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Moonit: Your Destiny Awaits

A friend of mine met a guy who works at the guitar store. Cute guy, very nice, very polite. She liked the fact that he was a musician, that he seemed to have a close relationship with his siblings, and appeared to be a hard working dude.  Just one problem.  “He’s a Scorpio. They’re the worst for me. It’s never gonna work.” So that was that.

This little story illuminates the universal awkwardness of diving into new relationships, but even more so, the strange way we think about relationships. (By the way, all Piscean woman out there, keep walking. Never again!!) That is the crux behind Moonit, a very nifty site that “helps Generation Y users make the most of their personal and professional relationships.” Provide Moonit with the basics about a nascent romantic, professional, or friend-relationship, and they’ll give you their prognosis, via a “compatibility assessments based on astrological underpinnings.”

Caution. Scorpios.
Caution. Scorpios.

Moonit aims to be a part match-maker, part shrink. Part Donna-from-HR-who-you-gossip-to-during-your-coffee break, Part Big Sister unwilling to spare you the hard truth: you’re dating a jerk and he’ll never change. Part motherly therapist, part Zoltar Speaks (remember Zoltar? That crazy machine from the movie “Big” with Tom Hanks? Zoltar? Anybody?

On its home page, it explains: “moonit uncovers why you hang with friends, hate your boss and have the hots for that special someone.” But more importantly, Moonit is about precision. Generation Y folks have countless and ever-growing social networks, and that’s good. Jobs, happy hours, urban living, kickball – all these things make it pretty easy to meet people. But what about the right people? Let Moonit do the work. It asks you to 1. Think of a relationship you’re curious about;  2. Give us some info, and 3. We’ll let the truth fly. Who could resist?  Not me!

The Women of My Life, Part 1: Linda

I clicked on the “Moon Someone” button (a nifty branding approach, but admittedly, when I read it, I giggled a bit.) I’m prompted to “select a relationship” that’s on my mind: Friendship, Romantic, and Professional. Well, I have enough friends, and my professional life is beyond astrological assistance, so I selected “Romantic.” I entered information about myself and was then prompted to enter information about the person we shall call, eh, let’s say “Linda.”

It asked for Linda’s full name and birthday. I stopped in my tracks. That’s some private stuff. That said, in today’s modern age, this information is easily accessible via Facebook if you’re this person’s friend.  And it wouldn’t work unless I was honest, right? I pictured some sick algorithm on the back end, computing syllables, cross-checking it with astrological movements, tide charts of the Chesapeake Bay, horse racing results, Soduku patterns, Kayne’s moods, and analyzing etymology of the name “Linda” (fyi: it’s an “ancient Germanic name meaning ‘serpent.’ That explains a lot, actually.)  Except I didn’t know Linda’s vital information, so I clicked a “Don’t Have This?” link, which prompted me to enter her e-mail address, saying they’d send them a request to fill out the missing details.”  Hmm. Will Linda think I’m a stalker? (Or, more accurately, “Is that restraining order still in effect?”) Moonit has a solution: “you can run them first for friendship or business if you don’t want them to think you have a crush on them!  You can always run them for romantic purposes after they reply with their birthdate.”

The Other Woman: Barbara

So, not knowing much about the elusive Linda – she is an enigmatic temptress – I entered the info of someone whose information I know. My ex, “Barbara.” And the results? The result: “85% compatibility – Giving Fabio a Run for His Money”! I signed up for an account and read the whole analysis. It was extremely witty and juicy; I wanted to keep reading. It was also eerily accurate (in retrospect), as Barbara and I were, indeed, compatible.

<Cue introspection.> You know, Barbara and I did have a lot in common. Growing up, we were always shuttled from place to place, never establishing roots. She was an Army brat; I came from a circus family. She never knew her father; mine trained the dancing monkeys. We liked camping, romantic dinners and long walks in the park. Oh… Babs.

Having set up my own profile, Moonit lets you store these relationships and enables you to also test your “friendship” and “business” compatibility.” You can also choose an avatar, add more relationships, and answer a community question (e.g. “Which Taylor is hotter: Lautner or Swift?” For whatever reason, I couldn’t choose my preference.  Isn’t he soooo dreamy?)

The User Navigation Experience

The navigator bar is thankfully simple, consisting of four pages:

  • Dashboard – Essentially the home page once logged in, highlighting “Today’s Question,” and “My Relationships.”
  • Relationships – Allows me to take a deeper dive into said relationships (though at first blush, it seems slightly redundant since “Relationships” are featured on the Dashboard.) The page also lets me sort by the following relationship types: All, Romantic, Business, and Friendship. The types are illustrated by icons; while it’s fairly intuitive, a text roll-over for each icon would be helpful.
  • The Stars – This is cool – its ruminations about celebrity couples. John and Jen (run Jen, he’s a player!) Mariah and Nick (get a room!) This is pure crack for the tabloid generation and my only qualm is that some brief verbage on the landing page describing what I’m look at would be illuminating.
  • The Couch – My favorite. First, it does provide some useful information telling me what I’m seeing (“Do you want to sit on the couch? Ask moonit a question.) This is a page where people can vent about love and receive feedback from other users.

Which reminds me: the about page is very informative and goes a long way to differentiate itself from other sites. That said, it’s a bit wordy. I could go for a bit more punchy copy (ditto the Privacy page), as it’d aesthetically complement the site’s clean, effortless design.

“Pay no attention the man behind that curtain”

The Web is clearly rife with relationship-oriented sites, whether dating and match-making sites, to platforms where people can vent about the opposite sex. Many also seek to access the treasure trove of personal information available via Facebook, Twitter, etc., to make this experience as personalized as possible. Moonit does all these things, plus brings a cool differentiating aspect to the table: mystique.

While the casual visitor learns about the “astrological’ underpinnings of the relationship tool, we don’t know the guts of it. And in a way, that’s great. We read the horoscopes every day, or visit palm readers, but we don’t exactly know what’s going on. It’s only after further digging do we also learn of the Man Behind the Curtain, Joel Block. Dr. Block is Moonit’s resident psychologist, whose “guidance informs Moonit’s progressive profiling process and provides advice for The Couch relationship questions that users submit.” This pedigree lends some legitimacy to the whole proceedings, but it doesn’t explicitly shed light on the machinations of the relationship tool, which, again, can be alluring. I mean, we don’t know – or want to know – how sausage is made, but man, it’s totally yummy.

