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Wiki-What?

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Presentations

A new use for Wiki came to mind recently as I was preparing a talk for a conference. Traditionally, it's expected that the speaker has a stack of overhead slides or a prepared PowerPoint presentation. With the almost ubiquitous video projector at such venues, it's trivial to have a projection of a local wiki. So why not use it instead?

First, I created a new database for the talk, and edited the Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) file that defined its layout. The critical line was chosen as the following:

LI { text-indent: 0; width: 32em; font: 36pt "comic sans ms";
list-style: square }

This means that any text Wiki-styled as a list ends up being rendered in a very large font, suitable for a simple item list of points typical of a presentation. Each Wiki page thus becomes a "slide".

Some benefits of Wiki in this context are several:

  • Easy to create and edit "slide" content at any time.

  • Any browser supported image format or other media can be inserted by simple URL reference.

  • Pages automatically cross-link in the correct order through WikiLinks on each.

  • Presentation order is an integral part of the content, yet one can change or define multiple paths with a simple edit.

  • Tweaking either browser display or CSS file can quickly and on the fly adjust font size to balance text and projection size for best readability.

  • Supporting text in normal or small font size can be placed outside projected area, viewable only from the computer screen.

Last but not least, the fully functional wiki lets the presenter annotate and modify on the fly, perhaps interactively typing and displaying questions from the audience, with answers, or clarifying/expanding issues raised.

Figure 1 illustrates a typical wiki "slide" made in this way, as viewed in a normal browser window. In this case, a local image file was inline-inserted (as a file URL) for visual interest. Note the overlarge list font defined by the CSS change described earlier. At the bottom in normal size are the links to the previous and next slide in the sequence, which are also editable text in the page. (Links can just as easily be created in the list text, if appropriate.)

Figure 1 Capture of browser window displaying a typical presentation "slide" in a wiki.

Most browsers allow rendering as "full screen" (often key F11), which is better for projection purposes, especially if the projector resolution omits the right and bottom edges of the laptop screen. Beneath the presentation text, and typically not visible in the projection, can come supporting text and notes for the speaker. The top links, side graphic, and title banner layout are all part of the common page template; editable as well, albeit not so directly as the individual page content.

During the talk, the speaker clicks along the forward trail of links, but is free to take alternate paths, search for specific content, and bring in Internet resources onscreen if access is available.

In the earlier preparation stage, the speaker can allow others (remote) access to the wiki database to gather peer review comments. Reviewers are then free to add comments directly to relevant pages, and spin off discussions on other linked pages created for that purpose. It is also easy to work in collaboration with others to write a presentation from scratch.

Finally, the database documents the talk. Posted as a public WikiWeb with a full transcript (by page or separate with links to the slides), it can collect further comments and form the basis for ongoing discussions. Wiki is then both a publishing and discussion tool.

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