Why Sliderocket Could Be So Awesome, and Why It Isn’t

I wrote the other day about wanting a better way to share slide presentations.  I think there is a huge opportunity here, and I don’t think anyone has nailed it yet.

I consider this to be an open letter to Sliderocket, which is so close to capturing this opportunity but has (in my humble opinion) made a few key mistakes that will prevent it from succeeding.

First, the opportunity: every day, all around the world, people give presentations (keynote powerpoint, etc), in meetings, at conferences, and lots of other gatherings.  There are a LOT of ideas communicated this way on a daily basis.  So many.  The sum total of the knowledge included in the world’s daily powerpoint output is really really big (regardless of your beliefs on power corrupting and powerpoint corrupting absolutely).

This output is typically received in a few ways:

  • by the people in the room, who get it in real time
  • by others, via some sort of sharing, like when:
    • the slides themselves are posted to a site like Slideshare,
    • a video of the talk is posted online (for instance, here are all the great talks from this year’s Personal Democracy Forum).

This is a decent start, but it’s way limiting.  It’s probably a safe guess that something like 10% of all presentations given on a daily basis are archived in a useful online format.  And the online formats available now aren’t actually all that useful.

BUT – given where we are now with technology and the social web, there’s an opportunity to fill this gap.   My ideal tool would look like this:

1) Awesome, in-browser editing.  In-browser editing is critical – when you’re creating your content in-situ (see Fred’s good post on this idea here), you can then share, edit, re-share, embed, etc., straight from there.  The editing experience should feel great, just like Keynote does, and should ideally be implemented in HTML5, giving it a native in-browser feel (just like the beautiful Moqups).

2) Super easy audio recording.  If I’m making a deck for a talk I’m giving somewhere, I’ll gladly spend the extra time to do a run-through of audio recording for the online version (as I did with my talk at last week’s awesome summit).

3) A handful (don’t need a ton) of addons that are native to the web — analytics, interactivity, embedding, etc.

4) Social – so you can get feedback, collaborate, connect with others, etc.

5) Interoperable – exports to keynote, powerpoint, pdf, youtube, etc.

But what about Slideshare?, you might ask.  Slideshare was the pioneer in the get-your-powerpoints-online space, but their approach is not web-native or in-situ.  They have lots and lots of content, but it’s basically crippled without voiceovers (and to a lesser extent, interactivity).  They took a stab at it with slidecasts, but it was pretty half-hearted, and it’s just plain cumbersome to do (record your own timed MP3 and upload).

What about Prezi? Prezi is nice and can create some really beautiful things.  I loved Sascha Meinrath’s prezi from PdF.  Prezi could be great — downsides I see are that it’s a radical paradigm shift with a steep learning curve (not that big a deal), and it still doesn’t support audio as far as I can tell (correct me if I’m wrong).  But we’re getting warmer.

What about Sliderocket?   There is a reason why I’m calling out Sliderocket in the title of this post.  It’s because they are SO CLOSE, yet SO FAR AWAY.  The vision for the Sliderocket product is wonderful, hitting most of what I outlined above, but the execution sorely misses the mark.  Twice now, I’ve put real effort into switching from Keynote to Sliderocket — against my own reservations about some of the issues I’ll list out below — and each time I gave up, before switching back again because it’s exactly what I want.  But in the end, after saying all of the below privately to their customer support team, I just got too frustrated and gave up.

First, the good:

  • Online editor that decently approximates the keynote/powerpoint experience (with a few key downsides which I’ll get to in a sec)
  • All kinds of interactivity built in — surveys, popups, comments, etc.
  • Collaboration: both on the editing side (for teams) and the public side (comments etc)
  • Live embeds with analytics — see who’s watching, how long they’re looking at each slide, etc.  Awesome and amazing.
  • Easy sound recording.

So, you might say: wait a minute, they’ve done absolutely everything you’ve asked for!  And you’re right, they have.  It’s so awesome.  Yes.  Except: at every single turn, and whenever they have an opportunity, they make choose to make your life harder, not easier, and they make you hate the service, not love it. For example:

  • Crappy flash UI — they’ve built out tons of features, but all using a really clunky flash UI that feels neither like the browser nor like the desktop.  It’s worse than the web, AND it’s worse than the desktop.  It just doesn’t feel good to use — it’s just a little to slow, just a little too unresponsive.   And things tend to break (like this).If that were the extent of it, I could handle it — and I’d be a sliderocket convert, despite having to get used to a UI that’s not as great as it could be.  The real kicker, though, is that sliderocket focuses all their attention on a) locking you in and b) goosing you up to their pro plan.   And they do it in the most frustrating and manipulative way.  For example:
  • Every features seems like a feature, until you try to use it.  Then you get an in-your-face upgrade pitch:

Like accessing analytics:

Or even exporting:

Really? I can’t export to any format without a pro account?  The first time I saw this, it was a total dealbreaker.  Then, I ultimately came back, because I wanted in-situ, interactive, collaborative, social, in-brower slides.  Even the idea that my slides would forever be locked inside the sliderocket platform unless I upgraded didn’t permanently dissuade me (the first time) — the potential for what’s here is just so great.