Moonit for Everybody!

Moonit seems like a place where you can happily whittle away your days. Who doesn’t like talking about relationships? Oh wait, men.

Moonit’s landing page picture features a gal, Anna, who wonders about her boyfriend and her boss. Coupled with the confessional nature of “The Couch” (let’s face it, its clearly healthier for men to repress our emotions as long as possible; ideally our entire lives) and the gossip-y vibe of “The Stars,” my gender-meter leads me to believe this primarily geared toward women, at least for now.

Yet if that’s the case, why did I urgently wonder if LeAnn Rimes is looking for love in all the wrong places? Why am I emotionally invested in “In a Relationship but Friendless,” who is in love, but suddenly without his old pals? Why does the “High Maintenance Dude Situation” hit just a little too close to home?

Hmm. Does Dr. Block make housecalls?

Startup

SafeShare.tv: Shares It Safe, Simple, And Well

The most popular sites on the web today are sites which let you do almost anything. You can reach out to almost anyone, anywhere, and satisfy all of your desires. Within a few clicks these sites, many of which encourage you to use them as your home page, will help you find out what’s happening in the world. You can make vacation plans, order any product under the sun via credit card to be shipped to your front door, watch your favorite sports teams, order tickets to the opera, or find out the latest restaurant reviews. They even help you find someone to love and who might love you back (or at least help you in satisfying some of your baser instincts).

But there can really only be so many one-stop for everything-you-ever-wanted sites. The very nature of these websites is consolidation, or, to put it a different way, cannibalization. The larger ones regularly consume the smaller until only giants remain- websites so bloated with content and links that they can barely move. They clutter themselves up with advertisements, personalized sidebars, customizable skins, and cutesy seasonal themes. They’re the equivalent of eating a cheese-filled hot-dog wrapped in bacon and then deep fried in beer batter: sure, it’s all pretty good stuff, but it’s just too much to handle at once.

As a reaction to these sites, the internet has evolved. Interspersed among the giants we now find smaller sites that are cleaner and more efficient and serve a single purpose instead of many. Dubbed “single-serving websites”, they have gained serious momentum in the past few years, and with good reason: they’re easy to explain to people, (“Just go to ‘IsCaliforniaOnFire.com’ to find out if there’s any wildfires in CA right now.”), and therefore easy to share. They aren’t trying to be everything to everyone and compete with the giants. While some are gimmicky and subnormal, many are very easy to use, exist to serve a clear purpose, and do what they do quite well.

safeshare1

Among this new breed of single-serving website, you’ll find SafeShare.tv standing on firm ground. The purpose of SafeShare.tv is to take a YouTube video link and provide a family-friendly link. How is this link family-friendly you may ask? It pulls out the links to related videos which may be non family friendly, which display after the initial video completes. YouTube already offers offensive video filtering, but it’s not very good. SafeShare.tv is probably most useful to educators or parents who want to share a YouTube link with kids. If in the event they choose to exercise good supervision skills, SafeShare is there. Shielding young, innocent eyes from accidentally beholding the staggeringly strange world of furries. (Which should be beheld on purpose, if at all).

The purpose of SafeShare.tv is simple, and using it is equally easy. You simply search YouTube until you find a video you want to share and then copy the link address from your address bar. Then, go to SafeShare.tv and input the link address in the box where it says “Enter the YouTube video link”. Then you press the big friendly button that says “Generate safe link”.  It emits a new safeshare link that you can then share with friends, family, or even complete strangers you meet online.

If you have any questions about what’s behind SafeShare.tv, or are suspicious of any ulterior motives, they’ve actually written an FAQ. I guess it’s better to over explain things than leave room for misinterpretation.

All joking aside, there is a pretty neat little function included in the SafeShare site, which is the ability to crop the video you’re linking. You can set a start and stop time for the video, so instead of showing a whole ten minutes clip of, say, Carl Sagan explaining how the cosmos were created, you can focus on just the part where he waxes on about apple pie. This feature works well and serves as an alternate reason to use this site, for those who aren’t into the whole family-friendly thing.

The two features SafeShare doesn’t have that I wish it did are the ability to embed SafeShare videos within a website and to manually set the start and stop times. If SafeShare videos could be embeded, we would have featured it right here for all the world to see. The other feature I’d like is related to how you set the start/stop times of a video when you’re showing just a portion of it. It makes you play the video and press the buttons when you’d like to start and stop it. That’s fine, but I’d also like to be able to type in the start and stop times, or manually adjust them later. This can be done by editing the URL directly, but most non web developers won’t think to do this.

As more single-serving sites pop up every day, they’ll be divided into three categories: sites that are useful and well-designed (NearbyTweets.com, Stopwat.ch, DownForEveryoneOrJustMe.com, WhatTimeIsItThere.info), sites that are purely for the purpose of entertainment (HowManyPeopleAreInSpaceRightNow.com, LetMeGoogleThatForYou.com), and sites that are downright goofy but might be worth a slight chuckle (r33b.net, InstantRimshot.com, HowIsBabbyFormed.com). SafeShare.tv is straightforward, solves what I imagine is a real annoyance for some people, and sits firmly in the useful category. They should feel pretty good about that.

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StudyLance: Tutors at your Fingertips

Just the other day I was talking to a friend of mine, who at the ripe-old age of 33, went back to school.She hates it.Talking to her about it, I hated it too.I felt queasy, nervous.I had flashbacks.

Imagine getting up at 6:30 – in the wintery cold of New Jersey, no less! – to get lectured on things that wise old sages like us know are completely silly and inapplicable to real-world living?

Well, what if the act of learning this “useless and pointless knowledge” (to quote the wisest sage of them all) could somehow be less torturous?Less degrading?Less…shame-inducing?(OK, I never liked school; I’m “projecting,” as Freud would say.Or was it Jung?Whatever.)

