Office “Sway” breezes into view

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced a new Office authoring product.  It’s not about blogs, documents, or presentations – its all of those and neither of them (say Microsoft). It’s something totally new: a “web-oriented canvas with content aggregation and assisted authoring”. And it’s called Sway.

I’m sure there are other products that do similar things – my kids are very excited about the things they’re doing at school using Google Drive at the moment (although I’m not sure that goes quite as far).  Storify has been around for a while, but Sway seems to go further – and I think it’s really quite exciting…

Sway is about sharing information – the content people have access to (photos, social posts) but this is increasingly dynamic – so we want to create presentations that reflect the current state of things. As users, we create/publish/share instantly but need to do this without having to master the details of many apps. Microsoft sees Sway as a digital assistant to do the “heavy lifting” for polished cohesive output.

I’m sure that all sounds good to a marketing person but what does it really mean? Well, I have a real use case. I have something that I’d like to present to a particular audience (Milton Keynes Geek Night). That audience is made up (mostly) of designers, web developers and very image-conscious people. They know what looks good.  I have 1 minute to get my message across – and if it looks messy… well, I’ve blown it.

I want to avoid using the same templates that people have seen time and time again, or needing great design skills – and Sway uses machine-based algorithms to help present the content. It’s kind of like a “designer in a box” where I can specify intent (what’s important, what to keep together, etc.) and use Sway’s capability to display on different devices – with it’s engine to reflowing content appropriately to the device.

There’s a Microsoft video that demonstrates this and draws out the fact that Sway is mobile-first, cloud-first so device agnostic (indeed, Microsoft starts the demo using an iPhone):

If you don’t have 17 minutes to watch the video, it includes:

  • Inserting a photo; using voice to text to dictate a caption; swiping to emphasise (or delete) content.
  • Adding more content using different devices (e.g. OneNote content as text, then breaking out into sections by highlighting text as headers, adding content to the story line from OneDrive – dragging photos onto the canvas; grabbing items and grouping them with transformation effects like stacking images; adding videos from YouTube and tweets from Twitter).
  • Showcasing pictures to make them centred, larger (or even smaller); grouping content but without having to say how many pixels high/wide they should be and the exact location.
  • Defining a structure (Sway can can have linear or non-linear outputs); changing the colour scheme based on the colours in an image, or using pre-populated moods.
  • Sharing via social networks, emailing, or embedding in a web page as HTML5.
  • And viewing just needs a browser – no additional software.

Sway is in preview at the moment – and more styles, layouts, etc. will follow.

You can sign up for the preview at sway.com (I’m on the list and hoping to get to play soon). Now, if only I had an approved account I could create a dynamic Sway about Sway – and this blog post would be so much more exciting… oh well, hey ho – for now the videos and links in this post take the old skool (WordPress) approach.

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