And, even if you agree with strategy of pushing all users into the pro account as quickly as possible (I don’t), the way to do it is NOT to piss them off at every turn when they’re trying to get something done.  The way to do it is to make them love your product as it is, and then really really want that shiny thing that would make it SO MUCH BETTER but that you’re not crippled without.

So, if I were in the drivers seat at Sliderocket, I’d see this huge opportunity and I’d fix it as soon as possible.  Because their engagement numbers can’t be that good right now — they can’t expect to win over die-hard powerpoint or keynote users with their current lock-in strategy, and they can’t expect to win over web geeks with their crappy flash UI (on top of that same lock-in strategy),

If I were in charge of Sliderocket, I’d say:

We have the opportunity to become the platform for communicating ideas.  Like TED or TEDx, but for online slides.  That means focusing on getting as many people as possible to love our platform as possible, and to build an amazing community of communicators around it.  Specifically, that means:

  • Drop the hard sell for the pro account.  Instead make the free account awesome and fun, and then get creative about other native monetization strategies.  For example, look at what visual.ly is doing.
  • Re-build the UX without all the flash.  See Moqups. Or if you still love flash, be more like myBalsamiq (which uses flash for the editor, but wraps it in a very nice HTML experience)
  • Make portability — import and export — a key selling point.  You don’t need to lock people in — they will want to use your native features because they are so awesome (embedding, interactivity, audio, etc.). That will always be first choice.  But they’ll need to be able to dump to PDF, PPT, or Keynote at times too.  And a proprietary player isn’t enough.

I realize that I’m being preachy here.  It’s only because I think that there is such a need and an opportunity here, and you’re so close.

9 comments on “Why Sliderocket Could Be So Awesome, and Why It Isn’t”

Nick – I love the post and thrilled that you have given us a chance (twice). I agree with you. There is a lot we can do, and will be doing to make the SlideRocket product an ecosystem a better place. There is no doubt that we need to eliminate as many barriers to adoption as possible to take a meaningful chunk of that nearly 1B user powerpoint market. You will see some changes (some subtle, some not so subtle) over the next few months that I think that you will like. I believe that the promise of delivering real time content, created and shared over the web is the right vision. We believe that we have a lot of work to do but you are also right, we are so very close. Thanks for highlighting what we do well and where we can get better. We will try to make it so.

JJ Freitag
SlideRocket COO

JJ: thanks for writing in!

Another way of saying this, which I didn’t really say clearly in the post, is that I think the big potential is in becoming a network, not just a utility. Networks and utilities have different product strategies and different business models — and I suppose what I’m advocating is that the network opportunity is bigger (and pursuing it would naturally fix the things I found frustrating).

Slideshare does an OK job of this. SpeakerDeck (https://speakerdeck.com) is way better. But still neither have the editing tools that you have, which I would probably argue are the harder thing to build. And neither takes the extra step to bring ideas to life (with audio, interactivity, etc.).

So thanks for stopping in — I appreciate the note, and will be pulling for you guys!

I agree with almost everything you say here. I loved sliderocket and used it for all my presentations. I upgraded to Pro for a while when I needed it. But went back down to ‘lite’ when I no longer needed all the features.

I did worry about the “lock-in,” but I thought, “nah, something this good won’t die.” Then I get a letter this morning that basically said “we don’t need you little guys anymore.” I posted the letter here: http://poodll.com/?p=1892

ah well. There are plenty of fish in the sea, ….right?

I just did a large project for a client creating multiple SlideRocket presentations all to be embedded on the website ~ and now SLIDEROCKET IS DEAD. as of dec 31 2013 it IS NO MORE. So i’ve got to find a fast clever conversion for all my presentations, all to be embedded online.

Any ideas?

Hi, If you looking for an alternative at Slide Rocket, I suggest you to check out EWC Presenter. It’s a great tool to create visual and interactive content in HTML5, Jpeg / PDF. You can also embed your presentation directly on your blog or website. And also put some music or video on it, love it !

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