Andrew’s Review of www.webjam.com

Upon first visiting the webjam site, I see “Social Networks Made Easy.” That makes me wonder: What’s hard about social networks? I feel that the color scheme isn’t engaging and notice the bar at the top of the page because of its contrast—yet, it’s clearly geared towards people who have used the site before. I skip this for now, moving down the page.

You can’t help but notice the products on webjam.com’s homepage

Let’s see. There’s three different sections: free, premium, and branded. I wonder what those mean? Probably different levels of features for this product. Scanning down the page, I see “create your webjam,” which stands alone above a heading that reads: 5 reasons to use webjam. I read through the five reasons. Okay, so there are flexible and simple tools (that do what?), Multiple identities and groups (identities for whom? myself? why do I need another identity?), from small ideas to big projects (wait, what? what does that even mean?); clearly this section is raising more questions than it answers. Okay, so I’m going to go ahead and watch this video to get an idea of the product I’m looking at.

Watching the video makes it seem like webjam will help me create my own homepage, portfolio, blog, social network, organization page, and more. The video goes on to demonstrate interactions such as drag-and-drop interfaces and popup editing. While these features make sense to me as an advanced user of the web, I have my reservations about how simple this starts to look to a layman using the site. I just don’t know where all of my stuff would go. Indeed, now I know that if I want to create any kind of online presence, webjam would be the tool for me. But this makes me begin to question myself: what kind of presence(s) do I want online?

The problem is that at first blush, webjam.com has made me ask more questions than it has answered. I have no idea of what kind of page and/or site it will enable me to create because it’s simply too broad. I’m a bit hesitant to jump in, because of the anxiety of picking from this plethora of options.

Learning more about the product

I decide to look around the marketing material to get a better idea of what I’m getting into. I scroll up to the “free” section at the top of the page and click “learn more.” I see a page that says “your own customisable network”:

A page detailing the free offering on webjam.com

On the right, there are plenty of features to be seen. The page looks something like a myspace/facebook profile, complete with blog, photo, and polling applications. I read through the copy on the left and try and make sense of the copy. It seems that there is multiple page navigation. Because I’m familiar with wordpress, I immediately understand the appeal of page navigation.

Next, I see Forums and discussions (module); indeed, all of the remaining offerings on the page have the word “module” after them. What does that mean? I imagine that it means I can pick and choose what goes onto my page— but the site never says that.

The next thing I do is see what I’m missing out on. The free offering of the site looks completely managable. Maybe this site won’t overwhelm me after all. I go ahead anc click on premium at the top. I’m schocked to find such a different layout. Because the levels of the product looks similar on the front page of the site, I’m assuming that the marketing for the levels will look similar as I drill donw. But that’s certainly not the case.

Scrolling down the page, I do find things that are similar, not the feature set of the free version is nowhere to be found. I’m assuming that the premium version of webjam builds upon the basic version, but that’s not communicated in a way that’s straightforward to me. I guess what I’m looking for is a chart, similar to the one used for 37Signal’s Basecamp:

By “comparing apples to apples,” 37Signals helps me make an easy decision when choosing between plans.

I would tell you how I visited the “Branded Services” part of the website and had similar questions, but I’ll save you the trouble. Suffice it to say that I’m left feeling like the free version of the product is the most feature rich, and that the premium and branded versions of the service are giving me things like namespaces and other features that I don’t need.

The bottom of the branded services provides this graphic, which confirms some of my assumptions about the various versions of the product, but without any kind of specificity. Combine this with the fact that the graphic is simply too large to prove the point it’s trying to make and that the label for “community network” is cut off, and I’m left with a less-than-favorable impression of the company’s offering.

A graphic detailing the overlapping feature sets of webjam.com’s services

After skipping through the Features and Pricing page, I eventually find the chart that I desired so many screens ago; and it’s great. This simple chart allows me to easily see what I’m getting and how it stacks up against the other versions. I just wish it didn’t take so long to cut to the chase.

A simple chart comparing the services offered by webjam.com

Look ma, I’m a Webjammer!

