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webjam.com is a site with a daunting feature set that aims to make the process of creating and managing your personal social network easy and fun. The service aims to help anyone create a network, from churches and business to that popular girl in high school. How does it stack up in terms of usability? Read on to find out!
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.
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.
My first impression of WebJam.com is that the site is compartmentalized to a degree and I’m not entirely sure where my eye is supposed to go. I feel like I should be looking at the colored boxes, but I need to read the text to the left of them in order to understand what they are actually talking about.
As I look at WebJam for the first time I notice one thing right away. The title of the website says ‘WebJam homepage’. Oh no, this is the first thing that a user commonly looks to for a description of what the website is! As I carry on I find that my eye is drawn to a blurb describing what the site does. This is a slight recovery. As I look where to go next I am overwhelmed by the amount of content presented but I am drawn to the Free call to action and click learn more.
The front page of WebJam gives me high hopes for the site on first glance. It looks very nicely designed…something that was probably recently done. The first thing notice is “Social Networks made easy” and the “Free” plan.
I sort of breeze through the descriptions of the service and gather that I can create my own social network. I can share my blogs, media, and customize my page. Sounds interesting. There is a video a bit further down the page that looks like it explains the service. I opt in to watching that rather than read the details.
What Confuses Us
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.
The top navigation has extra links to the particular pricing plans that this site has to offer, and then it has links to features, pricing (again) and community. I feel as though the recurrence of pricing links is a little much. I understand that they are trying to sell a product, but it feels a little like being hit over the head with it a little too much.
As I was adding features to my page I was confused. Why do I not get confirmation on when a feature is added after I click it. Further more, why do I not see an indicator that the feature has already been added to my profile on the selection pane. These additions would increase the user experience.
I’m a bit lost on the purpose of WebJam. Why would this service be of any benefit to me as an individual user. I don’t feel like WebJam is communicating the idea of the service with me effectively.
What We Like
…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!
The features page is very nice, I like the design and how it is laid out. I wish the homepage were more like this, with buttons that you can click on to gain more information that is laid out in a good and consistent fashion.
I like that when you visit your home page for the first time that you are given tutorials and helpful tips to start modifying your modules, styles, and members.
I also like the wide variety of widgets, or modules, that can be added. However I think that they need to be presented in a different way, as currently they are overwhelming.
My favorite part of the service is customizing my pages appearance. I don’t see this as a ground breaking feature, but I could at least make it work the way I wanted to. My guess is that most people without some web design experience will not fully understand the controls.
Conclusion & Suggestions
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.
- 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.
- Find something to hook the users in when they get to the site. Give them a place for the eye to go, especially once you have moved below the fold.
- Make the homepage design more consistent with the application design.
- Work on the cluttered and floating feeling of the homepage to make it more streamlined and useful, perhaps taking notes from how the features page is laid out.
- Consider less links to pricing.
Add audio to the video tutorials: it takes less effort for the user to learn about your site. It also adds a more personal feel. I found that on my 13 inch macbook I was scrolling to see captions while the video was playing.
Only allow certain features to be added once on profiles: I found when setting up my profile I was able to add the same section several times. Some features should be limited to just one per page; for example your profile information.
Limit usage of widgets in profile: Confirm modules when added as well as an indicator in the modules list if you are already using them.
- Tell me why I should use WebJam with simple explanations. “Create your own Social Networking Website” means two things to me: Am I building the next MySpace, or am I making a profile page on WebJam which is a social network like MySpace?
- Many of the interface details feel congested and cluttered once signed into WebJam. With these sorts of applications, I am used to larger buttons that don’t require explanation, and navigation that is very simple. There is way to much going on inside the dashboard here.
- The front page and central dashboard (WebJam Homepage? when signed in of WebJam Feels pretty good. Why can’t the rest of the site feel like this? Heck, I still don’t know how I get to my dashboard to see my personal updates without signing out and signing back in.
- Many of the links on WebJam open up in a box (lightbox?) rather than a new page. It’s neat, but more often than not confuses me when I try to open a link in a new tab and it shows an unstyled page.
- Answer my questions: Are my friends here? Why should I use this instead of MySpace? What benefit will I have by using this service? You don’t have to be blatant about it, but at least give me something to help me understand why I’m here.