Sam Buchanan's weblog.


I forgot about this coincidence the other day: Edward Tufte published an article in Wired about how "PowerPoint is Evil" just as I finally got around to reading his essay on The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.

I've written before about how much I hate PowerPoint. Even before I read Tufte, I'd realized that it's more than just the tool, it's that the tool contributes to so many bad presentations. Its all the excruciatingly dull or misused PowerPoints I've sat through that I really resent.

That and PowerPoint on the web. The slide shows themselves are bad enough, with their ugly markup and pages that are usable only in certain browsers (<cough>IE/Win</cough>). More troublesome, though, is the fact that PowerPoint presentations are going on the web in the first place. A well designed PowerPoint is meaningless outside the context of the presentation it is meant to accompany, yet (as Tufte bemoans) the slide shows are regularly disseminated via email and on web sites.

My biggest gripe is against the use of PowerPoint in lieu of written reports. Gartner does this. For a study they did for my employer last year, they supplied their report as a PowerPoint instead of bothering to actually write something. Two PowerPoints, really: an executive summary and the actual "report." Bah.

(In)accessibility is an obvious complaint, as well. Yes, there are tools to make PowerPoint-generated web pages more accessible, but thus far they have not impressed me. Moreover, they distract from the far more pertinent question of why a slide show is on the web in the first place.

When I get a call asking for help putting a PowerPoint on the web, my first response is to discourage the caller from doing so. Publishing a single summary page or an honest-to-god written report will server her readers far better. If I can scan a page that contains the same content as the PowerPoint, or even slightly expanded, I'll be much happier than if I have to click through fifty or sixty low-resolution and low-content pages. I'll be even happier to read something more carefully written that lays out information and arguments in a thoughtful and sensible progression (something that one should expect from a high-buck and respected organization like Gartner. Oops.).

Is it harder and more time-consuming to create these alternate versions? Depends. Creating a summary is certainly easier than futzing with the convoluted process of creating an accessible or even usable HTML version of the slide show. In most cases, writing a complete report is more difficult, but to my mind that is an advantage because it forces you to consider whether it is worth adding content to your web site. If you are unwilling to take the time to string together coherent sentences to make your message meaningful, then what you have to say will not usefully contribute to your web site's content.

Or you could go ahead and throw another PowerPoint on the midden heap that your site will become.