Since I’m on the pricing page, I immediately click the “sign up.” The resulting dialog is friendly enough. There’s some step navigation at the top, with the familiar “x” button on the right. At the bottom there’s a “register and proceed” button. I’m excited to fill in my details and move along.

The signup form on webjam.com

Next, I’m asked to give my webjam a atitle and a url. This is fairly exciting. I choose what I normally default to, “Andrew Maier,” and hope to snag the url: webjam.com/andrewmaier. Unfortunately, it’s already in use (though, in hindsight, I’m assuming because that’s where my profile defaults to, more on that later). I end up going with www.webjam.com/andrewmaier_uxbooth.

The resulting screen is pretty daunting. I see two tabs on the left, links across the top, different colored tabs with arrows point ot them, as well as what appears to be a whole different site below.

The resulting navigation after I create my first (second?) webjam.

Lacking a place to truly get started, I read the copy on the left. It looks like I can change my settings, add modules, and customize my webjam’s styles. So, what do I want to do first? Well, I’d like to see my site. I go to “view site” and click “public view.” I wait for a bit. Nothing happens. Okay, how about members view? AGain, nothing. Editor view? Nada mucho. It seems as though this is how the site looks to everyone, admins, members, and the public. Or the links are broken. Either way, it’s frustrating that my first interaction with the site didn’t do anything.

I decide to scan down the page and look at my webjam. Not too shabby. This is my bulletin board, these are my advertisements (not that I had a choice in the matter), here’s my profile. Hmm, there’s a placeholder photo next to my name. How would I change that? I click on the photo. I’m delighted to see a a popup window that has a link “edit profile information.”

Editing your profile is a breeze using this well-formatted popup.

Clicking on this opens a true popup window. It’s a bit disorienting to have a popup as well as a modal box above the website I was viewing, but this popup does allow me to change just about everything I can think of in relation to my profile. Swanky.

Customizing my Webjam

Okay, I feel like I’ve given myself a respectable default profile and I’m ready to get my webjam up and running. I scroll to the top of the page and look over the options available to me. It looks like the easiest way to add content to this page owuld be to add modules to it. I click on the “video tutorial” link below the modules tab and watch the tutorial inside of a modal popup.

The instructional video that’s presented here, like most of what I’ve seen of webjam so far, has a lot going on. There is no clear page hierarchy on most of the pages of this site, so it makes it very difficult to navigate. This is exacerbated by the fact that the video shrinks the site and does nothing in the way of highlighting the cursor or the desired actions. Below the video, text instructions appear to describe what’s going on above. This is unfortunate because of people’s tendencies to selectively focus on displays. You see, because the text appears below the video, I’m quickly and absently scanning back and forth between the video and the text, and in the end I’ll likely remember neither.

Okay, so the video did show something interesting: adding flickr photos to your page. Since I’m an active user on flickr, I think streaming my photos to my webjam would be pretty cool. I follow what the video told me and within moments, I have my photos on my page. Awesome.

After this, I decide to look over the options above the module. There’s an “add,” “edit,” and “x” link adove the module, as well as a green button. I still can’t figure out what that means! Wondering what the “add” link does, I click it.

Next, I’m asked if I want to add this module to any of my webjams. Well, yes, it’s already on my webjam. But what’s interesting is that I can choose to add it to my profile. Apparently, I already have two webjams under my control. One is implicit (my profile) and one is explicit. I find this very confusing. I know that bits of content throughout my sites should be sharable, but if I’m presently editing one of my webjam pages, I find it hard to wrap my head around sending content to the other page. In fact, where would it even go?

Adding a Blog

I scan down my page and find the blog widget. I decide to click “add a post” and see how I would go about using the blog here. The layout on the modal window reminds me of a simple version of WordPress publish page. No tags, no categories, etc. It looks like for the layman, creating and editing a post would be a snap. Bravo!

After publishing my post, there’s a window that asks me if I want to share my post with my friends. Awesome. This is a great way to introduce my friends to my webjam. I decide to invite the rest of the UX Panel to my webjam so they witness my glory.

