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Zoomwit: You’ve Got Video

Imagine a world where you can send messages to people across the world, in real time. Being able to see their face, hear their words, and enjoy their company from miles away. As we all know this is the world we live in today. For millennia the world’s methods of communication were limited to spoken and written word, and what I envision as a ‘whole lot of yelling.’ Today, from Skype chat, Google and Yahoo, and a lengthening list of providers, communicating with people by video is becoming increasingly common.

Although the technology behind video and audio chat has existed for a while, it’s still making its entrance to everyday use. In large part people still rely on email for communication online, and phones for communications offline. Audio chat has taken a big step forward with the success of Skype. In particular it’s useful for long distance phone calls with friends in different countries. Generally thoses calls are planned in advance by email though. Video chat is used primarily for parents showing off new kids, and for lonely singles desperately trying to ward of the pains of solitude.

Whether we’ve admitted it to ourselves yet or not, video and audio chat is going to increasingly take hold as the ever progressing advance of technology continues. I have to believe that within 5 at most 10 years, Internet providers will phase out their dial up service and force the slow internet holdouts to upgrade. As more and more people have the infrastructure to support video chat, the race to provide a quality service heats up. Joining that race is Zoomwit, a recently launched alpha phase start-up.

Zoomwit’s core offering is an email and chat service. Their main feature is a mix of the two, with video or audio emails. That is, you record a quick video or audio clip, and send it. Zoomwit’s product represents the way all email services will work in the relatively near future. Currently Gmail includes GTalk, which has some similar features.  Yahoo Messenger also has audio and video chat. Both of these require downloading and installing a separate application. Zoomwit stands apart in that they give you the ability to record messages and send them in an email.

First question to address, why does this matter? Imagine you’re a sales person and can’t find the person’s phone number. You’re stuck relying on an email. If you a send a personal video introduction of yourself it gives you a better chance of getting your foot in the door. If you’re a girlfriend wanting to remind your love that you miss him, you can use this service too. Chat services won’t work in these situations since perhaps schedule’s are off or you’re making a general business introduction. I also have to observe, it gives you the ability to convey information without having a discussion right then and there. I know I use text messaging for this rather than calling.

Zoomwit does a number of things very well, including providing exactly what they advertise: email, video email, audio email and chat with the audio/video options. The interface is a familiar one for anyone who’s used email in the past couple years. It reminds me mostly of Yahoo with tabs across the page for all the windows that are open. The website went with an alpha launch, so the list of fixes and improvements is on the lengthier side. I’ll bullet point them for brevity’s sake.

Registration:

  • Nice registration. Automatically tells me the username is available. Nice touch which is an indication of good things to come from their development team.
  • In completing sign up there’s a single box saying you agree to the terms of service, site guidelines, privacy policy, AND that you’d like to receive emails from the site. ZW kind of slipped the marketing slant in there. Would be much more polite to offer it as a second option. Or just turn them on by default, and include an unsubscribe link. The current set up is like getting caught taking cookies from the cookie jar. It’s too obvious users are being forced to sign up.
  • Once everything is filled in, the cancel button is on the left, the submit is on the right. I almost clicked cancel. Reverse the order of the buttons to the industry standard of Yes on Left, No on Right.
  • Registration emailed my password in plain text. It’s a debated security risk. I’d say keep it as is for now, to reduce customer support calls. Once the site takes off migrate to not emailing the password.
  • Default welcome email needs to have a welcome to Zoomwit video in it. (Apparently this is targeted for completion. Working on getting the right video.)

Video/Audio Email:

  • Provides nice interface for the audio/video recording. Works as expected.
  • Audio/video emails do not include the ability to include written information. I think it’s critical that you can have written messages as well.
  • Security hole. <rescinded, passed on to development team>.
  • It purports to allow uploads of your own videos, but I didn’t get that functionality working. I uploaded an avi file, but was not able to view it. The video displayed a stream error.
  • The upload video will allow you to upload all file types. It should only allow video or audio, depending on what type of mail they’re sending.
  • Once mail is sent it prompts me if I want to add the contact. Should automatically add them or at least have the box checked by default.
  • If a contact is already in the address book, it still says, “Add to Address Book:”

Text Mail:

  • Only takes up part of the screen. It should extend to the edge of the page like Gmail, or most of the page with ads on the right column like Yahoo.
  • Text input window includes kitchen sink of formatting options. Should have a hide/display option.
  • Styles operate the way you would expect, where only the highlighted text and ensuing take the selected style. The format option extends to the beginning of the line, up to the next carriage return. I hoped to only reformat the highlighted text. I’m wondering if the text input interface was borrowed from a different source. It seems to have an odd supply of options. Since when do I want to insert a page break in an email?
  • Size adjustment is unclear. You have small, medium, large, etc. and then smaller and larger. Small, medium large, aka the fixed options, are all that’s needed.  Smaller/larger was buggy, and is unnecessary.
  • Paste functionality made me paste to a pop up window instead of in the text. No idea why. It cited browser settings but I’m not buying it. I can paste in Gmail and Yahoo mail.
  • Generally, I’m for getting rid of the current text input interface and using something similar to Yahoo or Gmail. It’s simpler without too many extras.

Video/Audio Chat:

  • Emoticons!
    Emoticons!

    One of the spiffiest parts of Zoomwit is the chat console. It has a nice Flash powered look and feel. If possible, migrate parts of the look and feel to the rest of the site. Such as the various chat rooms bouncing around when first loaded. It’s very cool and welcoming.

  • There’s no connection between the chat interface and the rest of the site. I create an on the spot id and say hello to whoever. ZW already knows my name, gender and whether I’ve given them permission to use my webcam. They also know who my contacts are, but I can’t see a list of which of them are online or not. It’s a major development shift, but integrating these would be very cool.
  • Nice to have fun new emoticons.
  • The words “Please Respect terms” are on splash screen. The word Respect is a link that doesn’t go anywhere.
    <removed>

Interface:

  • The interface appears to be set up to have multiple email messages being created at once. But, if you create a new mail message while the old one is still there it just overwrites the new one. It doesn’t even prompt you to save it as a draft. I want it to create multiple tabs for each email I’m working on.
  • Inbox has two subcategories, preferred and general. I ultimately determined that preferred is for email that’s from people in your address book.
  • Novel innovation. Get rid of the spam box. Just send things straight to trash and display that something’s there that hasn’t been read yet. Most people mindlessly delete spam anyway.
  • Email messages have both a Discard and Cancel button. Both do the exact same thing. Pick one or the other. Yahoo uses Cancel, Gmail uses Discard. I favor Discard personally.
  • A large part of the interface includes a somewhat fuzzy pic of the video screen. It really tempts me to press play, but it’s just an image. First, if ZW’s going to use it then it needs to be a crisper image. Second, its utility is fairly marginal. More than anything it just takes up space.
  • That same image is also in emails notifying people that I’ve sent them a video message. For those emails they should send the thumbnail from the video, not a blank pic of a screen. (I later determined that this is intermittent. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.)
  • The area on the screen where the video image appears sometimes says, “[object HTMLTextAreaElement]
    Msg sent via ZoomWit Mail”
  • The other part of the page has email summary, user pics, and one liner statement. Except for the pic and the one liner, the rest of the info is redundant. It’s called a summary, but contains no info about the contents of the email. Consider consolidating it to the one liner and the pic.
  • Help menus open everything in a new window. Would be better to open in the same window and provide a left hand navigation with the main topics.
  • The mail appears so low on the page. If the video graphic and summary info is condensed, it could be higher.
  • Video and audio page leave a lot of white space on the page. Plenty of space to put ads, or something to balance the page out.

