By Mark Tatge
DePauw University students love Web slideshows. They like viewing these multimedia elements and they love producing them. Slideshows are easy to produce and they attract viewers. You do not need specialized software or even a great camera to produce a decent Web slideshow. Many free photo hosting sides such as Google’s Picasa offer a slideshow feature.
The challenge is using this simple-to-use medium to tell a story. Many times what we see is disappointing or cluttered with popups or blinking ads. Why? Websites use slideshows more for their ad value than the content potential they offer a readers. This is a mistake.
So who does it right? The New York Times. the Times use of slideshows has been evolving. We now see NYT slideshows often embedded in a larger story. Some people may disagree with this approach and believe the slideshow should be a freestanding element. But the Times’ approach offers the reader an opportunity to read the longer article or watch the slide show. This approach make sense.
At DePauw University, were I teach multimedia journalism we in the process of trying to come up with the best practices for using slideshows. I encourage students to view the slideshow from an old fashioned venue, namely what newspapers would commonly call a sidebar.
Sidebars are an element that was always popular with print readers, but most reporters viewed them as something secondary to the printed story. The sidebar is an element that offers more information about the longer text story. The truth is the sidebar was sometimes more popular than the longer story. In our visually oriented culture, the printed sidebar received higher readership.
In the Web world, the slideshow can be viewed through the same prism as the old-fashioned sidebar. The slideshow is something that offers greater detail or additional information. But best of all, slideshows offer an opportunity to expand on a particular point in a visual fashion. As powerful visual elements, slideshows offer an opportunity to attract additional viewers to a website. And we all know that additional page viewers are important in the Web world.
But the slideshow should always be visual. It should not be bogged down with text. And it shouldn’t be cluttered with blinking ads.
The first rule of good Web design respects the viewer. Don’t assault the eyeball. The Web is a visual medium. Let’s take advantage of it to enhance and display good content.
Slideshows offer an opportunity. Video and slideshows are popular for a reason. Viewers can read an article from the New York Times, but this is not what most viewers want to see. Slideshows and video are more in keeping with where reading and viewing habits are moving. Instead, of actual reading on the Web, we see more grazing. People move from one object to another – often rapidly. It makes more sense to embrace where the culture is moving as a society than trying to alter viewing habits or move back to the future.