Did Prezi just ruin content creation tools for everyone?

Prezi is Crazi?

We’ve always been big fans of Prezi.  Not just as a presentation tool but as a proper content marketing medium in its own right.

Like Slideshare but swoopier.

We love the zoomable user interface, the smooth transitions and the ability to include all sorts of rich media.

We love that it’s embeddable.

And we love that it’s not Powerpoint.

We’ve blogged about our enthusiasm for Prezi, used it for case studies and have done some terrific, innovative work on it for a range of clients.

But I can’t show you those.

Because Prezi has ‘upgraded’ their player and announced that they’re withdrawing support for the old player — rendering much of our past work useless (no support for swf animations being the worst news).

That’s work that our clients have paid to produce, publish and promote. (The Prezis are posted in their accounts not ours).

And I’m really upset about it. As are others who have invested their time, money, effort and reputations in Prezi. (The post and thread about their new player is here. CTO Peter Halacsy’s tech explanation of the move is here.).

I understand why Prezi needed to upgrade their platform. They had built their player on Flash and Flash is dead. Among other problems, that made playing Prezis from iPad and iPhone browsers impossible (so you needed a PreziPlayer app). The new player is Javascript based and should have a future (forgive me if I refrain from betting on it).

But to sunset the old player with so little warning is very, very hard to take. It may not affect every Prezi out there — the ones with little animation or flash trickery may port over well enough. But anyone who pushed the medium a bit; who wanted to see what it could do; who wanted to make stand-out work; are in trouble.

Maybe Prezi just hasn’t found a way to make enough money to support two platforms. I get that too. The team seems to care about customers and clearly works very hard to make the best product they can. I don’t want to give them undue abuse.

But we’ve still been been burned badly.

Here’s why this is way bigger than one pissed-off agency and one content creation tool:

At Velocity, we’re always looking for new ways to tell stories.

So we’re always checking out new tools, services and platforms to create new kinds of content. We meet with the founders, test-drive the tools and share our experiences. (The latest Test Drive of BrightInfo is here).

Like Prezi, the vast majority of these new content creation or distribution tools are cloud-based.

And whenever we consider one, we ask, “What happens if we invest time and energy creating things with this and the vendor makes a fundamental change or goes out of business or makes decisions that hurt our assets?”

That’s the question that hangs over hundreds of vendors – like pretty much all 200 of the ones listed in our Humongous List of Content Marketing Tools.

We usually manage to tiptoe past this elephant in the room with some skillful rationalisation. Maybe we ask the vendor if we can host the content ourselves. Or ask about an agreement giving us ownership of the content even if we stop subscribing to the service.

But in reality, we know that using any cloud service to create and host new content – whether it’s a curation tool, animation platform, e-learning system, audio sharing community, or document maker – is a real risk.

And now that we’ve been bitten, the risk seems far greater.

Prediction: Cloud software vendors will need to come up with some serious guarantees to protect users. Old-school software escrow isn’t the answer – enterprise users will demand to see a properly financed backup plan with SLAs and contracts to back it up.

In the mean time, here’s a rhetorical question: will we think twice before committing resources to any new cloud-based content creation platform?

You bet your ass we will.

We want to own our content assets not rent them.

We want to control how they’re presented, where they live and when they die.

And you should too.

(Sorry, Prezi. All current prezi projects are on hold indefinitely. Shame.)

Comments

Ouch, that really sucks.

I guess in a sense this risk is comparable to using social media as the basis for a content platform – Someone else owns it, and they can take it away without warning. *cough* Facebook *cough*

But when it comes to sharing slideshows, video, or even audio to some extent, it’s hard to avoid relying on someone else’s system. Perhaps we’ll all have to build our own media platforms in the future..

Now, where’s that Perl manual got to…

Great point, Pete. It is hard to avoid relying on a third party system at some point (our site is on WordPress for instance)– but the content assets themselves are ours. They’re Adobe Creative Suite files turned into PDFs and they live on our server.

If Creative Suite upgrades, we’ll still have the PDF. If PDFs go all next-generation on us, I’d be AMAZED if they don’t include backward compatibility, given the billions of PDFs out there.

But with smaller, start-up content creation tools, I feel a lot more vulnerable. And Prezi has confirmed my fears.

I have huge sympathy for your predicament.

At the same time, I am wondering why a group of clearly talented, capable creatives bet the farm on an online platform like Prezi.

Enthusiasm is a powerful motivator. And clearly finding something that isn’t PowerPoint (or even KeyNote) is a wonderful thing.

But to commit heavy resources to a platform afflicted by the weakness you very accurately describe in your article seems a little… counter-intuitive?

It’s happened to all of us, mind you. We committed significant resources to a piece of intranet/extranet software called Kerio Workspace before the company suddenly announced they were no longer developing it, but would be promoting its “successor”, Samepage – a wholly Cloud-based, subscription-based alternative – instead. Were we pissed? Yes, we were, as were many others.

Having said that, we’re still running a Kerio Workspace server, because the company didn’t simply dump us in the brown stuff; they gave us a non-restricted licence and plenty of time to decide what to do next.

Which is why I’m equally amazed by Prezi’s extraordinary, one-sided decision. Very amateur. Or perhaps very immature? That’s the trouble with so many Cloud-based firms.

A very salutary tale. Many thanks for sharing!

Bill, I think this kind of thing will get even more prevalent.

It’s always been a problem with hardware and software but cloud services are SO easy to deploy that no one is doing due diligence any more.

For us, I wouldn’t say we ‘bet the farm’ on Prezi — but we invested in some cows that got slaughtered.

We’re now looking at how many hours we’ll spend fixing the broken prezis before considering whether to make any more.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Doug. I had “learn Prezi” on my to-do list, but seems like I can erase that line now. I think this action is a crime to their audience and a sign of greed and/or lack of knowledge about freemium models.
Let this be a lesson to other cloud-based services: Don’t mess with your ambassadors! If they have great use of your tool using the free version, it’s your fault – not the users’.

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