As part of an independent study I'm doing this term, I'm reading past issues of Kairos, Composition and Rhetoric's online, open-access journal. I just finished reading the Fall 2010 open issue, which contains two articles composed in prezi: bonnie lenore kyburz's "Notes on 'Notes on the Film'"... and Cheryl Ball's book review "Goldilocks and the Three (or Four) Digital Scholarship Books".
And last term, I took a class on Educational Technologies through the School of Education with Barry Fishman. One of our final assignments in this class was to compose visual representations of our conceptual framework of learning technologies, and we spent the last class milling around the room, talking to one another about how our frameworks had shifted throughout the term. Some students had posters on the wall, some had 3D objects glued to pieces of paper, and others used prezi, walking me through their thinking while the screen spun and swirled.
As I've been encountering so much prezi, I've been musing about the affordances and limitations of composing and publishing in such a format. Why did these authors choose to use a presentation software such as prezi to write in? What was prezi offering both writers and readers of the text? Was it just the next "cool tool"? I even imagined myself composing in prezi, wondering what it would be like to do so, if it would be different than composing in solely written language or in video, which I've been doing a lot of lately.
One of the things I noticed most while reading the Kairos articles was that there was a prescribed reading path through the article which you could follow by pressing the forward arrow, but there was also a lot of marginal material that you missed if you just followed the one path. Arrows zoomed here and there, and if I clicked and dragged, I got to read more, see a video clip, or view an image. I could zoom all the way out and view the entire body of the article. I could select a particular node and zoom there if I wanted. I could read in any order I wanted, and the medium truly encouraged this. In fact, I clicked on all the cool looking videos first and watched a few seconds here and there before returning to some written text and reading more. But truly, my reading process was not revolutionized. For the most part, I followed the prescribed path, and when I did deviate, I often got disoriented and lost. I wanted to get back on the path - to read the way I was "supposed" to read.
Another affordance of prezi is that you can design the visual aspects of the entire document to be representative in itself. A colleague in my Ed. class did this: his whole presentation, when you zoomed out, was in the shape of a computer desk, with the legs of the desk representing his foundational thinking about learning technologies. This aspect is definitely cool - not only can you offer readers a more varied reading path with prezi, but you can use the visual and aspects of design as a frame for your whole piece.
Prezi has come and prezi may go someday, but it definitely offers an interesting format in which to consider reading, writing, and publishing in the 21st century. I think that it offers a lot to readers and writers, but limits them in other ways. I may just try it - stay tuned for my next blog post in prezi, which will spin and swirl you away.