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Complete Control: KnowledgeVision Redefines Online Presentation Video

When your job is to produce corporate presentation videos for delivery online, how do you make them both watchable and effective in one of the few web video genres where less isn't more? KnowledgeVision has an answer in a new platform that may recast presentations for the online video world.

Building the Platform

Working with DigiNovations' corporate clients over the years, Kolowich says, developing the core components for KnowledgeVision grew out of an evolving understanding of what was working and what wasn't, and how to make better use of the assets their clients needed incorporated and organized into the videos in a useful and communicative way. And the first step was simply adding relevant graphics to the video and making them work. "People started telling us, ‘We have to create all this video. I guess we could spend a lot on expensive animations. But for a certain amount of this stuff, we already have PowerPoint presentations. We've already done the graphics work. Can you just cut those slides into the video?' And we'd say, ‘Well, we could, but most PPT slides don't look good inside of video. The fonts really aren't optimized for that medium, the aspect ratio isn't right.'"

Kolowich continues, "You go through this stuff and clients don't really understand it. After we'd been asked this for about the hundredth time, we realized, there's an awful lot of screen real estate available to people online. After all, most of the video that we produce is being disseminated online anyway. These slides existed at one time in PPT as vector art. We can render them in as fine detail as the computer can handle, and vector graphics are not expensive from a bandwidth standpoint to deliver. The really inefficient way to do this," he explains, "is to convert it into video, put it into a 480x270 frame, turn it into pixels, compress the pixels, and then try to blow that up if somebody tries to go to full screen, it looks like hell."

From the inclusion of vector graphics that accompany the video (rather than being squeezed into it) came the notion of a zoom control that would allow both the user and the developer to manage the windows, dynamically customizing the player in the same way a video editor would customize a workspace in Premiere Pro or Final Cut, to allocate screen real estate where it's most needed--particularly in instances where a relatively uninteresting talking head might cede some space to a particularly detailed graphic. "We said, ‘Since we're storing all this as vector art, when somebody's showing a chart, we can give the user the option to blow it all up and it looks beautiful.' You would never see this kind of detail in compressed video."

The importance of supporting graphics aside, the video remains the centerpiece of the platform. "The real essence of a KnowledgeVision presentation is streaming video. Everything else on the page is driven from where you are in that streaming video. Or the streaming video is affected by something you do on the page. You could be clicking on another chapter, which takes you there. It could be clicking on a word in the transcript and going to that spot. It could be searching for a word like ‘conversation' and finding that at 0:56 it comes up. All the interactivity pours into the video."

Kolowich cites the example of one client, Australis Aquaculture, that hired KnowledgeVision to produce a web presentation on the KnowledgeVision platform that included not just talking-head presentations (plus slides, charts, chapters, and footnotes), but also a great deal of b-roll such as one might find in a documentary clip. "What they actually used is not just the talking head, but b-roll that illustrates things. They used the PowerPoint to make key points or to reinforce their message along the way. And of course the dynamic footnotes that are key to different parts of the presentation."

The Australis Aquaculture presentation adds b-roll to the mix for a more compelling presentation that leverages not just slides and other components of the KnowledgeVision platform but also video's inherent strengths.

Putting the User in Control

The key to Knowledge Vision's approach is giving the user control not just of the size of the windows in the player, but of the entire playback experience. The fickleness of web viewing habits are no obstacle if you give users the tools to advance to precisely the information they need with the immediacy that web viewers expect. "When we started KnowledgeVision," Kolowich recalls, "I spent a lot of time thinking about how we could come as close as possible to the in-person experience of giving a presentation. And what I actually realized, once we got into it, was that we could actually go way beyond an in-person presentation by giving the viewer more control of the experience. When you're attending a presentation, you can't just say to the person presenting at the front of the room, ‘No, you can skip that part, but I'm really interested in the technology stuff.' Or, ‘Can you go over that section again because I didn't quite get it?' or, ‘My attention drifted when you were saying that but I know it was important.' You can do that in your own browser."

Key to most of this sense of control is the zoom control itself--on both ends of the video, producer and user. "We started experimenting with that and said, ‘If we can give the user control, we can certainly give the creator control of that. So why not create tools for actually baking the zooms into the presentation?" Kolowich says. "Once that happened, we said, ‘Using the zoom control gives a certain amount of energy to the presentation. It's almost like the rise and fall of music in some kinds of video.' When the zoom changes, the attention re-rivets. It's a very interesting phenomenon."

"A lot of people confuse short attention spans with the desire to have control of where you are and what you're looking at on a fairly short cycle," he continues. "People say, ‘Any video over a minute and a half isn't worth anything.' But when you tell somebody where they're going and give them the ability to skip ahead or back, you can get them actively involved in it [so they] control their experience. You're giving a much different and much more valuable experience than the traditional linear video where all you have is the scrubber bar that you can go to halfway through the video, but you have no context for what you're going to see when you're halfway through."

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