Other useful things:

  • Autoresponder can only be set based upon dates, not times. Also, once it’s set, it’s set. No way to delete, view or edit it.
  • Search appears to be limited to searching header info, not message of text. Search also has advanced features, but I didn’t get how to use it.
  • Invitations work fine. It’s kind of goofy that I have a limited number of them since anybody can sign up from the home page. Creating scarcity is good, but more astute users will see the false front here. (These invitations will also have a video component.)
  • Sometimes had issues getting messages to appear as “read.” Even after reading they were still marked as new.
  • Can’t save blank draft emails. May as well let users do that, though it’s basically useless.
  • Email masking is important. That is, having the ability to send emails as if I’m sending them from a different email address, such as my business address. My understanding is that it’s in development.

Zoomwit is charging forth into an arena full of many gladiators. One tried and true strategy is to focus on a niche market. I think their niche is small to medium sized businesses that would like to enhance their sales efforts. The custom email and video emails are great tools to personalize a sales call. It makes the receiver see who they’re talking to and are harder to ignore. The two big improvements will be having a thumbnail of the video within the email, and allowing written text in the email page as well. The thumbnail image would be a huge draw to sales teams since it would add a very personal touch. ZW did the right thing by going live early and letting their users provide feedback. Although a challenging development task, integrating their chat function with the rest of the site would make the site more seamless. Based upon hints buried within the Terms of service and various other subtleties, it’s clear Zoomwit has a lot up their sleeve in the near future. The thing to do now is reserve your favorite username before it’s gone, and start sending video and audio messages. As soon as I received the first one, I knew that this was something I’ll be using regularly in the not too distant future.

Zoomwit’s dreams of internet entrepreneurial success pivoted. This impressive endeavor is longer available. We keep this article here for posterity, and please check out their latest app on their site.

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Freelance Radar: Free Information

Information. That’s why we all come to the web, right? We need information on the news, the world, local stores, products, reviews, directions to and from places. We can find anything we want here. And so websites spring up all over each specializing in their area of expertise, some large, some small. At the top of the hill are search engines. Kings of the web, guiding and directing the paths of all. Effecting the rise and fall of the masses at their feet.

In between the core content providers and the search engines that catalog them, are aggregators. They provide a centralized location to view all the latest content in a specific area of expertise. Most typically they’re set up to accept feeds from a variety of competing websites and collect the information all in one place. News sites are the most prolific aggregators where you can get all the Yahoo, Google, MSN news, from one location.

With an abundance of Job Search sites available, so come their aggregators as well. Within this vertical is freelance work. Whereas there are a near infinite number of news sources, there are a limited amount of freelance jobs boards. It’s a specific niche within the job search world. An exhaustive list, or as they like to refer to it, a Monster list of sites that include freelance work, can be found here. Many of the sites listed include both freelance work as well as normal FTE jobs. It also includes job aggregators, but I didn’t find a freelance job aggregator. That is until I found Freelance Radar.

Freelance Radar is a site that I’m inherently apt to like. It sets out to do one and only one thing, and they do it well. It gathers the freelance feeds from the major players and presents the information on their own website. In one fell swoop a freelancer can see the listings from what presumably are the top five freelance websites. They provide an interface that collects all the posts by most recent date, and also widgets that list them separately. I’m sure after a while of being in the freelance line of work you learn which sites tend to collect the better jobs for your specialty. The projects can also be sorted by category so you don’t have to sift through listings outside your skill set.

As with all websites it can be expected to have a few problematic areas. The most obvious issue is that FLR made their best attempt to compete with Craigslist.org in their presentation. Craigslist is notorious for it’s remedial Web .05 design. FLR has many of the same design challenges as CL, in that it has a large amount of continually flowing information to process and display. When you have that much data there are only so many ways present it before it becomes a big blob that lesser websites will bemoan and derail. I think FLR has done a superb job with this challenge, but also think they could take it to the next level. Currently there’s a two column layout with the Search, Links, Newsletter and Categories on the left, and the main content on the right. The header sits atop providing the site logo and social networking options. The main content consists of 6 widgets, the first is the most recent job listings from all the sites coalesced together, and the other five are the individual job listing from each feed sites.

One way to reduce the burst of information thrown at users is to move each widget into its own page, accessible by a series of tabs. The labels would be renamed slightly to reduce redundancy, All, Elance, GetAFreelancer, Scriptlance, Rent A Coder, and EUFreelance. Missing from these labels is the word “Latest”, which needs to be conveyed. The first place to add it is in the title of the webpage. Change it to FreelanceRadar.com – Latest Freelance Jobs From All Over The Internet. I had to hunt to find a more visible place to use the word latest again but think I found a good fit. In lieu of the column heading “Title”, place the word Latest Postings, Latest Jobs, Latest Project- whichever you prefer. That will optimize the text on the screen by getting rid of the mundane word Title and replacing it with something more descriptive. Perhaps I’ll learn some Photoshop skills to display this visually, but for now this will have to do.

A rather large design change to consider is a 3 column liquid layout. Currently the main wrapper is 870 px wide which caters to those users stuck in 1997. I’m guessing most freelancers have larger screens. Rather than depend on my guesses, check your Google Analytics results to see how many users have postage stamp sized screens. With the liquid layout it doesn’t matter anyhow but is still good to know. Min and max limits optionally can be set for the width. The two side columns can be used to better distribute the Search, Newsletter, Categories and Links sections. They would also provide additional space for an extra ad or two. Regarding ads, graphical ads would be a nice break from the abundance of text on the screen. Google makes it easy to select the graphic ones. Setting up channels to monitor how many clicks it gets, versus the text ads will show if this affects revenue.

Within the main content widgets themselves lies a friendly idiosyncrasy. On the right column of every job listing is a link labeled View Listing. If I click View Listing, which is oh so painfully redundant, you arrive at the external website the listing was aggregated from. If I click on the title of the job listing itself, it takes you to the copy of the listing on FLR’s site. The two pages contain exactly the same info, with the exception that the FLR’s page gives you no ability to bid or comment on the job. I understand the need to have more web pages. They increase search engine visibility, provide more places to post ads, as well as keeping users on your site. But the FLR job listing page appears to be basically useless. If I click on it, and don’t like the job, I’ll click the back button in my browser. If I click on the View Listing link and arrive at the external page, and don’t like the job, I’ll also click the back button. The point being, the internal listing provides the user little benefit and creates a confusing navigation path. I’ve come up with a three step process to fix this:

  1. Skip step one.
  2. Do nothing.
  3. Track user information about which jobs they’re clicking on, store it in the database, then use it to create suggested jobs and alerts for them.

If FLR chooses not to track user behavior and make job suggestions, I can’t think of a different useful purpose for those pages.

As a user, I would like to come to FLR, sign up for an account, select relevant job categories, then have email updates sent to me as new jobs come in. Site aggregators do a great job of preventing their users from having to navigate all over the web to find information. How about giving them the opportunity to not navigate at all? Updates could be customizable by number of listings per update or number of updates per hour. Craigsly, a SlapStart featured site, provides email alerts without user accounts. It’s a neat trick to consider.