Enter StudyLance.com

studylance_logo4-300x68

StudyLance is a Web site that connects students with tutors.Here’s the process in a nutshell:

  1. Student can ask a question and offers up how much they’re willing to pay for an answer.They must pay least £.50 (that’s 79 cents for you freedom loving Americans.)
  2. All tutors view the question and then submit answers.
  3. Students will see a preview of the answer and pay the tutor to see the full answer.
  4. Once a student pays a tutor for help, they may rate the tutor.

Registration is free and tutors can haggle the students over the offering price.Students get answers; tutors get paid, learning ensues, everyone wins. So, as a former student, I loaded the site, dusted off my Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt, cracked open a warm Natty Light, and dove into this site with the naïve optimism of my former late-90s college self.After that, I grew up, bought a collared shirt, ordered a grande mocha latte, put on a beret and assumed the role of would-be tutor.Here’s what happened:


The Student Experience

Kids grow up so fast these days, it’s hard to tell if and how they’d use a site like StudyLance.But after hitting the landing page, it invited me to ask a question, which pulled me in right away.I was encouraged. So I typed in “What’s 2 + 2?” I wrote.The response was:“Your question isn’t long enough, it needs to be at least 20 characters!” I found this a little bit strange, since some questions will, inevitably, be short, like “Is there a God?” So instead, I wrote “What’s the square root of 81?”It was sufficiently long, and the site prompted me to specify my question by selecting choices from some drop-down fields, such as Subject (Mathematics) and Topic (General Math was the only option.) [FYI: Beer Pong is not a listed Subject.Bummer.]


Another drop-down box was “Level.”Options included “Undergraduate” and “Post-Graduate.”There were two levels I didn’t understand: GCSE and A-Level.Admittedly, I could have used some guidance there.(Since the site’s pricing is in pounds, I figured they were strange British slang terms, like bangers and mash.) I was particularly keen on the deadline option – it allows you to enter the date in which you need the answer by.The page also allows you to upload attachments to provide greater context for the tutor.Nice touch. I tried to post a question, but then balked at registering.When I hit cancel, I was taken to a strange broken page.So I registered.And here’s what happened next:

When I registered as a student, and was prompted to select my Country. I had only seven to choose from; all of which, conspiratorially speaking, are/were in the British Empire, where the sun never sets. It would be helpful to expand these options.

  • Being in the US, I selected that; and next, when prompted to choose my State/Area, the only options were Boston, New York, and Texas.
  • Below that, I was prompted to enter the name of my School.Instead, it said, “School School” (a typo.) And, though I selected “Undergraduate” as my level of schooling, there were no selections in the drop-down box.Rather than producing a drop-down box of all 245,243 US schools, it would be easier to type it in.

After receiving my Activation email, I went to my profile.My choices for State/Area and School were still limited, though I was able to ask tutors questions, view the history of all my questions asked, and manage payments from one page. So, my profile set up, I then reflected on my question (“What is the square root of 81?), and by extension, the ethical considerations of StudyLance’s model.Namely, the elephant in the room: cheating. It was then that I thought about what the Strange Hippie Berkeley gal said….


What the Strange Hippie Berkeley Gal Said

A year or so ago, I was at a party talking to a Strange Hippie Berkeley gal (shocking, isn’t it?)My bike was stolen, and I was bummed.And she said something very telling: “You can only control what you do; but you can’t control other people’s behavior.” This idea applies to StudyLance in the sense that some students will want to have their homework done for them.(If no one’s ever seen similar ads on CraigsList, the brazenness of these rug rats is shocking!)


StudyLance addresses this explicitly in their FAQ page, asking, “Can I use Studylance to find people to write essays for me?”The answer, of course, is no:“Any student that asks for full essays will have the question deleted. If you see a question asking for a full essay, please use the ‘Report Student’ button. Studylance is about finding tutors to help you understand your coursework, not for cheating.” Yet, I had to ask, what about non-essay, black-and-white math questions?


To test my theory, I took a cursory glance of previously posted questions.One question was “Simplify: (4(x^3) + 2(x^2) – 8x) ÷ 2x.”The poster also had the audacity to note, “Show the work, please. Thank you!” The nerve of these kids.When I was their age, I walked 23 miles through the snow to answer that question and show the work. Which brings me back to what the Strange Hippie Berkeley girl said. StudyLance can create a cool collaborative environment complemented by self-policing mechanisms to monitor questions, but ultimately, it cannot control the actions and intentions of the students. Yet that’s precisely the beauty of StudyLance and other sites like EBay, Amazon, Craigslist, where user misbehavior is a necessary fact of life.It’s the free market in action.And we here at SlapStart will be curious to see how it plays out as StudyLance continues to grow.


The Tutor Experience

So the possibilities that StudyLance presents to would-be tutors are irresistible: who wouldn’t want to make an extra couple hundred bucks a month answering easy questions?Even moreso than the student experience, this aspect of StudyLance was most intriguing to me. So, six unsatisfying Natty Lights later, I clicked on Register, and effortlessly assumed my tutor persona.Here’s how it went down:

  • The Register page for Tutors is similar to that of the Students mentioned above in that it asks for Education Level and Country.For the latter, the choices are more expansive than the Student page, listing pretty much every country ever (even Vatican City!)That’s good.
  • The page also allowed me to enter my Qualifications, which is a great way to differentiate me from my would-be competitors.
  • Upon receiving my Activation e-mail, I was immediately prompted to check out all posted questions.I could also sort by Category and sub-Category, which was very helpful.
  • Feeling a bit more masochistic than normal, I chose Mathematics: General Math and the question, “How many of each color of shirt were sold?”I was taken to a page with a more in-depth question – and the four multiple choice answers posted below – and instantly became nauseous.Never a big fan of math (though I love me some shirts.)But there was the question, and the four answers to choose from.
  • As the tutor, I had three options: 1) Answer Question/Make Bid; 2) Ask Student a Question; and 3) Report Student.By clicking all three, free-text boxes appear where tutors can enter whatever feedback they’d like.Interestingly, for the “Answer Question” option, tutors may also enter Attachments to show the work, if necessary.

So after my little role-play with the aforementioned question, my hunch was validated: students can have their homework done for them.Especially if a few cash-strapped tutors are having trouble making rent.And that’s fine. That said, I also considered the feasibility of actually making serious money.Most asking prices per question ranged from $1-3.If the bidding process doesn’t work its magic, I as a tutor, would have to answer – ummm….well, it feels like a lot of questions. (Never a big fan of math.)

Tutor Takeaways

My tutor-persona experience from a usability perspective was positive.The process of answering questions was clean and efficient.As an additional bonus, each question has its own Discussion Board, a nice twist on the “free market” aspect of the site.It was then that I realized that these Discussion Boards would be a mechanism in which tutors can fight to the death if they come up with different answers to a student question. My only remaining concern from the tutoring perspective involved incentives.Namely, what if I, as the tutor, continue to post answers but get no student takers?I’d get bummed.But again, StudyLance has tools – specifically the “Ask Student a Question” option – that enables tutors to build a one-on-one relationship with students, which can only help.


Global Stuff

Sufficiently buzzed from my student and tutor experience, I’d also like to post some high-level global comments on the site:

  • The FAQ link at the top of the home page is dead. (It works on the bottom of the page.)This is also true for the Contact page.
  • News page is barren.I’d suggest throwing something, anything, up there.
  • When I click on the Tutors page, I’m not sure the logic behind their ordering. I feel it would be best if it were by their rating.I’d also like to be able to sort them by Category.

I have nothing against the Brits.After all, they gave us the Spice Girls. That said, I wouldn’t mind the currency being in dollars too.

  • When browsing topics by Question, certain Categories and Sub-Categories are more robust than others. Art, for example, has seven Sub-Categories, including Color Theory and Costume Design, while Mathematics has only one – General Math, which is strange since most questions thus far seem to be Math-related.
  • On the home page, it summarizes the process as: 1) Type your question, 2) Decide the price, 3) Choose the best answer.But if I, the student, don’t know the answer, how can I “choose” the best answer, especially if different answers are posted?Rather, Step 3 could read, “Review answers provided by expert tutors.”

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Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Power of Anonymity, and StudyLance

If I may end on one last college-related theme, I’d like to give a shout to my homie, the 19th century American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nate fervently believed that “unpardonable sin” is committed when one breaks away from the “magnetic chain of humanity.”In other words: it’s really, really bad to check out from society and become disconnected to your fellow man.


We’d like to think that when we’re on Facebook or Twitter, we’re doing the opposite – we’re connecting with distant loved ones in a meaningful way.Yet at the same time, these new tools also empower people to be anonymous, faceless and distant, never having to leave their room. Whether you feel that this is a good or bad thing, this power of anonymity is real and powerful.And it can really work to StudyLance’s advantage. Most students, as I imagine, may be willing to visit or e-mail their teacher a handful of times for tips, but on an ongoing basis, it can become too time-intensive.Some may feel self-conscious asking “stupid” questions over and over in class (remember kids: no such thing as a stupid questions!)Others simply feel more comfortable communicating over the Internet than picking up the phone, as anyone who’d rather e-mail their parents can attest. In the therapy world we call this “fear of intimacy.” In StudyLance-world we call this, a “cool, convenient way to ask questions and get quick, useful guidance without feeling dumb or having to walk across campus in the winter.”


And as I noted above, the site’s tools, such “Ask Student a Question,” puts the ball in the tutor’s court, incentivizing them to build strong relationships with students as anonymously as they’d like. My initial concerns about tutor incentives sufficiently minimized for now, I encourage StudyLance to work out the navigational kinks, expand its breadth of drop-down selections for registering students, and drill a bit deeper on the question Categories.In doing so, they’ll create a more streamlined, user-friendly environment that – cliche alert – enriches students (intellectually) and tutors (financially) alike.

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Kevutu: What Do You Want?

The Buddha said that life is full of suffering, that suffering is caused by desire, and if you eliminate desire you eliminate suffering. The way to eliminate suffering is by learning how to let go of desire and attachment and, eventually, after many lifetimes of discipline and meditation, the soul attains enlightenment.

Most of us, including myself, instead choose to live in that never-ending cycle of desire and wanting: we want, we seek, we get. Or, more often than not: we want, we can’t have, we cope. It’s practically the human race’s mantra: What do you want? We ask this of ourselves nearly every waking moment. Other people ask us this question as well. And now, a Canadian-based Web 2.0 site dubbed Kevutu (www.kevutu.com) wants to ask you, too.

kevutu_main

Like many social networking sites, Kevutu begins by prompting users to answer a seemingly simple inquiry. Kevutu (French for “What do you want?”) is free, well-designed, and boasts a friendly and intuitive interface. After a quick sign-up, members can peruse other peoples’ Wants, add a photo and information to their profile, and begin cataloging and sharing Wants of their own.

When creating a Want, you can add pictures of the object, person, or idea of your desire, assign it a category, a priority (low, medium, or high), and a deadline. Do you know what it takes to get what you want? If so, you can post the steps you’re going to take to get it and then check them off as you accomplish them. Finally got what you wanted or, alternately, have you come to grips with reality? The conclusion tab lets you tell everyone you’ve “acquired it” or “cancel it”.

The real heart of Kevutu is the community built around people who want the same thing. You can search for people in your own area or perhaps find a kindred spirit on the other side of the globe. You can add other users as friends or simply adopt their Wants as your own. You can share your Wants with as many or as few people as you’d like by toggling your Want’s visibility between Public, Friends, and Private. People can comment on your wants, offer advise on how to attain your goals

Will Kevutu lead to like-minded individuals teaming up to finally attain world peace? Probably not. Wants tend to be more whimsical (a pony, the ability to fly, a pony that flies) or materialistic (an iPhone, to drive a Hummer), than altruistically motivated. But this can change as more users begin expanding the community. Like all social networkingsites, future users will ultimately find the niche that Kevutu is best suited for.