Before they arrive, I’d like to move the blog module to another part of the page, but I can’t seem to figure out how to do so. I see the “move” curor when I hover over the the widget itself, but I after clicking it just stays put. Bummer.

Next, I try and go to my “blog” page. In the links that appear at the top of my webjam beneath the admin header but above the module section, there’s a link/tab that says “Blog,” but clicking this doesn’t show what I would expect. My recent blog entry is no where to be found. I begin the hunt. Under “Write new post?” No. Under my “modules?” Nope. Any way to import? None to be found. This is essentially a non-starter for me, then. If I can’t source content from one of my pages to another one, I simply cannot manage my site the way I want.

My Profile

Upon signing out and signing back into the site, I am presented with an interesting page. There are plenty of options to choose from, including two search fields. What’s cool about this page is the “Activity” area, that lets me (theretically) just look at the activity of my friend’s webjams. This would be a big plus to using this service, receiving updates from my friend’s ‘jams.

Scanning the page, I see tons of links. I decide to click on “Activity” at the top and I’m presented with the same activity feed I just saw, but this time inside of a modal window. Why?

This popup shows me what was on the page it just obscured.

Conclusion

Overall, webjam.com is a loosely engaging service that perplexes me more than anything. While I immediately see the appeal of this kind of website, I find it extremely discouraging to use and difficult to navigate. During the course of my review, I was continually intimidated by the amount of options available to me as a webjam user.

I most definitely see the appeal in such a site, however. It’s just that at first glance, I evaluate the service and run through site’s that I’ve seen with a similar feature set. I ask myself: will I be able to invite my friends? and why wouldn’t I use a service like Facebook Pages to host my group’s site?

Using a combination of my personal blog, my meetup.com profile and my Facebook page, I’ve had great success engaging with a community of people. Why this? Why now? I cannot look into the service without weighing the costs but in the marketing pages it’s clearly not compared to any of the other popular offerings. This feels a bit deceptive. Comparing webjam with another service, such as myspace, helps users form a mental model with what’s going on. They’re not just building a profile, they’re building a social network, like myspace.

While poking around my personalized social entwork, the navigation was ambiguous and downright confusing. I frequently stopped to do things like answer an IM or check my email and when I returned to the site I had no idea what was going on. Look over the screenshot below and try and make sense of all of the options present— 4 levels of tab navigation, buttons, links, popups and more. It’s enough to drive a casual user insane.

The number of elements screaming for attention is overwhelming.

Suggestions

  • Establish a clear hierarchy — One of the most effective principles of graphic design involves establishing a hierarchy on the page. I found it exceedingly difficult to wrap my head around what the site does and how it does it. After I created a webjam I found it difficult to distinguish headings from navigation from content.
  • Simplify the Interface — Many users are only focusing on one thing at a time. In some of the most extreme cases, the webjam platform offered me 4 levels of navigation and up to 25 action-buttons on one page. I would say the the 37Signals approach to functionality. Only offer it on hover. Next, consider offering a side-panel or popup that lets you edit the page you’re viewing, instead of placing that functionality at the top; or perhaps something with fixed position. It’s very difficult to parse a webjam in admin mode.
  • Follow Conventions — The default styles on the page leave something to be desired. When dealing with large amounts of information users will look for things that are familiar to ground them: I suggest a consistent use of color throughout the site as well as following conventions such as underlining links.
  • Use Modals only where Necessary — Webjam.com makes extensive use of modal dialog windows. While this is sometimes appealing, I quickly lose track of where I was when I return to the page I was on. If there is no reason to keep the current page open (ie: I won’t lose any unsaved work) then it’s actually advantageous to shift my mind
  • Form Mental Models — If a user is creating a profile, liken this to their Facebook profile. If a user is creating a blog, you may want to allude to blogger or WordPress. The point is this: when users are interacting with your site, they’re trying to form mental models of what’s going on. If your users can get a “big picture” easier it makes them feel much more in control of what’s going on.

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