The only other major improvement is probably both the simplest to implement and most critical- a refresh button. Even slicker is to have it auto update seamlessly in the background. Starting with just the refresh button would be a great improvement.

A series of minor improvements are listed here:

  • Job listings tables are great in that they alternate background colors. Its colors and contrast could be improved upon. Consider finding better font, spacing and color selections to make each listing more distinct. This could probably be done with changes to the CSS and require no changes to the HTML.
  • Selecting different categories is probably one of the most used navigation feature, but they all appear below the fold of the page. That’s another reason to consider the 3 column layout.
  • When you select a category it will include all the job listings. Some users may want a specific category for a specific feed source.
  • The blog bears no resemblance to the look and feel of the main site. I completely understand the need for a blog and that WordPress or Blogger can easily be snapped into a site. Experimenting with various WP themes is probably the easiest way to see if a closer match can be found. The current neutral theme gets the job done, though the recent posts section isn’t very clear.
  • The blog needs a prominent and visible link back to FLR home.
  • Sharing Toolbar in the header is the right idea, but the social networks featured wouldn’t be my first choices. When clicked they also create limited Javascript windows, that have uneditable url bars. Consider the social media list on a Smashing Apps article. Note the it’s about the same size as FLR’s and creates real windows when clicked, not feeble JS induced ones. Also note the subtle hint that the Smashing Apps article contains 21 free tools for designers. Pull what you want from both, in particular color selection and rounded corners.
  • SiteMap in footer is really a Site Index. However, Wikipedia concedes that users, “generally associate both as one and the same.” Will you sell out as well?
  • Links section is a melting pot of various resources. It has some pages of information, Links to feeds from other freelancing sites, then Contact and Twitter info. The Twitter info can be relegated to the upgraded social media bar. The contact link can be removed as it’s already in the footer.  A horizontal rule or similar can be used to separate the Benefits of Outsourcing and Freelance Websites, from the site listings links. Also, consider creating an About page and adding it in the top section.
  • Privacy policy has a gem of an oddity. It carries over the same CSS as the rest of the site. In so doing the links appear exactly as the rest of the text. The words, “here” and “contact form” are both active links but you would have no idea unless you mouse over every word and/or read the entire text.

A bonus area of improvement is with the paging navigation. The feeds do what feeds are supposed to do, provide an ever flowing streams of information. As such, FLR organized them into a series of pages, which can be access through the following interface. Avert thine eyes if you must.

Behold. The Great Paging Stone of FLR.

Now before we come down too hard on them we must remember that the bulk of the site is well done and useful. Screen shotting this is just too much for any author of SlapStart to pass up however. Moving right along, the best practices for this is listing pages 1-10, then a few towards the end, and book ending them with prev and next buttons. Another option is to use first, prev, next, last buttons. FLR has to consider the question, how often will someone click on page 492. Seeing as how listings quickly become dated and obsolete it’s not likely most users will browse through the history.

The big decision for FLR is whether to retain their own job page listings, or do away with them as unnecessary redundancies. User accounts and email alerts would greatly increase the functionality. And like all websites, the design needs a makeover every now and again. Freelance Radar is a quality aggregator site for freelancers. With a few improvements Freelane Radar can make greater headway in bringing the information to their users.

Yak About It Home Startup

Yak About it: Inventor’s Heaven

Word of mouth. For all the money that’s spent on ad campaigns, guerrilla marketing, or the ever elusive viral marketing, word of mouth is king of all marketing tools. Most people use products or services based upon the recommendation of others.

Those in most need of marketing are start-ups, entrepreneurs, and inventors. These are people who came up with a great idea, built the product, and now need an avenue to tell the world about their creation. Yak About It is a new website that specializes in just that- providing the venue for inventors to present and promote their inspiration, to the world. YAI, (pronouced, “Yaaaaiiiiy!” with a Japanese like hysterics tone), also serves to connect inventors with retailers. Most retailers, according to YAI’s site, are reluctant to take on new products, and thus inventors find it hard to find locations to store and in turn ship their products. YAI caters to any retailer interested in placing new products in their warehouse and makes the introduction for the inventors.

Yak About It Home

The basics of YAI include two product promotions a day. They have a daily Yak competition, or a Yak Off, as I like to call it. Whichever one sells the most wins the competition. The previous day’s winner is given coveted front page exposure listed as the Most Yakable. Those that rise the ranks and sell the most in a month are given the prized Monthly Featured position.

Each product is paired with another, and except for the Most Yakable and Monthly Featured slots, they’re inseparable. These are codependent Yaks. The yakking itself comes in the form of extensive product descriptions, history, and bios of the inventors. Beneath this people can click the Yak Now button, which is a fancy term for commenting. My favorite bio so far was the ex telcom worker who invented the Mow Buddy. I guess that’s a step up from a former coworker of mine who backpacked aimlessly across the United States. Going from telcom to Mow Buddies seems like a step down, somehow. It’s kind of a useful product though, if you’re in a riding mower for a long time. My personal experience with that particular line of work is that grass, dirt and grim gets on everything. Tough to have a drink around, even if it has a lid. The entire bottle will be coated in residue. My favorite product history incidentally was from the Monthly Featured, the Fit & Fold. It begins with, “The idea of Fit & Fold came to me (Cooper Hipp) late one night after I had come home rather intoxicated.” That’s great Cooper. I hope you weren’t driving.

To be sure, YAI is a downright good looking and welcoming site. The products pop off the page and user experience is for the most part, slick. In particular, when you elect to purchase an item it whisks you away Web 2.0 style with dynamic drop down boxes, good navigation, and a live sales rep that actually shows up at your door. (Sales rep not included…) It’s a fun place to navigate around and explore new products. Like all start-ups, lurking in the shadows are a few eccentricities that may need a bit more massaging. Imagine you arrive at an upscale boutique garage sale. Upon arriving you’re prompted to fill out a guest registrar. In order to be admitted you’re required to provide an exorbitant amount of information, and you’re awarded an electronic name tag, presumably with all your info on it. Then throughout the entire night you use it to check in at various stations, and they keep asking you for the same information, or ask you to confirm the information you already told them. Finally, you find a fancy Don’t Fit & Don’t Fold hamper helpful for bedsheets that have shrunk so much they don’t fit on your bed. Upon purchasing, you notice that you didn’t even need to register in order to make the purchase. Befuddled you confirm your information one last time, and move on slightly miffed.

YAI handles registration and user information in much the same way. The registration page requires entering one’s full street address, which is enough to prevent many users from choosing to register. Once you get over putting your personal information in, or come up with fake info, you’re awarded a login address. What does this address give you? If you’d like to sign up for the news letter, you get to enter your name and email address again. If you decide to use one of the many many contact forms (more on those in a second) then all your information will be auto populated, but editable, as if something’s amiss with it. Finally, if you happened to not register at all and choose to purchase a product, there’s no requirement to register in order to do so. Just fill out your billing, shipping and credit card info and some alcohol inspired stroke of genius, is yours.

Here’s how I’d like registration to be handled. First, each of these registration and contact pages ever so slightly draws a distinction between required and optional fields. By ever so slightly I mean they use off white, and slightly more yellow off white. When you glance at one, the others seem yellow, and then back to the first it goes to whiter again. It’s kind of like these optical illusions.  There needs to be a clearer visual distinction between required fields and optional. Once the difference between optional and required fields is established, we need to improve upon how much info is actually required. In my opinion the only requirements should be email address, password, and name. Anything else will scare users away. The address can be added when it’s needed. Incidentally, one of the coolest parts of YAI is that you don’t have to register at all in order to purchase a product. This is my favorite design feature by YAI and I encourage anyone to follow suit.

There are a couple other observations regarding login and registration. I’m a big fan of sites that auto log you in directly after registration. Especially in this case since there’s no email confirmation link. I’m always a proponent of sites that use email addresses, as opposed to user names, for registration. YAI does this well. The next step is to allow people to log in with their Facebook account, and Yak about their favorite products there. That could be the explosion YAI and its inventors are waiting for.

Once the user is logged in, if they click on the email club link it currently asked them for their name and email address. But YAI already knows their name and email address. It should show one big button saying, sign up. If they are already signed up then there should be text saying, “Congratulations, you’re in the email club”, and a button giving them the option to opt out. A different way to handle this is during registration, giving them a check box by which they can join the email club. It can be checked by default. Then under account settings give them the option to opt out. YAI will have more users in their email club if it’s an option during registration. Using both methods would be fine as well.

When a user chooses to leave a comment, or Yak Now, it too shows another form with their name and email address filled in. If the user is logged in, why give them the option to comment as someone else? Just assume that the logged in user is commenting and prompt them for their thoughts.

The other place where user information could be handled better is in any of the forms on the site. There are many contact forms, and then the purchase form. These currently display information from the user account as editable text within the form. This is usually the address information. It should be plain text with an edit link next to it, in the event they’d like to update it. If the person has not filled out their address yet then it should be required. It’s unsettling to redisplay address information as editable if the user already entered it.

Let’s say you’d like to Contact YAI for any reason. There currently are the following options to do so:

  1. The Contact form.
  2. The physical mailing address on the Contact Us page.
  3. The retailers form to express interest in being a retailer.
  4. The connect email address on the retailers page to express interest in connecting with inventors.
  5. The Media relations form.
  6. The interview email address on the Media relations page.
  7. The Privacy email address on the Policies page.
  8. The Resource email address on the Resource page.
  9. The Submit your product form.
  10. The Submit email address on the Submit your product page.
  11. Noname email address on the Gift Cards and Swag page.
  12. Telepathy.
  13. Smoke Signal.
  14. Tell their Mom.

The exorbitant variety of ways to contact YAI could be condensed to two paths: a contact form and a physical mailing address. The contact form would have two more fields. First a drop down list of the major categories of communication. Second a field to accept an attachment. This will circumvent having to list email addresses on the website, which in turn will prevent bots from picking them up. Also, listing email addresses generally makes you look like a person, rather than a business. Some of the options within the drop down require different information, so whichever one is selected will display the required fields. Then, instead of having all these forms and email addresses all over the place, each page will have a link back to the contact page, indicating it’s the best way to contact YAI. The last three communication options can be omitted. Telepathy is only required for dating relationships, smoke signals are exclusively patented by former employers of mine, and nepotism is endemic and implied.

Slapback: Overall I love candid feedback and I think you made some good points.. of which I have already fwd to the programming team for discussion.  Other points though I felt you were not being fair or logical.  My beef comes with discussing all the forms. .. if you are a retailer you won’t be completing the ‘media’ form or the ‘inventor’ form… Each form is specialized and thus far has attracted the exact group it was meant to attract.   If one person was meant to use all the forms then you are absolutely correct.. it would be odd. You almost have to do 4 different reviews. Depending who you are changes how you view and come to the site.  If you are an inventor you only see the site’s inventor form because that is what you are cued up for, for example.
1.) inventor
2.) consumer
3.) media
4.) retailer

Also I have found that in today’s society where emails ‘magically do not get through’ that have a specific area for you makes you feel that you will be heard.  A generic form or a drop down doesn’t have the same effect. Lastly most people from a human nature standpoint would not be upset by seeing forms.

Slapstart Response: My experience is that the more email addresses and forms I see the less likely any of them will be responded to. Hence I was pushing away from that. Unless they all forward to the same inbox, no one has time to check multiple email addresses a day. One form is much preferred in my opinion. I think we agree to disagree on this. The good news is that the current form and email address system is perfectly functional and not a major issue. It is just kind of funny, to which I did take some liberties with.

Regarding the product pages. It’s a little unnerving to me that there isn’t a unique product page for any of the products. There are only unique product widgets, which come in pairs depending on which they were Yak’d off with. People often like to share, or email links to products. I’ve linked a few in this article which also include the irrelevant item that was paired with it. It looks unprofessional. Having unique product pages which people could link to would be great. Along with that, these product widgets lend themselves to various sharing options, including being emailed, (once the product page is created), and even more so being embeded. They’d snap into websites very well. These widgets, and the entire site design for that matter, are extremely good looking and one of my favorite parts of the site. They would make excellent advertisements both for the products as well as the site itself. Setting up an associates program would be a great step as well. If I embed your product on my website, then I get a percentage of the profits that come from the sale. These are fairly ambitious features, but as the site grows it’s a direction YAI could take.

SlapBack: To change logic would be to add cost, (in regards to the product page).

There are a few anomalies with the product widgets. One is if you click on any of the links within it you can’t get the original display pic back. There should be a home button or function that will set it back to the original. This will appease the OCD users who come to the site, check out a product, and want to set the display back to its original state. The next observation is when putting a product in the shopping cart for purchase the options were a little weird. If there are multiple options, such as color and size, it prompts you for the first one, then once selected, shows the second option available. For all the ranting I did about forms, this is a place I’d like to see all the options right there. As it is now, it’s a non intuitive interface. I wasn’t expecting a series of questions one after the next.

SlapBack: The main picture does come back. It is set on a timer and returns… on this I have actually been requested to make the timer longer.

Here’s a bullet point list of other improvements or observations:

  • Fork Fed section starts with, “This is a blog.” This could be replaced with , “Here you’ll find useful discussions…” Anything but, “This is a blog”, lest the masses turn and run.
  • Resources page is thoughtful and helpful. It is kind of goofy that all the links end up under the Fork Fed path though.
  • When purchasing an item, the update quantity should be done away with. If someone changes the quantity then the pricing info should update automatically.
  • FAQ section should have the standard list of questions at the top which hyperlink to the answer below.
  • Search functionality is pretty rudimentary. When looking for my Mow Buddy product I search with “Mow.” I had to use the full “Mow Buddy” to find it.
  • There are different search boxes, one for the Fork Fed section, and one for the Yak Nation Button. Confusing them is easy to do. Having an Amazon like drop down box along with the search field would prevent this. Or having one search box that searches everything, and has two pages of results. One with the product results, the second with the Fork Fed results. These would be on the same physical page and could be accessed by tabs at the top of the search results.
  • Yak Nation is a great name, but not overly clear that it’s a display of the Yakoffs, by date.
  • Gift Cards and Swag are paired together as Yakoff products as well. Putting all the widgets on a single page would be more logical.
  • When ordering, once you’ve selected the options and click on the next page, you can’t change them without removing the item and starting again.

All in all, Yak About It accomplishes what it set out to do. They connect inventors with retailers, and they give the invented products increased visibility. It’s a curious place to explore odds and ins that some drunk guy or ex white collar worker, dreamt up. Although there’s the risk that some of its products will to end up in upscale (or otherwise) garage sales, it’s always fun to check out people’s dreams and see if their inspirations will take flight. YAI gives them the opportunity and is a great place to look for new and unique products.