Kevutu User

I should note that I felt some pressure when I made my initial post. After you type in the title of your Want, you’re taken to a page that says “You’ve got 5 minutes to change the title of this want.”And then the countdown begins. Suddenly, doubt set in. Is it a true desire or just a passing fancy? Should I be more serious? What will people think of me? In my opinion, the timer is a bit superfluous. If you change your mind, you can always delete your Want and make another.

A feature that I think would be handy to have would be the ability to moderate the comments that other users leave on your Wants. Sometimes people don’t want to help you attain your goals. Sometimes they want to mock you mercilessly and anonymously over the internet instead. I know, it’s shocking.

There’s one presentation quirk that threw me for a minor loop. As mentioned, the Want status can be updated to canceled or acquired. The Wants page lists a series of wants and their current status. The status is displayed directly to the the right of the user name. So on the page it reads, “User name canceled one month ago.” It appears the user has canceled their account, as opposed to the want being canceled. Minor adjustments to layout, font, and color could make it apparent that the Want has been canceled, as opposed to the user account.

I like a website that cuts to the heart of human nature and Kevutu does just that. As human beings, we’re defined by our desires: they are what shape us, give us hope, and provide something to cling to in our darkest hours. The nice thing about Kevutu is that it not only is a place for me to keep a list of goals, but it also enables me to find like-minded individuals with which to share them. Whether it’s a desire for a new bass guitar, peace on earth, or a winged steed.

Kevutu has rescinded its site from the internet. Now it wanders the lonely desert in search of inner enlightenment.

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Tweecha: To Get a Following

Since the inception of the web it has been a medium for conveying information. At first it was the realm of uber geeks with their usenet connections and pocket protectors. Then businesses joined in, speeding up transactions and reaching global markets. Lastly, the rest of the party came- you, me, and everyone else. A whole market rose up of people connecting with each other over the internet. All sharing their innermost thoughts, or just random tidbits about the day. The desire to hear or be heard, to know or be known, has been a staple in the world of web.

One of the most sought after places to gain attention in recent times has been Twitter. In limited 140 character blurbs you can let all your followers know the answer to a very simple question, “What are you doing?” Friends use this to keep everyone up to date with their comings and goings. Businesses have embraced it as an easy to use mailing list. For those seeking a broader audience the question becomes, how do you gain followers? Certainly sending out invites to friends and business associates is a good place to start. Placing links to your Twitter profile page in highly trafficked sites will also bring in some guests. They can be added one by one if you search for various commonalities. In this case you follow someone in the hopes they will follow you. Once the initial network of connections is exhausted, gaining followers on Twitter can be a time consuming process.

Follow me on Twitter
Follow SlapStart on Twitter!

Tweecha is a service that assists with just that- gathering more followers for your flock. They provide a very simple product offering. Select one of eight packages, pay via paypal, fill out a brief questionnaire, and then watch your followers come in. The packages are from 500 followers to a clean 100,000 and are priced from $25 to $3000.

The only significant fields in the questionnaire are to list keywords that identify your business and the url that they’re targeting. So if you’re a Nigerian scammer you’d put, easy money, Bill Gates, and help now, with a link to an “official” website. Once you sign up it gives you a confirmation email with the instructions that it’s OK to tweet, but not to follow or unfollow anyone until the process is over.

My experience with Tweecha is that it seems to have worked just fine. I noticed an immediate uptick in hits as a result of more people visiting my Twitter profile page. I went from having 144 followers to 416 in a day. By the end of the week I was pushing 700. Fortunately I had turned off all email notifications as I don’t really need a couple hundred emails. It would have provided a nice demonstration of what it’s like to be famous, but once that wore off I’d just delete them. Probably much like a famous person would.

The site itself is clean, and well done. I made the following observations with their service.

  • When entering data it uses the word keyword. I know that within industry keyword means both single words and phrases. For instance both “happy” and “happy days” are considered single keywords. Most of the world considers a keyword a single word. The questionnaire could be a little more clear and say “Keywords or Key Phrases”, and include example using both one and two word entries.
  • After submitting the questionnaire, I was redirected to a page that says, “Thank you for filling out our new client registration. We will begin your porject shortly.” Minor typo!
  • Thank you email has a typo as well. “Feel free to tweet as often as you like.  In know way do we want to limit you from continue to communicate with your friends and followers.” I’m a phonetic mispeller as well. We know what you mean, and that you know how to use proper grammar. This just needs to be fixed.
  • The thank you email also conveys a little more info about how the service works, in that they’ll follow a large number of people in order to gain followers for you. It also indicates that if you have a problem with this then you can stop the process and they’ll reset the account to where it was. BUT, they can’t guarantee that the followers that remain won’t abandon you for good. This information might have been posted in the FAQ as opposed to the email I receive after I’ve already signed up. It also sets off more flags than was really necessary, as I found out later.

Following more people than those that follow you affects the way people perceive you. If everyone follows you because they like you it makes you look cool. If you’re following everyone and only have a few that choose to follow, it basically makes you look like a loser, a groveler, or let’s just say it, a moron. I’ve long since given up on trying to convince anyone that I’m none of those, so I didn’t really worry about it. I will say though, if someone follows me the first thing I check is their following to followers ratio. If it’s way out of whack then I don’t follow them back.

The final email allayed my fears that I would be following too many people per capita followers. It says that the service was complete, but over the next 48 hours they’ll be cleaning out my uninterested followers. I noticed in the middle of the service my following to follower ratio was about 2:1. Now it’s approaching a healthy 1:1.

Follow Tweecha!
Follow Tweecha!

The only real problem I had with the service was getting myself over the mental hurdle of giving away my Twitter login information. In my search for some reassurance to comfort my disquieted soul I clicked on the testimonials page. It merely increased my terror levels as I was presented with a form where I could offer my testimonial. They didn’t list one testimonial at all. The FAQ was a lot more helpful where I learned a little more about their service and that Tweecha follows all the guidelines in Twitter’s TOS.

The other issue was with the final email that indicated the service was complete. It said they’re done, but still working for 48 hours cleaning up people I’m following who did not reciprocate.  It’s unclear whether I can start following and unfollowing people or if I should wait two days before resuming my account. Will I get another email signing off from my acccount or will they just fade away? When is it OK to change my password again? What I think is that Tweecha needs three emails.

