Eric Johnson

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Argentina-Based Wideo Wants You to Ditch PowerPoint and Make a Cartoon Instead

The market for online tools that let you make and share presentations is already pretty crowded. But a new entrant in the field is pushing hard for casual users with serious ambitions.

Wideo (formerly Wideoo) hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and officially joins the 500 Startups accelerator program today — home to TaskRabbit, 9Gag and recent Google acquisition Wildfire, among many others. It then launches into a limited userbase beta on Sunday.

The pitch behind Wideo is that it makes quick, fun animations with a lot of pizzazz and a minimum of fuss. After dragging and dropping different pieces of the animation onto a canvas, users can quickly rotate, resize, move and otherwise transform characters, objects, text and their own uploaded images. It uses Adobe Flash right now, but Wideo’s founders seem anxious to roll out an in-development Apple iPad editing app.

The company’s promo video prominently features the Kickstarter logos, and that’s probably not just a coincidence: Kickstarter itself says engaging, share-ready videos translate into more crowdfunding dough. And, honestly, what would you rather watch: A cartoon, or an engineer trying to explain his product in one take?

For many years, it has been possible (but difficult) to make surprisingly decent animations and games with Microsoft’s PowerPoint, and Apple’s rival Keynote program has some competitive offerings in the way of design and ease of use. Wideo, though, pedals as far as it can in the latter direction, way past Keynote into a Prezi-like openness and minimalism.

Unlike Prezi — which is an “ooh, neat” substitute for the one-by-one slides of traditional presentations — Wideo feels more like a hybrid of a presentation tool and a video editor. All the movement and transitions are shown on a timeline below the canvas, but then each individual action is split up for the user into key frames, not slides.

(In simple-ish terms, key frames are the important points of motion that, when put together with less-important frames in between, turn stills into motion. So, you tell Wideo where a character should start walking, where it should stop and how long that motion should take and Wideo fills in all the necessary frames in between to make that happen.)

I got a chance to see an alpha version of Wideo in San Francisco last month, and co-founder Agu De Marco had two surprises up his sleeve.

First, in addition to a freemium payment model that will charge users by the month for advanced features, Wideo has cleverly realized that it can also make money off of virtual product placement. Therefore, if you want your cartoon character to carry a coffee cup, it might just have the Starbucks logo on it someday.

The other intriguing twist is that, even though Wideo offers tools to share videos with all the usual suspects — Facebook, Twitter, etc. — De Marco says his target audiences are entrepreneurs and young professionals. Making a Wideo in lieu of a PowerPoint, he said, will impress yuppies’ bosses and (thanks to those sharing features) replace the need for in-person business presentations.

That may be overreaching, but that’s for Wideo’s users to decide. If you aren’t on the shortlist that gets access to Wideo on Sunday, the company said it will open its doors to more and more people until it is completely public on November 15.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald