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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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