SlapBack: My advice is you make some VERY good points. However in the humor and attempt to make something worse or a bigger deal than it is they get lost.  I could really see your business model being a professional site reviewer but I think you need to stick with what’s really a problem or an area to fix.  You also have to flow with what is logical or human nature.

SlapStart Response: I’ll definitely consider this. When I see multiple email addresses and forms I freak out. But perhaps the masses feel otherwise and more comfortable since there’s an email address waiting just for them. It received undue attention in part since, yes, I did glop the user experiences together. I appreciate the feedback and will do some more research on the one form verses multiple forms issue. Also, I’m continually weighing humor vs feedback levels. Thanks!

Canape in Camilo Castelo Branco House, Famalicão, Portugal. Startup

Dating Couch: Couch Potatoes in Space

It’s Friday Night. Or at least it will be soon. And you look across the lonely apartment, lonely refrigerator full of everything a person could possibly want. The carpet is clean; the fish tank bubbles. The Netflix is sitting by the TV.

And the couch sits empty.

Canape in Camilo Castelo Branco House, Famalicão, Portugal.

(With such a couch one’s singleness would never be drawn into question †)

Being single can be a real pain. To use a long outdated and increasingly asinine literary construct, I quote the lyrics of a song. “Desperado” by the Eagles reminds us, “And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’. Your prison is walking through this world all alone.” Although relationships can be trying and difficult at times, I theorize that it takes approximately 2.5 months of singleness to forget whatever the last person did and realize it’s just not fun being alone.

A marketplace of online destinations has erupted in their promise to find love, friendship, or organic copulation. Pick your gender, pick your preference, and connect. These all succeed to a degree, and fail just as much. Long hours can be spent sending out emails, chatting with someone only to learn that you have no chemistry whatsoever. The level of respect conveyed by users on these sites can at times be a bit underwhelming. Horror stories abound, where people figure out that their love is married or completely misrepresented themselves.

A new player in the world of finding special connections online can be found with Dating Couch. They offer a clever slant to making a connection. You join the site, find someone you’d like to connect with, and sit on a couch and talk.

I have to say it’s kind of welcoming in a way. I’ve often wondered if anyone in the cybernets can get people past the glaringly abrasive introductions, quick exchanges of 411’s, and nonreciprocating chat partners. Sitting on a couch with someone is kind of a clever psychological trick. It gets people past the dull and despondent internet malaise and into active conversations. It’s friendly, flirty, and warm.

Dating Couch did a few near phenomenal things which I would like to take this moment to commend them for. My favorite is that resisted the temptation to include both an email and chat feature. They include only the chat feature since we all know it delivers the messages anyway if the person is away. The next stellar beyond the stars feature is they provide a simple personal information profile form. I don’t have 20 mins to fill these things out. They just get the basics and let me make for the couch sessions. What’s more, they pull info from my profile and create a nice short blurb summary for me, so that I don’t have to. The other noble and valiant thing DC does is auto add contacts. If I interact with someone, they are added to my contacts list. In other sites first you chat, then wonder if it’s OK to add her. If you do it too early you’re a creep, too late and you’re a passive male. The auto add feature lowers the barrier of connection. Just like a couch.

As might be expected from a new site still very much in Beta, disaster strikes as well. And this with a fury that could contend with many a scorned woman. It strikes first with the work flow during registration. The three most important thing for DC is to get users to A) Sign up, B) Fill out their profile, and C) Sit on the couch and talk. Step A is mostly kosher, though my test partner bemoaned not being able to use her favorite user name since they don’t allow underscores. After registering however, I had to hunt a bit to find the great profile form I raved about earlier. There are four aspects to filling out the profile. A one liner statement, a paragraph statement, photos, and personal information. The personal information is a lengthier questionnaire that has multiple questions. I suggest prompting the user to fill out each of these upon sign-up with a frame by frame prompting. A suggested order is, first Photo, next Personal Info, then Paragraph statement, and finally the one liner. Also, tell the user there are four steps until their portfolio is complete, so they know it won’t take all day.

The personal information page has a series of improvements that could be made. I list them as follows:

  • The I am seeking option only lets you select one choice. Some people are seeking a variety.
  • I’m a guy but I have the option to say I am voluptuous. I was very tempted to select it.
  • It’s just kind of odd that I can change my birthday.
  • The I am best described as option has a ton of potential. It basically takes everything eHarmony does and consolidates it to one of 16 choices. My guess is that each of these map to the 16 personality types described by the Myers-Briggs test. An improvement here is to provide a test so people get a more accurate categorization. Then provide the option to put people on the couch who are more likely to be friends or romantic couples based upon their personality types.  The current self identification is fine, but including an option to take a test which will make it more accurate would spiff up the site a bit.

The Profile page is pretty clean, though it has a few oddities. The most obvious is that the profile pic shows up below the fold of the screen. When a web page first loads what you see is above the fold, what you have to scroll down to see is below. For a dating website placing a pic or thumbnail at the top left or right of the page is a near requirement. Though an argument could be made to do otherwise, I don’t think that’s the slant DC is shooting for. I’d move the pic higher. Also, DC takes a thumbnail of your default pic. Much to the angst of my couch and test partner, you don’t have the ability too select your own thumbnail. It’s selected from the center of the pic. If it’s a full body pic it’s likely to zone in the midsection. Another small quirk with the profile page is it appears that you can sit on your own couch. The buttons aren’t grayed out or inactive. Instead there’s a pop-up box telling you not to sit on your own couch. Best not to include an active link if you don’t want it to be pressed.

A feature of the profile page is the Personal Info summary. It provides a brief paragraph about you based upon your responses. It’s so nice that you don’t have to reiterate everything again. The drawback is that the sentences are as bland as one could ever imagine. It reads, “I am in such a such location. I eat berries. I have two feet and a harp by my side.” A great improvement would be to add character to it based upon their responses. In particular try to not have every sentence start with “I am.” E.g. “At 6’2″ I tower over my counterparts. I sculpt my slick athletic figure through long hours in the gym.” Going over the top could be cool here, since everyone will know that the words are from a template. Another opportunity is to shame or poke at people when they don’t fill out part of their profile. Currently it just omits the info from the summary. I say use this to give them a public flogging. E.g. “I have no religion other than contemplating the cold desperate monotony of my life.” This is a great way to prompt people to fill out their profiles as well as providing chuckles along the way.

The other aspect of the profile page that needs a bit of improvement is the Settings. Here we have four different links, the Edit, Change Password, Change Auto-Block Settings, and Change Privacy settings. I’d like to explain what each of these in turn does, but I can not. They all go to the exact same form. I’m a big fan of having one link per destination per page. In this case we have four of them all glopped together and pointing to the same place. Having just the Edit link at the top should be fine, so long as it’s generally clear which settings can be changed.

Once you land on the Change Settings form, through any number of pit holes on the profile page, you’re allowed to select a variety of blocking options. The most outlandish is that the only distance restriction is based upon country, (pun intended). I’m sure this is a facet of being a new social networking site still gaining users. Over time I expect they’ll add more granularity based upon location. Missing from the settings is the option to delete your profile altogether. I know social networks want users, but allowing people to delete their profiles helps reduce junk and test accounts. It also improves the overall experience of active users. Another curiosity of the block users feature is the age restrictions. It has two drop down boxes where you select the upper and lower limits of the age you’d like to be connected with. By default it’s set to Any. On the screen it reads, “Block Users Younger than Any,” which makes no sense to me. Instead I suggest using something more descriptive like, “No lower age limit,” or maybe sincere, “I love people of all ages,” or funny, “I like em young.”