  1. Thank you for signing up for Tweecha, feel free to Tweet, don’t follow/unfollow during this time. And that there will be a rise in the amount of followers during the process, which will be cleaned up at the end.
  2. Congratulations Tweecha has attained 500 followers per your Tweecha 500 plan. Now we’re in the process of cleaning up the uninterested followers, which takes approximately 48 hours. We’ll notify you when we’re done. In the meantime you can/can’t follow or unfollow other users. (As of right now I don’t know what I can or can’t do.)
  3. Congratulations! Your Tweecha 500 service is complete. We recommend you change your password. Enjoying your Tweeting.

If they’d like they could skip the second email and just have a start, and a finish email. The issue I have is that I received a closing email but the account isn’t completely mine yet. I’d like to change my password as soon as they’re done but think I’ll have to wait 2 days, (3-4 just to be safe).

My public testimonial for Tweecha is that it’s a great way for businesses to gather more followers on Twitter. For the low price of $25 it’s an easy way to increase the amount of traffic to your site. The only downside is the somewhat indiscriminate collection of followers and people you’ll end up following. The chances of finding anything interesting in my Twitter account are fairly low, since it’s filled with all sorts of businesses and other curious individuals. I did find this one inspirational piece of advice.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” Og Mandino

For me, it’s already raised my traffic and significantly increased my ability to let people know of news or new posts. It’s kind of fun to have a following and know that I can Tweet myself to some easy hits.

Our browser is reporting Tweecha as an attack page that is known to steal user’s personal information. Hence, we removed all links to it. We leave the article here for posterity or until the issue can be clarified.

Sponsored

Chit Chat: Instant Messenger for Facebook

It took me a while to sign up for Facebook. Amid concerns about their Terms of Service, I figured it’d be just as well to avoid it. Finally I broke down due to an anomalous influx of extremely attractive women asking me to join. Actually it had less to do with any such perceived excess of women. I wanted to stay in touch with friends since I moved to the middle of nowhere for a couple months.

As it turns out, Facebook quickly become a mainstay in my life. It’s a great way to stay in touch with old friends as well as connect with new. Sure it has its pitfalls, such as whether you should add coworkers or not, or family members. Sometimes you don’t want people nosing into your personal life. All that aside, it’s great. I got in touch with an old coach from High School coach recently. Whenever I meet someone new I almost immediately add them as a friend.

There’s one feature to Facebook that I turned off after one usage- the chat utility. I tried chatting, but it’s a weak substitute for my preferred chat interface, Yahoo Messenger. What I like about Yahoo Instant Messenger is being able manage my chat sessions. Having full control of the windows which I can resize as much as I like. It’s great. Facebook’s chat has a small little window with even smaller font size. It’s modestly functional in a half hearted sort of way. That’s where Chit Chat for Facebook comes in. They built a standalone application to heal my Facebook chatting woes.

Finally Chatting with Facebook Friends

And so I embarked on a quest to fill the void left by Facebook’s meager chat feature. Nervously I downloaded the Chit Chat for Facebook instant messenger. I succeeded in installing it and fired it up for the first time. Briefly I entered some painfully awkward demographic information which I’m sure they passed along to various government agencies. I entered my login info with my freshly changed password. And just like that, I was chatting with my Facebook friends in style.

The chatting itself was fairly predictable, though it was slightly different than the chat applications I’m used to. It gives you one chat window with tabs for each person you’re talking with. I always love it when a company comes out with a slightly new concept. The status bar shows you when someone is in the process of sending you a message. There’s a color coded circle by each person’s name. Green indicates they’re online, red is offline and yellow means you have a message waiting. When people come on or offline there’s a message on the bottom right of the screen notifying you of the event. I have to say, finding a useful Facebook Messenger made chatting with my friends actually fun. It was easy to keep up with multiple chat sessions, and for the first time I felt like I was connecting with them. Writing on people’s walls or sending messages can never replace a good quality chat.

I have some observations about the product as a whole. Firstly, I think it’s high time someone built this. Logging into Facebook can be hazardous. Before you know it a few hours can go by. I have friends addicted to various micro ‘games’ within it. I put quotes around games since, the one that I tried, Mafia Wars, creates this fake world where you have money or credits or something. If you run out then you need to be blasted by a bevy of advertisements in order to get it going again. I’m a big fan of various clever marketing schemes, but this one is just lame. I recall that if I signed up for an Adult Dating website I could carry on with the Mafia Wars thing. It’s the least subtle marketing tactic ever, not to mention there’s absolutely no correlation between Mafia Wars and any of the advertisements.

Sometimes it might be nice to chat with the people in your life without being distracted by everything else on Facebook. Chit Chat’s new Facebook Messenger does that. Despite coming out with a great tool, I have a few observations about things that might be improved. The most bothersome is the blatant attempt to extract demographic information from me. I’m all for using a new product, but requiring me to enter superfluous personal info straight out the gate is a little much. I much prefer if it’s optional. The prompt could also say something like, “To help us better meet your needs please provide the following information.” Requesting too much info too fast is like getting too close and personal with someone on a date. It can blow the whole thing out of the water.

I did encounter a few anomalies that could be worked through with chatting itself. Bear in mind the product is still in the RC stage. These are listed as follows:

  • When people come online or offline the notification window causes my typing in the chat window to hiccup. This could be smoothed out a bit so it doesn’t interfere with the chatting.
  • If my status is offline in Facebook, then all my friends will be offline within Chit Chat’s interface.
  • Apparently Facebook’s chat server is known for having brief disruptions to their service. I hit one of these and was booted from Chit Chat straight away. Yahoo Instant Messenger handles connectivity issues by attempting to reconnect for a period of time before giving up. I’d like to see Chit Chat do the same.
  • Emoticons aren’t currently working. Fortunately I was able to find the complete list of Facebook emoticons in the event Chit Chat elects to implement them.
  • My window resizing efforts were limited to the default size and the whole screen. It doesn’t let you resize it by dragging the corner of the window.
  • Another quirk, though I might call it a blessing, is that it logs you out of Facebook when you’re logged into chat. Facebook only allows one connection per account at a time.
  • When I logged back into Facebook, all the chats that I had just finished were there. I just closed them, but it’s a minor peculiarity.

Chit Chat’s website could handle a few rearrangements as well. The front page has no less than six links to download the product. Some might call that overkill. They actually went so far as to booby trap the download navigation menu tab as a link to download the product as well. I think it’s safe to get rid of the download link within the navigation menu, and the text links as well. You see, I found this humongous Download button on the home page. Most people won’t miss it. One note about it though, it needs to be placed higher on the page.

Big Unmissable Download Button
Big Unmissable Facebook Chat Download Button

I also noticed that the Media Contact Enquiries is on the Info page. I propose it only be on the Contact page. Similarly, both the Contact and Info pages have the logo downloads. They seem to fit best on the Info page only. Along with that, only the first logo download is currently working. The other two are dead links. For those looking for another dead link, the help option within the client application has a nice one too.

One thing I love about early stage products are the strange oddities that come with them. My favorite with Facebook Chat is the Check for Updates option.  When you click on it it goes to a working web directory. Within that directory is a single file labeled version.htm. Upon opening this file it reveals the contents, “1.1.” Then I went back to the About menu selection within the chat client and it tells me I have 1.0. Apparently I need to upgrade, though it doesn’t quite work yet.

Like all applications the time may come for us to part and uninstall the product. My biggest pet peeve with software applications is faulty or non existent uninstall processes. Facebook Chat does fairly well, in that they removed all the files from Program Files. They did leave behind some registry residue though. I come from a Unix/Linux background and love the ability to completely clean a box of all traces of a product. I don’t know how feasible this is in Windows but to whatever degree possible, I’m all for it. No worries though. Secretly I fantasize about crashing my computer due to manual edits I make to the registry.

Chit Chat for Facebook is a great instant messaging tool for those looking for an alternative to Facebook’s chat utility. The interface is new and refreshing in that it keeps each chat session on a different tab. Smoothing out the online/offline notifications would be helpful as well as adding emoticon recognition. I’d also like a passive reconnect process rather than fail once and give up. All told, this is a great utility with a lot of potential. It allowed me to finally enjoy chatting with the many friends and family I’m connected to on Facebook.

SlapBack from ChitChat:

  • A skip button will be added to the demographic information request
  • Messaging will also be changed
  • Connection improvements are being developed
  • Emoticons are being added in the next build
  • Resizing is being fixed in the next build
  • Chat history will be better managed in the build after next
Zorap Room Sponsored

Zorap: Let’s Meet!

Every once in a while you have an experience that takes you to a new level. It may be because a hope is fulfilled, or a longing is brought to completion. Usually a close friend is involved or a romantic partner. Oftentimes there’s a favorite song that brings you back to these moments time and time again. Pictures of the memories stay with you for years.

I had a moment like this just the other day. It came in a way that can only happen to a web junkie. I found a website that was everything I hoped it would be. Zorap.

At first glance there’s nothing all that fancy about this site. It has a simple home page with some ramblings about getting a room. It was easy enough to enter someone else’s room, so I did. Upon entering my eyes were opened up to a whole new world of web. This was what I’d been looking for. I knew it had to exist somewhere but hadn’t quite found it yet. A place where I can share files, videos, links, pictures, webcam chats, phone chat and music with anyone I like. An extensive list of features and off the wall information can be found on this blog post.

Quickly I ran off to create my own room and drummed up a friend or two to join. It was great. We could talk freely on the web cam. I showed off a video I had made recently, and shared a few songs found on Imeem.  While I was at it I found my favorite viral video of all time, a parody of the Dove Evolution ad. And I did it all quickly and easily in my private room.

Welcome to Steve's Luxury Room.

Zorap does so many things well it’s a nuisance to bemoan any issues with the site. I’ll just gloss over them casually as I’m still star struck by coming face to screen with this near masterpiece. The most important suggestion I already mentioned, the home page. The text is small, the box displaying featured rooms is fairly unwelcoming. It looks like I may end up in some bland comment board or something. Its navigation is clumsy with small page numbers and no previous and next buttons. Each featured room has very little info about what’s in that room, and even the icons are too small to make out the details. I’m calling for a redo of the homepage. The two features that need to be better highlighted are the featured rooms and a preview or demo of how a room works. It currently leaves little trace of what a room is actually like and why people will like it. Somehow or another Zorap’s landing page needs to better reflect their product.

Once we join a room the real fun begins. On the left panel are sharing options. On the right is a roll call and chat utility, or settings panel depending on the current selection. Buttons line the top and user login/registration hides out on the bottom. The sharing options allow you to select what you’d like to show the room participants. If you’d like to share a song or video select the button, share the file, and it will play within the room.  Shared Youtube videos or Imeem songs work the same except you select them from a search function in a new browser rather than from the hard drive. Files that can be shared are various file types from Microsoft Office suite. These files are easily transferred to other people’s computers if they click on it.

Probably the least intuitive aspect of Zorap is how long each item continues to be displayed in the room. Music and Videos from the local drive are played once, and then automatically removed. Music and videos from the web are played once and then remain within the rooms until the person who shared them removes them. Photos whether from the hard drive or web are also viewable until the person who shared them removes them. All these can also be removed from individual views of the room as well. Files on the other hand remain in each person’s room until that individual removes it. So if you share a file, it’s out there for good. I’d like two changes here. I’d like the ability to play a local video or music file more than once. Also, the shared files should have an option to remove them from the room altogether, not just your own view.

A few of the sharing buttons could be more intuitive. I’m not sure everyone knows that Imeem is a great place to look for music videos. Perhaps placing a music note or treble clef in the icon would make it more clear. I am sure everyone knows what Google is but in this case it’s specific to Images. This needs to be visually clear based upon the icon as well. Another observation is the upper four sharing options all share local files, whereas the lower three share web content. There’s the opportunity to draw a visual distinction between these. Perhaps placing a bar between the two is sufficient. Beyond that I’ll defer to a graphic designer’s creativity.

When entering the room it prompts you for an audio/visual test to make sure the cam, speakers and mic are in working order. For those who aren’t registered or logged in it then automatically assigns an anonymous ID as they enter. This can be changed later, but the option to do so is on the bottom right of the screen. It’s not exactly the first place new users would look. Prompting anonymous users when they enter the room to introduce themselves, would reduce the number of anonymous ID’s.

Here’s a list of other observations about the site that could be tweaked a bit.

  • When customizing the room it gives you Done, Save and Cancel options. I know this is a common scheme but I’m an advocate of only having Done and Cancel. The Save option was also quirky when setting my profile pic.
  • Privacy options aren’t completely clear. I can both enter a password for the room and/or make it private. Private means the room won’t be a featured room, I think. Creating a room password means people who come to the room will be prompted to enter it. The current user base of Zorap is primarily French speakers. Until I figured out the distinction I had a number of French guys come by and say hello to my lady friend. They did seem nice enough though. It was kind of neat having people drop in and say hello.
  • I took the opportunity to test the Eject User functionality on one of the French guys (I suspect from Quebec, Canada actually). I accidentally ejected my friend instead since both had auto assigned user names. I couldn’t let her back in until I myself exited the room and started a new session. I guess that makes sense, since otherwise someone could keep pestering you. There was no other way to let her in though.
  • The Imeem search should show song writer and more album info. Currently it just has song title.
  • It would be helpful to share other file types, in particular PDF’s.
  • When sharing videos or audio files they have up and down arrows on the top left. It took me a bit to figure out that this was volume control. It’s slick looking but needs to look like volume control as well.
  • I expected the invite feature to have a send mail function. It just gives you a link to the room.
  • It gives me the option to allow my friend to be a moderator, but it didn’t work. I think it was because she was an anonymous user, but then it shouldn’t allow me to select that option.
  • When I changed the background it didn’t update my friend’s screen until she left and re-entered the room.
  • When you log in on the soon to be revamped Homepage, it doesn’t give you any indication that you’re logged in.
  • When I log in it should provide a link to my room so I don’t have to remember it or type it.
  • One of my favorite room management features is the pin and unpin functionality to move windows around. When windows are pinned you can place them anywhere. By default all the windows are unpinned to the screen and automatically moved around by Zorap. For the most part this is fine- even cool. Sometimes I want all windows pinned to the screen though. I’d like to have a Pin/Unpin All button, so I don’t have to pin each window separately.

Like all websites with a lot of promise there are features that could enhance the product and take it to the next level. I have two suggestions to do just that, one small, and one large. First, if I’m logged in then I’d like to retain a history of the web based links I’ve shared in the past. That way I don’t have to go searching for them again. Second, I’d like to embed this room wherever I want. Having the ability to place the Zorap room on one’s own webpage would be a giant leap forward. I could invite my friends to it, have my own personal webcam chat, share documents and everything else described above. I think it has the potential to catch on like wildfire.

Zorap is truly a find. The basic product offering and functionality of the site is implemented very well. The only real downside is the need to install an ActiveX or Fire Fox Plugin. There’s no way around this since it needs to access the local file system to interact with the files. The customizable look and feel of the room is great and sharing options are very useful. Zorap could be used for personal or business meetings. The Homepage needs some work to better introduce the services. These services portend to provide a new way to connect with people online. And so to Zorap and its French speaking clientele I bid thee, “Bon Voyage!”

SlapBack: Very valuable feedback. Thank you!

Without further adieu, here, let me respond to a few of your points.

First, with regard to the homepage.   The current Zorap homepage is intended to be a temporary placeholder.   Before we started integrating Zorap with social networks like Facebook and Ning, we needed a simple way of publicizing rooms – so we opted for a very simple chat-site style central directory.

Directories of this sort simply don’t scale – they result in user content issues and other undesirable community dynamics.  In the next few months, we will introduce some changes to the structure of zorap.com that will address these more fundamental issues.

I completely agree with your comments about a preview or demo of how a room works.  We will be making a video for our homepage that will graphically demonstrate the “Zorap experience”.

We could remove youtube and imeem content as soon as it’s done playing, but unfortunately, there is no simple way of detecting when the content is done playing.   When you share something on Zorap, and then you close the window that contains the ‘shared something’, the windows automatically close for all the viewers.   Hence, if you share a file on Zorap, and want to stop sharing it, just close the window.   And yes, I agree there is some non-intuitiveness here.

We are considering reworking the sharing bar so that we use colorized logo-buttons for content shared from the web.   YouTube for instance, would have the distinctive red/white/black color scheme.

Displaying a dialog box for “guest name” would be a fine way to address the anonymous user issue.   We’ve considered this several times, but never actually implemented it.   This same dialog box could have an option that would let the user log in to their own Zorap account first.   Again, however, this issue somewhat hinges on the organizational paradigm for zorap.com – which is going to change sooner or later.

I appreciate your bulleted list of recommendations, there are a lot of great suggestions in there.

Your critique wraps up with two interesting points.  The history list idea was actually on our roadmap – seasoned Zorap users would even tell you that we even had a non-operable history button available on the button bar.   However, we simply didn’t have the time to implement the feature, so the button went away.

Nonetheless, I agree that it would be a supercool feature.  I would even like the ability to look at other people’s history lists, and share from them.   Or, at a minimum, have all things that I’ve shared or witnessed be included in my history list.   That way, I can share that cool video that my buddy showed me at a later date.

Zorap embedded on a webpage?    We had an early implementation, but it wasn’t user friendly enough – of course, those problems can be dealt with.  Also, due to size constraints, we would need a way to have the embedded window “pop out” somehow so you can have more space for you, your friends and your shared stuff.

One other thing – there is a Zorap Facebook App.   We consider social networks to be the future venue for Zorap.
You can check it out at <removed>
And, we also have a Ning App.

Alas, this masterpiece didn’t survive the rigors of start-up-dom. We don’t know when it went offline, but we do know that while it existed it made the web a little bit brighter for all of us.