'Limitless' whiteboarding tool enables online meetings

With Prezi Meeting comes a Web presentation service with features that place it in a category apart from PowerPoint

A unique online presentation tool on Thursday began letting users in multiple locations work on the same page at the same time. With Prezi Meeting, up to 10 people can access and edit Flash-based presentations made in Prezi.

What sets Prezi apart from presentation services like PowerPoint is its nonlinear, spatial way of sharing information--making it ideal for brainstorming with far-apart team members. Just imagine a large whiteboard that lives inside your browser.

Prezi is "slideless", so you don't flip through a presentation page by page. Rather, it establishes a single page through which users can wander, zoom in and out, and interact. On its blank slate, you can place and tinker with text, images, drawings, and videos. (Prezi says the space is "limitless" as long as you don't abuse the zoom controls.)

If Al Gore had used Prezi instead of Apple Keynote for his climate change slideshow, "An Inconvenient Truth" would have been a very different movie.

Arguably, you could share much of the same information from your desktop via screen sharing tools such as in GoToMeeting. However, the Prezi approach could be a better fit for creative projects. Plus, it doesn't leave you vulnerable to sharing too much information on your office laptop, such as when an instant message from your significant other pops up during a Web conference.

If you're using Prezi for a Web-based meeting, for example, users could edit to-do lists and doodles, and toss in videos and snapshots on the fly. An animated icon represents each collaborator. You can publish a presentation to a URL for others to access later.

To add voice to a Prezi-based meeting, you'll have to use a third-party service, such as Skype, Google Voice, or a phone in hand.

Unfortunately, the usage of Flash leaves out iPad aficionados. However, it's easy to imagine gliding through a Prezi document with a touchscreen tablet.

At this point, if you've made changes you dislike during a meeting, and want to return to the way the presentation looked an hour earlier, you can't do that easily. Instead, you'll have to plan in advance by saving multiple versions of the presentation along the way. Prezi uses the Save As model found in Microsoft Word rather than the revision history model of Google Docs.

Also, there are no complex Prezi permission levels. And, if one team member later leaves your company, that person's edits are tied to their e-mail address, so access may be lost to you. Hopefully Prezi will build more business-friendly tools for administrators as it fine tunes the product.

At Prezi's free level, which offers 100 MB of storage, your presentations are made public on its online gallery. That's fine if you're seeking to publicize the presentation, but not an option if you want to collaborate behind a closed virtual door. At least there's privacy for the first 30 days, so a company could test Prezi under a real-world scenario.

Beyond that, to make presentations private, the Prezi Enjoy license costs $US59 per year with 500 MB of storage. For $159, Prezi Pro offers 2000 MB with the option to work offline. There are Multiple Pro Account options as well--and special pricing for educators, who seem like a great match for this service.

Close to a million people have used Prezi so far. The Budapest-based company launched in 2008.

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Elsa Wenzel

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