Blocking is actually my least favorite part of this otherwise wonderful couch, I mean site. Your selections of who you’d like to block appear in large font on the public profile page. It makes the restricter look like a total putz. Let’s say I don’t want to date women with children, or I’m 45 years old but am only willing to date 18-22 year olds. It gives off such a poor vibe that no one would ever talk to me. A novel solution to the dilemma is as follows: don’t give men the option to block anyone, except based upon gender. DC advertises on its home page that it’s women friendly in that they can see who viewed their profile. Other than this feature the only other woman friendly feature I found is that they aren’t required to include their age in their profile. In my opinion that’s not very woman friendly. Why not go the whole distance and give them exclusive access to the blocking features? Let’s face it,  dating sites are inundated with guys looking for love. The women are bombarded by a splattering of perves each more despondent and contemptible than the next. Guys don’t need restrictions and rarely find themselves desperately trying to escape the advances of lovestruck Juliets. Thus, it keeps guys from looking as if they’re restrictive dweebs, and everyone expects women have their restrictions. Problem solved.

A few final tidbits relating to blocking revolve around the auto blocking feature. If a user is blocked based upon age, and then that restriction is later altered so that they would be included, that user has to be manually unblocked. Although having a blanket auto unblock feature would likely be too permissive, auto unblocking only those that were auto blocked would probably be OK. I.e. If the user manually blocked someone then don’t auto unblock them, but if the person was auto blocked due to the blocking rules, then the blocked status should change as the rules are updated.

And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for- The Couch. Or to use a slightly modified movie meme, “Dude, where’s my couch?” The couch is the crux of this site. It’s comfy, cozy, and inviting. But where is it? When I log in I see a typical list of menu items: Profile, Search, Messages, Contacts, and News.  Profile we already discussed, Search is where you can browse pics of people’s torsos for new Contacts, Contacts is in fact a happy list of Contacts, and News is the site Blog. Messages however, is where you have a chat interface with the option for webcam and sending and receiving pics. It’s the couch! My earnest behest to which I entreat DC is this: Scrap the yawning functionality of the label Messages and run with the couch theme for everything it’s worth. This is your site, your core, your distinguishing gimmick in a world of online meeting places. In the words of my test partner, “the site just feels nicer… sit on someone’s couch… the cam’s there, easy to use.” And she continues, “I already feeeeeeeeel flirty!” To which I reminded her she always feels flirty, but that’s beside the point. In short, replace the label Messages with, “The Couch” or just “Couch.” Also, perhaps it can be on the top or second from the top of the navigation list. Hence forth in this article I’ll refer to the Messages page as the Couch page.

We look for potential friends on the Search page, which has an I’m Feeling Lucky button. According to my test partner it completing ignored her blocking requirements. That should be an easy fix. The button could also incorporate the quick and dirty personality match suggested earlier.

The way you land someone on your couch is simple. Nav to their profile page, typically through the search functionality, and click the sit on their couch button. Currently there are two pre-couch communication methods as well. The first being to Message them, the second is to Wink at them. Seeing as how I’m on a quest to rebrand the Message functionality with the Couch, I’m for getting rid of the Message and Wink buttons. Wink was always on the chopping block. I know Facebook has poke, OK Cupid used to use woo, but now uses wink. All of which are nonsense ways to say you’re thinking of someone. I would move wink to the chat interface and alter it so that it’s similar to the Buzz button in Yahoo IM. So here’s the new suggested model for couch etiquette. You find someone you want on the couch. From their Profile page you click on the Sit on their Couch button. This takes you to the Couch page, currently called the Messages page. From there you can message them. They can then elect to join you if they wish. The Wink and Message buttons are not on the profile page at all. The original sit on the couch link has been changed slightly. If you enter someone’s couch room, then you’re status is updated to sitting on their couch. To leave someone’s couch there should be a button on the Couch and Contacts pages giving you the option to leave their couch.

A word about Contacts before we continue with the couch. As mentioned, under the current system if you wink, message or sit on someone’s couch, then that person is now in your contacts. With the suggested changes above, contacts are auto added if someone sits on another person’s couch. On the contacts page itself, the buttons beneath each profile will change,similar to the profile page. The Wink status is now gone. On the main section of the contact listing is a big button saying Go to the couch, or something to that effect. This goes to the same destination as the current Send Message link. If the person is already on the couch, then beneath it is a button giving them the option leave the couch. The sit on the couch, leave the couch links will be replaced with status update text indicating whether they’re currently on the couch or not.

The time has come, the lights are low, the Champagne is uncorked- the new acquaintances are on the couch. At top they have thumbnails of each others’ torso. At the bottom is a chat interface. Top right is a button to begin the video chat. And so the chatting begins. Both are a little nervous and so things are a bit awkward. You know how first dates are. This first date however, has a bevy of awkwardness contributed to it by the clumsy mechanics of the couch, which is more akin to the couch in your garage. Getting straight to the meat and potatoes, when I had the video interface on and was chatting with my test partner who was, “feeling flirty,” the chat interface was beneath the fold of the screen. Then she says, “Did you see that?” Knowing her I realized that I missed some sort of cleavage flash or something of that nature. As the couch now stands, when you’re chatting you can’t see the video screen. This is a design issue that can be fixed by better using the space. In particular, the high level synopsis of the person could be located to the right of their pic, as opposed to beneath it. Somehow or another the video screens need to be visible while chatting.

Along with all couches in the garage, they need some improvement. In particular, the chat appeared to lag. While my chat partner was droning on and on about me needing a better profile pic, (Women!), I was trying to get her to log off and log back in to see if the chat history is retained. After the fact we realized that the messages weren’t coming in real time. Having the messages be delivered real time is a critical issue that needs to be working 100% of the time. I was trying in vain to find new and creative ways to get her back on the task of evaluating the site as she was la-de-da’ing about profile pics. Once we got past that, we were able to ascertain that the chat history is stored indefinitely. This is fine for now, but at some point DC needs to include an archiving functionality. As it is now, all chats will be saved in the same window. Removing and storing elsewhere last week’s chat, or last day’s chat, or month, would be great. Also, once the chat window was full it overflowed into the background a bit. Some HTML/CSS should fix that up.

The cam is great as far as chatting goes. It doesn’t have an option to accept someone’s cam or not. What this directly translates to is the guy who uses it to flash as many women as possible. It needs to prompt the other user to accept the cam of their couch partner. In the same vein, turning off the cam isn’t prompted as well. We didn’t test every use case but there are a few cases that should be considered. If the cam user leaves the couch page, their cam should turn off. If the person watching the cam leaves, it should prompt the cam owner that they’ve left the couch and give them the option to turn off the cam. With my partner the cam was innocuously left on, but I wasn’t able to determine how accidental that was.

The couch feature and profile page in general needs an auto refresh feature to notify you when a new message comes in. Yahoo or Gmail tells you that new messages have arrived without having to check for them. They also include refresh buttons to get the absolute latest. DC has neither refresh button nor the AJAX style notifications. It’s functional for now, but the real time aspects will spiff up the site significantly.

