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Watching the PreziPrezi: Powerpoint to the People?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, January 25 2012

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address on Tuesday. Photo: Chuck Kennedy / White House

I watched the "enhanced version" of President Obama's State of the Union speech last night, which was streamed live from WhiteHouse.gov, and it worked. That is, I found myself paying closer attention to the parts of the speech that were being "enhanced" by the addition of a variety of photographs and charts--89 in all--that the White House inserted alongside the video of the President speaking. But there were also some odd effects.

For one, I don't remember a thing that Obama said, though I do remember the slide illustrating the rise in income of the top 1% of the population, and I also remember the slide that illustrated the need to streamline government jobs programs by showing a PacMan eating its way through a maze.

In general, it's great that the White House is adding multimedia to the online version of the traditional State of the Union. Every successive administration will undoubtedly follow in Obama's footsteps here. But there's one quirk to the "enhanced version" worth fixing.

If you're going to add slides to illustrate the President's words, what about the segments of the speech where nothing is shown? How are we supposed to interpret, for example, that when Obama asserted "America is back," insisted that we were not "in decline" and added, "That's not the message we get from leaders around the world who are eager to work with us," the right-hand side of the screen was conspicuously blank. You would think that while he continued, saying, "That's not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin, from Cape Town to Rio, where opinions of America are higher than they've been in years" the right hand screen could have easily shown photos of Obama with world leaders, demonstrating America's supposedly revived popularity.

On the other hand, as a source inside the government who works with new media remarked to me, "There can only be so many slides. Also I'd imagine there would be a lot of issues with showing some leaders and not others--vetting nightmare! A crap ton of new media content production is being able to work with already approved content so you can avoid extra vetting!"

According to Macon Phillips, the White House new media director, 3.2 million people watched the live stream from the White House website. One has to assume most if not all watched the enhanced version--all the more reason to pay attention to what was in it. Here's the full deck, posted on the White House Slideshare account: