Zoomwit: You’ve Got Video

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.

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.