I’ll give some lip service to CouchCat, which is like Tom is to Myspace. That is, my first friend. He’s also a bot which tends to repeat everything I do. If I wink at somebody I’m notified by CouchCat that I did in fact wink at someone. If I sit on someone’s couch then the same happens. If a serious overhaul doesn’t happen to CouchCat then he’s going to be about as popular as Microsoft’s Clippy. CouchCat is supposed to help encourage the ambiance of romance. He should be the pestering nuisance of your 9 year old sister when you’d rather be alone with your date.

DC gives the option to set your theme for your profile. It only changes the color of the foreground though. The background retains the DC blue. Some of the themes are on the needs improvement list, and they all should either alter the background color, or at least not clash with it. Not a pressing issue for now though. The theme that’s not currently included is setting a theme for your couch. This is the moment of romance. You’ve enticed a prospect into your domain, being able to customize this page would be some serious wizbang. I’m also a fan of have the profile pics on top of an actual couch, with lamps in the background, and other customizable necessities. One complexity that could be added is to choose who’s couch you’re on, yours or theirs. This would add a different angle to the couches, but kind of a fun one. Whoever sits first sets the shared couch theme, but it can be changed later. From there, the next step would be to allow people to design a couch theme together, adding various background options and couches. So each person would have their basic couch theme, and then the option to design a new one with the people they sit and talk with.

Before signing off, I’ll mention the wink feature again. I’m not a big fan of it, but perhaps the concept could be altered into something useful. Allow people to give a bottle of champagne, or have a girl leave a shoe on the couch. If I get a message that Charlene left a candle by the couch, or Martza left cookies and milk, it sets the tone of what awaits on that couch. The possibilities of items are endless, from jokingly random such as leaving a herd of goats, to intimate and suggestive. So that would rework the Profile options to include ability to the leave an item on the person’s couch. As a not so inconsequential aside, this would leave the door wide open to sell the actual physical items. So if you leave a bottle of Champagne, you can purchase it for them and in turn send it to them. Bonus points if you can send it to them with or without letting the sender know their address. That could be a whole new cushion to this ever growing couch.

A few technical snippets. The site currently only supports entering the full domain name with the www. If you omit it then you’re hosed. Many users prefer not typing the www, so that should be fixed. I believe the DNS manager needs to be configured to accept both. The webserver can then be set to redirect from one one to the other, depending on which you prefer. My preference is to omit the www in all urls. The other sysadmin relating tasks is that the notification emails ended up in my spam box. Ah the joys of being a new website. It takes some effort to get Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail to recognize new domains.

Dating Couch is a great site. Among the many features that they succeeded in, they did best in this one thing. Going live. Or Getting Real, as our friends at 37 Signals would remind us. That is, get the major features working such as security, path A functionality, and a cursory design. Then bring the site live, add a feedback button, and keep at it. Before long, I expect Dating Couch to be a major player in meeting new people online.

† Couch was found here, uploaded with permission and attribution.

Dating Couch broke up with the internet. We hope it finds what it’s looking for elsewhere in life. But for now, we can’t go on together.

Sponsored

Coin That Phrase: Say What?

I’ve always been one to enjoy finding clever ways of phrasing things. I often keep a quote list of funny, ironic, or memorable things people say. From Proverbs in the Bible, the sayings of Confucius, to quips made by comedians, people love witty or meaningful sayings.

The web is abundant with sites featuring phrases, verses, quotes and the like. Up until now these were random collection of sayings, sometimes quoted and attributed correctly, oftentimes not. Coin That Phrase recently launched a site with a fully functional quote factory. What’s a fully functional quote factory do you ask? It’s a place to read quotes, post quotes, buy shirts or other items with the phrase on them, and make some money in the process.

Getting straight to it, the first quote I submitted was one of my favorite of all time. “Wouldn’t this world be great if being lonely and desperate were a turn on.” I don’t recall where I first heard it but have remembered it ever since. I like it since it’s funny and is a good reminder to never allow oneself to be perceived as needy. Once I submitted it I was given the option to purchase shirts, coffee mugs, key rings or a necklace with the quote printed on it. My first inclination was that this would make for the perfect gift for a boss, coworkers, or the friend you have no idea what else to get. A personal, funny, inside joke can be immortalized forever on a potentially usable item.

This idea is nothing new. Even CNN offers printed shirts with provocative and completely inane titles they think people would like to own a shirt of. I sometimes wonder if living in a trailer park is a requirement to purchase the CNN line of clothing. It would definitely be the case if those shirts were offered on Fox News, but I digress. Cafepress is the leader in creating customized items. Their service allows you to upload an image and then purchase or sell the custom product. CTP has an edge in that their products focus strictly on written information and thus don’t require any graphic design to complete. You simply type in the quote, select the font and a couple other options, and proceed to checkout.

Coin That Phrase’s business model is based on a couple things. First they take a cut of each item sold. Second, each person has the option to purchase ownership of a phrase through CTP. Say what? By checking the box and paying the $2-3 fee you establish ownership of a phrase for life. It even comes with a printed certificate which serves to remove any doubt that this phrase is in fact, yours. It makes a nice touch for those who are gifting a phrase and associated gift items to someone. The third way CTP makes money is by allowing people to join their affiliate program. This gives people the ability to make commissions on the sale of items with their phrase on it. I wasn’t clear on what those commissions would be, which could be a warning sign. It could mean that the phrase owner is allowed to set the commission above and beyond a base price set by CTP. That’s the way Cafepress handles commissions.

I think it’s already clear which part of Coin that Phrase I really enjoy; it provides you the ability to quickly design creative items with a personal touch. I know in office settings there are always inside jokes that go around. The person that puts out a few dollars to CTP and gets a mug and certificate will be famous forever. It’s the same for friends who have a favorite saying or memory. The certificate is the icing on the cake for an ongoing joke or gift.

This creep would like you to wear his shirt
This creep wants you to wear his shirt

I noticed a few things about the site I’d improve though. Immediately after submitting a phrase it takes you to this great product creator. From here you can select whether you want a coffee mug, shirt, etc., and design and purchase the product. Once you’re off that page it took me a bit of hunting to re-find the product creator. I saw a list of popular products on the right side of the page, but how the heck do you find the product creator for any of the other phrases? I knew it had to be on the Phrase page, but just didn’t see it. Turns out it’s right where it should be, on the top left of the phrase page, but with a distractingly dismal picture and caption on it. In this case distractingly dismal can be interpreted as a grayed out picture that resembles a gross old man with the caption, “Wear It.” My impulse reflex to gross old men in nasty t-shirts is to avert the eyes and look away. Even when I got past the feeling of being stalked by a potential paedophile I still had to wrap my mind around the idea that “Wear It” somehow also means key chains or coffee mugs. A possible suggestion is to go with say, an attractive female, as opposed to the creepy guy at the bus stop. One way or another it needs to better convey that it is in fact the link to the product creator page.

The other way to find the product creator is to click the link, “Shop this phrase” which appears next to the phrase search or browse listings. The trouble with it is that I first read it as, “STOP this phrase” and glanced over it. I thought it was a button to click for particularly offensive phrases and didn’t give it a second thought. I’m not sure, “Shop this Phrase” is the best moniker for, “Hey come buy a mug, necklace or shirt with this phrase on it.” My suggestion is to find some wording that works a little better. Once that’s settled then use the same theme, idea, image, color, button style and what not in both the phrase listings page and the Phrase page (in lieu of the creepy guy). That way the users will be taught and then reinforced that the product creator exists and where it can be found. The path to the product creator page is the door to financial success for CTP so let’s leave it as open and welcoming as possible.

