Sun, 05 Apr 2020
Screensharing your talk slides is skeuomorphic
Back when the Web was much newer, and people hadn't really figured it out yet, there was an attempt to bring a dictionary to the web. Like a paper dictionary, its text was set in a barely-readable tiny font, and there were page breaks in arbitrary places. That is a skeuomorph: it's an incidental feature of an object that persists even in a new medium where the incidental feature no longer makes sense.
Anyway, I was scheduled to give a talk to the local Linux user group last week, and because of current conditions we tried doing it as a videoconference. I thought this went well!
We used Jitsi Meet, which I thought worked quite well, and which I recommend.
The usual procedure is for the speaker to have some sort of presentation materials, anachronistically called “slides”, which they display one at a time to the audience. In the Victorian age these were glass plates, and the image was projected on a screen with a slide projector. Later developments replaced the glass with celluloid or other transparent plastic, and then with digital projectors. In videoconferences, the slides are presented by displaying them on the speaker's screen, and then sharing the screen image to the audience.
This last development is skeuomorphic. When the audience is together in a big room, it might make sense to project the slide images on a shared screen. But when everyone is looking at the talk on their own separate screen anyway, why make them all use the exact same copy?
Instead, I published the slides on my website ahead of time, and sent the link to the attendees. They had the option to follow along on the web site, or to download a copy and follow along in their own local copy.
This has several advantages:
Some co-workers suggested the drawback that it might be annoying to try to stay synchronized with the speaker. It didn't take me long to get in the habit of saying “Next slide, #18” or whatever as I moved through the talk. If you try this, be sure to put numbers on the slides! (This is a good practice anyway, I have found.) I don't know if my audience found it annoying.
The whole idea only works if you can be sure that everyone will have suitable display software for your presentation materials. If you require WalSoft AwesomePresent version 18.3, it will be a problem. But for the past 25 years I have made my presentation materials in HTML, so this wasn't an issue.
If you're giving a talk over videoconference, consider trying this technique.
[ Addendum: I should write an article about all the many ways in which the HTML has been a good choice. ]
[ Addendum 20201102: I implemented a little software system,
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