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Quite a few journalists wrote or talked about Sway without even trying the app. No wonder utter confusion arose regarding what the new Office app is all about. Even reputable journalists such as Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott analyzed the app in an interview without trying it first. (Check out my Sway for the interview.) The most interesting part in the interview is when Thurrott starts a sentence with “We are trying…” and then corrects himself by replacing the “we” with “Microsoft.” Seems even he is confused where Microsoft ends and Thurrott begins. It won’t surprise you that you won’t hear critical tones about Sway in the interview.
The blogosphere is currently discussing the questions of whether Sway is something new and, if so, what it is. Let’s see if we can get a little closer to answering these questions in this blog post. My first impression was that it is just another simplistic web page generator—you know, the simple web applications that web hosters offer for their non–tech-savvy users to create web pages quickly and without the need to know any HTML or CSS. My second impression was, is Microsoft serious about this? Even the first web page generators I saw ten years ago were better. My third impression was that Sway is no web page generator at all.
Whenever something new comes up, people compare it to what they already know and often wonder what the hype is all about because this supposedly new thing is just something old in a new look. It was like this when blogs came up. Some people said they are just web sites; others said they are just forums. Same with social media. After all, Facebook is just another web site, right?
Of course, when you create something new, you have to base it on available components. The point is to combine these old elements in a new way, to create something that is useful in a new way. It is like this with Sway. Each of its features has been seen somewhere else before, but I know of no other tool that combines these features in this way. Let’s list Sway’s main components:
- Web presentation tool: Sway allows you to create web pages in a web browser and in mobile apps (mobile apps not yet available) with a focus on presentation.
- Cloud integration: Sway integrates various online services for adding media (OneDrive, Facebook, Bing, PicHit, YouTube, Twitter, and more).
- Sharing: Sway allows you to share web pages on Facebook and Twitter. (I guess Microsoft will add more services later.)
- Tiny URL concept: You don’t publish on your own domain and you don’t publish in a container page on a third-party site like with social media. A Sway page is an isolated web page that is not embedded in any kind of structure and is only accessible through its tiny URL. The URL is secret until you share it with someone.
- Dynamic serving: Web pages are automatically rendered for the device type of the viewer. (Microsoft will offer Sway apps for various operating systems.)
- Minimal formatting: Sway offers various pre-defined layouts (currently only three), but you can’t really format your content as in WYSIWYG editors (fonts, picture size, etc.).
I think that’s pretty much it. Let me know if I missed something.
Now you could say, I can do all this in WordPress and more. So what’s the point? The answer is, what’s the point of OneNote if you can store all your notes in Word?
I think Sway was designed to do one simple thing more efficiently than you could do it with other, comparable solutions. Sway’s sole purpose is to quickly share one piece of multimedia information with co-workers or friends by integrating content from various sources, without bothering about the layout (like you would do in PowerPoint or Word) and without really publishing it (like on a SharePoint site, a web site, or on Facebook).
You might wonder why Microsoft calls this Office application Sway. I suppose Microsoft chose the name to indicate that you can use Sway to influence people. Another way to interpret the name is in the sense that, whenever you can’t decide whether you should publish your content as a PowerPoint presentation in SharePoint, send a Word attachment via email, or just post ideas on Facebook, you are probably about to Sway.
I haven’t really made up my mind yet about Sway. I think the concept is interesting. What I don’t like is this minimalistic design. The idea of getting all the bells and whistles of PowerPoint and company out of the way to be able to just focus on the content makes sense, at least for content that has to be produced quickly, such as when you are brainstorming. But I think a few more formatting features are necessary if you want to share some real information and not just a slideshow of your holiday pics. It is also quite possible that I’m missing something here. And let’s not forget that Sway is not yet done.
What do you think of Sway? Does it have the chance to become another important Office application?