I did get tripped up on the navigation to browse phrases a bit. It’s works like a grid with an X and Y axis. The X axis is the top navigation including Most Popular, Classics, Originals and Most Recent. The Y axis includes categories, tags or alphabatized. The default X axis is Most Popular. By default the Y axis isn’t selected. Once you select a Y axis option, category/tag/alpha, then it will continue to filter based upon the one selected. So you’re only getting the intersect of the X and Y axis, or one square within the grid. Perhaps this is what you want, but there’s no way to clear the Y axis without pressing the Home button and starting over. It’s kind of a nuisance and a bit confusing. What you end up with is a category or tag following you around long after you wanted it there. One possible solution is to clear the Y axis every time someone clicks a different X axis option. So if someone’s looking at the Most Recent phrases under category Joke, and then they switch to Most Popular, then the Joke filter will be removed. That’s what I was expecting it to do and would be easy to implement.

Another observation is that the quotes I found quickly began to resemble some of the brain sores found on Yahoo Answers. Recently it’s been rumored that a significant minority of internet users rallied to rename Yahoo Answers to, “The Most Inconsequential Destination on the Web. TM.” I personally neither supported nor opposed this alleged initiative, but note the general trend of disdain for mediocre content online. I think CTP has made a good effort to defend against this by listing the most popular phrases by default and on the front page. Another way CTP could battle against the mutterings of imbeciles is related to something I think they’ve done best- the fact that they’re integrated with Facebook. CTP allows users to sign in with their Facebook id, and I suspect that gives them access to their Facebook user profiles. If that’s the case they can gather the age of many of their users. Whether via Facebook or by asking directly, I propose that CTP gathers the age range of their users during registration. Then they should allow users to filter which phrases they’ll see based upon age range of phrase submitter. This would help ward off the neurotic impulses of the younger crowds. In short, I really don’t care about the wisdom or humor my aunt’s 14 year old daughter has to impart unto the world. My ideal filter would be both based upon age ranges, but also have the option to override that filter when a phrase reaches a certain level of popularity.

A final tidbit, I would rearrange the listing of the X-axis navigation and add tooltips offering a bit more explanation. My preferred order would be Popular, Recent, Classics, Originals. I would explore the option of dropping the word “Most” prior to Popular and Recent since it’s a bit redundant and intuitive. The tooltips would serve to give a bit more explanation for the Classics and Originals headings since they’re not 100% clear right at first. The words classic and orignal are related words per the thesaurus. CTP uses them to mean classic phrases that weren’t created by our users, and original phrases that were created by our users. In this case tooltips should be used for all the browsing headers to stay consistent. Another option is to find a better name for Classics as it’s the least intuitive of the bunch.

Coin That Phrase is a great site for viewing quotes, phrases, pieces of wisdom, or mockery. It’s can provide ten minutes of entertainment during the day, a small side business, or iconic gifts for friends and associates. The ease of use is excellent and thoroughness of design is impressive. The Facebook integration gives it the prospect of taking off in a big way. As the Biblical Proverb goes, “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!” And Confucius reminds us, “Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.” Therein lies the impetus and sagely wisdom that will drive Coin That Phrase’s success.

Coin That Phrase has left the building. We miss them greatly. Well, kind of anyway.

Make A Dare Home Startup

Make A Dare: I Dare You

We all have childhood memories that involved pushing the boundaries. Those were the days when TP’ing houses was fun, late nights were spent drinking high doses of Jolt cola, (the original energy drink), and if girls were involved, Truth or Dare. Eventually we got older and the allure of daring someone to do something lost its magic. Drained by the march of time, consequences, and common sense.

Undaunted by the encroachment of maturity, Make A Dare threatens to bring back the inner mischievous child in all of us. It’s a new social networking site, still in beta, which revolves around dares, on the internet. Video or photo proof is required to demonstrate completion of the dare. If that didn’t translate to provocative sex gestures in most people’s minds then I don’t know what will.

Make A Dare Home

The site is just like you might expect. You sign up, are given a profile page, network with friends, and then make and receive dares. A sample dare is anything from kick someone in the groin, to show your underwear. Incidentally, the show your underwear dare fits the requisite internet protocol. You’re lulled in by a sexy screen shot of a woman in her brazillian cheekies. Then once on the dare page you’re greeted by men of non herculean physique. My eyes, my eyes.

Being the purist that I am, my first inclination in using the site was to create a distinct movement towards non sexual dares. Read a passage of literature from a religion not your own or do 45 jumping jacks. I finally settled on daring people to eat vegetarian for two days.

The site itself is clean, though I have a humble request for consideration in the design. It has a great persona. The messages are cheeky (not like the brazillian cheekies…), but hip, clever, in your face. Each user has Streetcred, I’m currently of NOOB status. Each Dare can be Hyped or Dissed. Then glaring in the face of all the hipness is a button labeled, “Submit.” It’s like the nerd walked into the sorority house. He just doesn’t belong there. Submit is the type of button it is. Every first project in the world uses the word submit. I motion that they pick something a little more hip. I’m not hip myself, (see vague reference of random nerd walking into a sorority house…), so I don’t have a good suggestion for what to replace it with. I’m sure something could be dreamt up by the Make A Dare team though.

Regarding the functionality of the site I have a couple observations as well. As mentioned each dare can be hyped or dissed, but I didn’t see how to sort the dares by number of hypes. They can be sorted by most popular, which presumably is number of page views. Sorting by number of hypes would be helpful as well, since it reflects what people actually thought of the Dare.

I do have one tangential suggestion relating to that. I sometimes question how useful having Hype/Diss type rating systems are. For instance, I often go to the website I-am-bored, which is a listing of random, goofy and interesting content from around the web. They too include the number of page views as well as the rating of the link. I noticed that sometimes the most popular links will have a lower rating. Oftentimes this is legitimate, in that the link is really dumb. But then, people are spending all their time there so how dumb is it, really. I’d like to see a site measure popularity/value strictly based upon user actions rather than by what they say they think. I.e. track which dares were looked at, commented on, or completed, and make that the basis for whether something is considered hyped or dissed. Something to consider, if not for this project then maybe a future one.

Another suggestion is regarding the requirement of video or picture proof. It would be awesome if everyone was willing to upload visual proof of their completed dare, but I’m thinking they might not be. I know for my test dare I browsed the net, took the first semi relevant pic I could find, and uploaded it. Requiring uploads makes it so users to really put themselves out there all at once. My thought is that there should be a path for the user who comes to the site, wants to be somewhat involved, but not jump in two feet first right away. In this case, allowing users to say they completed a dare and leave a written description might be enough to entice them to stick around. Over time they’ll get hooked and realize the only way to get attention is to upload pics, but right at first they may be shy. Let them complete the dare, get a nice little pat on the head, and then lure them in for greener pastures.

Overall Make A Dare shows a lot of promise. Dares are inherently rule breaking, pain causing, substance based, or sexual. The success of the site is based upon whether people actually get involved in the dares and complete them. Therefore I would make the completed dares more prominent, as they’re most likely to be completed again. The most recent dares could be little less front and center, as their quality is hit or miss. Power users will look for them, and newbies won’t be turned off by the blatantly sadistic or repugnant ones. All in all, I dare Make a Dare to make the final touches on their beta site and let it loose on the fine citizens of the internet.