A spirited defense of slideshows
If you’re a part of Bleacher Report, you’ve probably heard complaints about slideshows. You may have even complained about them yourself. Some people just hate them some slideshows. You don’t hear a lot of people defending them, but yesterday someone stepped up nicely.
M.G. Siegler, who writes for TechCrunch, doesn’t like slideshows, and said so yesterday on his personal blog, ParisLemon, citing this Silicone Alley Insider slideshow as an example of his headline, “ANNOYING: The Article As A Slideshow.”
Slideshow complaints usually take the form of readers expressing annoyance at having to click through, or people taking offense at “pageview pumping,” as Siegler calls it. Siegler’s complaint in this post has a different focus: “As an author, I would hate this.” He notes that after the first slide, in Silicon Alley Insider’s design anyway, the author’s name is nowhere to be found.
Bleacher Report’s format shows the author’s name on every slide.
Turns out all authors must not hate slideshows, because the author of the one in question, Matt Rosoff, responded on his own personal blog, Matty Dread, with an argument in favor of slideshows, and he made some excellent points. Rosoff answered the usual criticisms of slideshows as well as Siegler’s complaint.
- “Funny, how come nobody ever objects to a photo essay in, say, the New Yorker? Or Vogue, which is more than 50% ads last time I looked.”
- “There are many ways to tell stories … All can be good or bad.”
- “In the news business, commerce and form have always been related. Why are newspaper stories a certain number of words long and laid out a certain way? Why are magazine articles split so you have to turn to the end to finish them? (Annoying as hell, in my opinion.) Why are TV news shows split into segments of two to five minutes? What is so sacred about any of these formats?”
There are slideshows that don’t need to be slideshows, but there are also stories that make excellent use of the format.
Rosoff’s piece had weak images. Shots of a WalMart price display to illustrate “Google Apps is like SQL Server: a cheap alternative that nobody pays much attention to…yet” and a man riding a bicycle and carrying another bike on his back to illustrate “Display advertising is like Office: piggybacking on success” don’t offer much reward to readers who click through. But the piece did lend itself to a slideshow presentation.
Each comparison—Android to Xbox, Google+ to Bing, GoogleTV to WebTV and so on—is a separate entity but part of a whole. Putting each on its own slide is not just “pageview pumping,” though of course slideshows are very effective at increasing page views, it’s an effective way to present the discrete elements of the story. Each element gets its own page, a starring role, as it were, rather than the article being a long string of comparisons that trails down one page.
We’re talking about a matter of taste here. Some people want everything on one page. But “pageview pumping” wouldn’t work if people didn’t click through. And they do. Readers vote with their fingers and their mouse clicks.
A slideshow, like anything else, can be done well or poorly. But it’s a perfectly valid format, one that’s effective for telling certain kinds of stories. And when slideshows are done well, readers like them.