Meetings are probably never going to die — and, along with that, neither are presentations. But the traditional route for making presentations is getting a little outdated, with tools like PowerPoint getting updated regularly but lacking a certain simplicity to them.
That’s why Owen Bossola and Hakim El Hattab decided to start Slides, an online service for creating, viewing and collaborating on slideshow presentations. The goal of Slides is to bring together all the best parts of discrete presentation management services out there, like PowerPoint and SlideShare, and make it one seamless experience.
“There’s always a need for visual storytelling, and Slides at its core is a tool for visual storytelling,” El Hattab said. “Maybe you get more efficient with Slack, but with sales and marketing and education, there’s all these use cases that require presentation software. People present in a thousand different ways. We just try to tackle all of those.”
The creation experience is pretty much what you’d expect. You’ll find various features that are present in a lot of other creation experiences and, following that, users can share links to the presentations and ways to watch them unfold in real time during a meeting. There’s also a limited commenting section built into the service, which is still in the sort of developmental phase, as Bossola and El Hattab didn’t want to feature creep the service right away.
Slideshow presenters can also embed content from other services within the presentations. Because everything is viewed online, everything is therefore rendered on the Web — so rendering complex visuals can be more seamless instead of having to download complex PDF files or 3D visuals.
There’s another benefit to rendering everything online, as well: they can be viewed on any device. In that way, even people remotely can watch the presentation happening in real time while on something like a conference call on their phones or tablets instead of having to be in the room. Even as the presenter is swiping through the slides, that will happen on remote devices.
All this works in Slides’ favor, because it makes the approach to making presentations much more flexible. The composition tool has a quite similar feel to other standard tools (though it’s made to look a little more slick than existing ones), including features like altering the color schema to make sure text doesn’t get washed away in a darker background. The objects snap to a grid, it’s easy to import additional content and users have access to a lot of pre-existing templates — whether they’re made by the company or the standard stock slides offered by the company.
Presenters can also use their phones as a combo clicker-note taking application, using it to advance through slides and review their notes on those slides. The tool — while highly flexible for developers — is clearly geared toward marketers and others who need to put together presentations, and trying to make that whole process as easy and seamless as possible. Naturally, there’s a big market for this (giant applications like PowerPoint wouldn’t get regular updates if it weren’t).
“Since our format, at the end of it, is a website, you have a website for your presentation,” Bossola said. “Within that website you can include anything you can include in a website. All these specific kinds of areas, we have a lot of people in education that use text to write math formulas. We can be instantly flexible because it’s web based.”
There’s an obvious consumer application to all this. It’d be great to have this kind of a tool when giving a presentation in college, for example, instead of having to wander through the Web for other tools or dealing with school licenses for PowerPoint. But the main sweet spot for Slides is going to be larger marketing divisions in companies, which are always going to need good tools to make engaging presentations.
Slides is actually built on some open-source software technology that El Hattab had been developing over time. Developers were using the tools to create presentations, but had to hand-code them — which made El Hattab and Bossola realize they had a potential company on their hands. The company still plans to contribute to that resource, as well as update their service with any new tools components that come in from the community like bug and security fixes. There’s always a risk of building a company on top of open-source software, but El Hattab said that it’s part of the company’s DNA, and there are plenty of success stories like Automattic.
There is, of course, competition in the form of companies like Bunkr and Swipe. The Slides team has quite a long history in the content development space, with Bossola previously working at Thrillist and El Hattab coming from a digital production company. The hope is that if the company can keep the tools as simple, flexible and widely applicable as possible, they’ll finally have a PowerPoint killer on their hands.