentation all at once. Process and product gradually become one in the same, the boundaries blur. I was able to invite spectators to my presentation and they were able to watch it live as I went through each slide. If I wanted I could have even given them control of the presentation. This is a delightful new approach that has a lot of really interesting potentials for collaboration from afar or in a classroom setting.
Klynt, Zeega, and Prezi have different strengths but they are all incredibly versatile for publishing web-native media. I discovered that Prezi was the best fit for my presentation because of its ability to zoom in and out of the anatomical body figure in the main slide. The animation style, zooming from the entire body down to specific organs and back, served to reinforce the macrocosm/microcosm theme running through the entire lecture. But Prezi is not the best fit for all projects.
Klynt’s timeline feature offers an unparalleled level of precision for audio and video exhibition. This would be especially useful for projects that used timing for dramatic effect, such as in a movie trailer where music can be used to augment the affective quality of text fading in or out. Zeega maintains a community akin to YouTube and Twitter where completed projects join the larger whole and diversify its library. Its most exciting potential is its ability to speak symbolically. Because it encourages visual media over text, it supports the entire spectrum of symbolic expression from meme culture to photography projects of various kinds.