Usability Review: WebJam.com

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April 6th, 2009
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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!

Initial Impressions

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.

Andrew Maier

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.

Redd Horrocks

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.

Matthew Kammerer

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.

David Leggett

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.

Andrew Maier

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.

Redd Horrocks

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.

Matthew Kammerer

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.

David Leggett

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!

Andrew Maier

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.

Redd Horrocks


Helpful tips and tutorials on getting started

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.

Matthew Kammerer

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.

David Leggett

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.

Andrew Maier

  • 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.

Redd Horrocks

  • 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.

Matthew Kammerer

  • 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.

David Leggett

The Ratings

Andrew
 Star Rating Read Andrew's Full Review
Redd
 Star Rating Read Redd's Full Review
Matthew
 Star Rating Read Matt's Full Review
David
 Star Rating Read David's Full Review
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Comments

  1. First of all, thanks a lot for the review! It is really useful, and I will make sure that all the your comments will be used in our design process

    To give some background on our product. It’s both a webpage creation tool with social network functionality, as it is a social network creation tool with advanced editing and customization possibilities. This mix is certainly powerful, but also creates design challenges that we haven’t been able to fully address (as your noticed)

    As a responds to some of the points you’ve raised:
    The frontpage has already seen quite some versions, at the moment we are (indeed) working on a new version to bring it more in line with the other pages, and to put a stronger focus on the tools and benefits we are offering. I’ll make sure that your comments will be taken in account for the next version.

    I’m positively surprised that most of you took the effort to actually view our video. We are aware that the current video is a bit behind on our website, and a new video is in the plan.

    We see lightboxes as a way to stay ‘in context’ when you are editing, I can image that if we would send users to a different page, they would lose their orientation more than when they would view their task in a lightbox. How would you suggest we could improve on that?

    We’ve also thought about adding a fixed sidebar, though it would make it considerably harder for people with low resolutions to edit the site. We also think that it is easier to edit the site in a sort of ‘what you see is what you get mode’, than as (for example) WordPress does it where there is a total split between editing and publishing. But I admit this choice is debatable, do you have any thoughts on this?

    We don’t want to restrict the users (too much) in how they want to use Webjam, therefore you can add the same module as many times as you want. It is your site after all, I do see your point though, that it also could lead to unknowingly adding the same module over and over again. As for the quantity of the available widgets you are probably right. In our attempt to supply the user with as many useful widgets as possible, it becomes a bit harder to find a single one. Do you have any suggestions on how we could improve this,quantity of choice versus quality of use challenge?

    I do agree that it is harder to explain what the benefit is for an individual (single) user. One of our focus points is actually social interaction, so without friends it wouldn’t be that much fun. One of the reasons why you would rather be on Webjam than run a group at Facebook is the possibility to have it as you want it and not how Facebook demands it.

    I hope that I’ve been able to explain you some of our reasoning behind the product, it is about finding the balance between easy to use and easy to customize. At the moment we are still developing this balance, and your review is certainly a big help to keep on going on the right way.

    Thanks!

    Sjors Timmer
    User Experience Designer at Webjam

  2. @Sjors Timmer: I think lightboxes and modal dialogs in general are more disorienting than separate pages. Robert Hoekmann, Jr. has written two great books on some of the basics of experience design. Checkout his website: http://rhjr.net/

    To edit a site this complex, I would strongly recommend using a sidebar. I think it should be fixed position, and users should be allowed to reposition it, in case it’s getting in the way. I would do something extremely lightweight and put it to a test.

    Insofar as widgets, I think you should consider a kind of “module repository,” where users can access modules (and the content from them) that they have used in the past. I don’t know how to reconcile the quantity/quality debate, though.

    Thanks again for letting us review your site, Sjors!

  3. @Andrew Maier: Thaks for your comment, I’ll see if I can make some kind of mock up to see how it works. I think partly related to this question is the problem of being both the page owner and designer as the user. As far as we have tested it now each solution seems to have it’s own con’s and pro’s. Optimize for editing and it becomes harder to use on a day to day basis, optimize for using and it becomes harder to understand how it should be edited. As far as I’m aware this situation is not unique though, also the Myspace website is a conceptual chaos between editing and viewing, WordPress has the solution of a strict devide between the edit and publish side of the website, and (that is my guess) is therefore quite hard to optimize for the average user. But as you stated, a side bar might not be the holy grail, it could certainly be a step in the right direction. I’m not sure about making it draggable though, maybe it could be hidden in case of normal use?

    In a way the current site already has it’s own module repository, though organised in categories by us as the creators, your proposal would be to have a separate collection of modules that are currently in use (by the user) and those who have been used? Might work out :) As you can see on for example Netvibes it’s very easy to get lost in a sea of modules, so that is the thing we want to prevent.

    Ha, you are welcome for reviews any time

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