I'll Have Jam With That | September 20, 2007

Checking my email this morning I was faced with yet another invite to a new social software application. If I don’t know the people involved with the project I normally just junk these invites out of habit. However I noticed one of the examples sites came from Innocent Smoothies who I like, so decided to check them out.

The example sites were quite nice, so after taking the tour I thought I’d have a go at creating my own site. The first thing I noticed was the nice use of lightbox for feedback. While not exactly revolutionary, I much prefer using lightbox for state changes and process feedback than galleries. Primarily because I find lighbox pop-ups break the typical browser window paradigm and I regularly find myself hitting Command-W and closing the whole browser window, which annoys the hell out of me. But I digress.

webjam lightbox

The thing that really impressed me was the fact that you could start using the app and customising your site without being forced to register. With so many people getting web app registration fatigue, this is a very smart user experience strategy. Get people using the site straight away and once they have spent 10 minutes customising their page, they’ll only be too delighted to register. The nice thing about WebJam is, if you leave and come back, the site remembers that you were half way through editing a page, and gives you the option to pick up where you left off.

webjam welcome

I decided to create a test site about scuba diving, and was impressed to see that my default site came back with a photo section already pre-filled with diving images from flickr. A really nice way of getting round the zero-content cold start problem and giving new users a sense of how the site could be used.

webjam flickr module

The site starts with a number of pre-filled modules, all of which can be customised. As well as editing the content, you can set preferences on each module and even allow people to replicate them on their sites. This all feels very much in the original spirit of Ning. In fact, while setting up my pages, I felt that a lot of the interactions had taken a queue from Ning. For instance, WebJam uses a very similar persistent bar at the top of the page which rolls down to reveal your customisation options.

webjam edit screen

webjam customization screen

One of the really nice things with WebJam is the amount of layout control you have. You can add and delete columns, resize elements and even drag and drop them. There are quite a few pre-defined styles you can choose from, although they are all a bit amateur at the moment. However the best thing is you can create your own themes by uploading your own background images and even editing the CSS. Sweet. This has allowed companies like Innocent to create some pretty nice designs.

webjam-layout.jpg

When you’re happy with how everything looks you can save your site by registering. The registration form is pretty simple and uses fairly innocuous Ajax to check things like the availability of your username. The only thing I didn’t understand was why interests were a required field. Once the sign-up is complete, you’re given a nice URL you can send to all your friends.

webjam register screen

While I probably wouldn’t use the site myself, it seems like a great way for somebody to set up their own social network and integrate elements like flickr images, google maps, blogs, bulletin boards etc. Perfect for a Sunday league football team, a special interest group or a community focused business. From an interaction design standpoint, I think the site has a lot of nice touches, and I love the fact that you don’t need to register to start using the site. Hopefully we’ll see more people adopting this pattern from now on.

Posted at September 20, 2007 11:55 AM

Comments

pauldwaite said on September 20, 2007 12:45 PM

I was thinking this morning about how letting people use your site before registration is great if you can possibly do it. It’s like most Mac apps, letting you try before you buy. I don’t think there’s another way to make people happy about paying/registering.

David Kypuros said on September 20, 2007 4:12 PM

I would kill for a CMS like web jam.
It very clean and streamlined. I think Mephisto sort of went after this job but the flickr stuff is awesome!

Sonia, Webjam team said on September 20, 2007 6:28 PM

Thanks Andy for your thorough review of Webjam. It is really cool to get your views as a user experience expert.
Regarding the free test-drive before registration, I can guarantee you your post will trigger some chatting among the Webjam team: we have always thought it was nice to give users a chance to experiment with Webjam before committing to it but we also recently found out that sometimes users are a bit confused by getting their own webjam without having registered. As if it was too good to be true!
For pre-defined styles, we hear you: we are working on more and better styles, as well as the ability for users to customise a style without diving into the CSS: upload a background, change the fonts, colors, etc…
One final thing: to be perfectly honest, Innocent Drinks have not created their own webjam … yet! We were the ones playing around with their brand because we like them and the way they already use Flickr, Typepad, etc… to engage with their customers. We thought Webjam could be the next thing for them. We are about to ring them one of these days :)
Please keep the comments coming, you and the folks on this blog, we like to read your opinions.

Ben Tollady said on September 26, 2007 1:05 AM

I’m all for the idea of allowing people to ‘try before they buy’ with regard to web apps. It makes perfect sense for both the user and the business.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to be pretty convinced before I’ll sign-up to anything these days, having signed-up to so many sites and apps already over the years that I no longer use.

As for Webjam, I think the idea is a very interesting one. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

Ben Tollady said on September 26, 2007 1:07 AM

I’m all for the idea of allowing people to ‘try before they buy’ with regard to web apps. It makes perfect sense for both the user and the business.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to be pretty convinced before I’ll sign-up to anything these days, having signed-up to so many sites and apps already over the years that I no longer use.

As for Webjam, I think the idea is a very interesting one. It’ll be good to see how it goes.

Ben Tollady said on September 26, 2007 1:11 AM

Sorry for the duplicate post. Feel free to delete!