The Droste Effect

Blog Post created by lstock on Jun 29, 2018

The Collaborate 'Droste' effect


Whether you know it as the 'Droste' effect or 'Russian Doll' or just that really annoying application share thing, we're all familiar with this:




Whilst this is commonly perceived to be a weakness in the application share feature, it really comes down to whether or not you are following best practice.



What is happening?


When you think about it, Collaborate is just doing what you asked. To get to this point you will have chosen 'Share Application' and then either 'Entire Screen' or 'Just an Application', and in the latter case, you then chose the thumbnail of the window which shows Collaborate. Either way, you are asking Collaborate to share part of your screen, which includes the Collaborate window or simply put, you are asking Collaborate to share Collaborate. Necessarily then, the result is a somewhat self-referencing, nauseating, weirdness.


The 'droste' effect is distracting, off-putting and may cause participants who have never seen it before to wonder if something has gone wrong.

Apart from this, you are at risk of falling into another pitfall where you are no longer able to maintain control of the class. Hand-in-hand with this approach to sharing applications is the tendency to have the Collaborate window hidden at some point after you start sharing. You are then no longer able to see chat messages, monitor feedback and other interactions that take place without switching back to the Collaborate window in what becomes a very disjointed back-and-forth. For instance:

  • Perhaps you want to share PowerPoint (with animations) and so you have chosen to share your 'Entire Screen'. Momentarily we see the droste version of your Collaborate window before you switch to PowerPoint and start the slideshow. In this arrangement, any chat and participant interaction goes on in the background, out of your view.
  • Perhaps you want to share content that is open on another browser tab. In this scenario, we see the droste version of your Collaborate window before you switch to the other browser tab where your content is sitting. Again, any chat and participant interaction going on in the background is out of your view.


These scenarios and similar, all put you at a distance from your class and limit your ability to maintain engagement, never mind the weirdness of the droste effect.

Best Practices


How can we avoid the droste effect and these arrangements that diminish our control of the class? The precise steps may differ depending on the specifics of the scenario. In the case of the two mentioned above, we can suggest the following:

  • If you intend on sharing PowerPoint content, there are a range of benefits to uploading your PowerPoint file as a shared file. We can cover that another time. If you have good reason for sharing your PowerPoint content you should do change the Show type to 'Browsed by an individual', see here for more info. This allows you to multitask, so that your PowerPoint content, now running in a window, can sit on the left of your screen for instance, whilst your Collaborate window can sit on the right.
  • If you intend on sharing content that is web based make sure you open it in a separate browser window altogether. This allows you to multitask without switching tabs. You can position the window with your content on the left and position your Collaborate window on the right.


These approaches to the use cases are all-round, more elegant. You can prepare your shared content in-advance making segues smoother. You will reduce moderator effort and most of all, you maintain awareness of classroom interaction at all times.

Oh, and you'll never see the dreaded 'droste' effect again.


For anyone puzzled as to why I call this the 'droste' effect, take a look here:


My favourite example of the droste effect is M. C. Escher's, 'Print Gallery', there is a video version available. If you want to be truly mesmerised, take a look at Nikolaus Baumgarten's masterpiece: