ZoomrNeedsAFaceliftr: Thoughts on website design

I’ve spent a chunk of today putting Zoomr through it’s paces in more depth following flickr’s announcement that old-skool accounts have to move over to using a Yahoo! login. This has even made the BBC News, amazingly. I’ve no plans to leave Flickr, and feel that this is a load of grumbling that won’t make a single jot of difference anyhow; Flickr have very good reasons for enforcing the change after all. Our main complaint about the enforced move is that it’s a huge step backwards. Flickr is an excellent site that’s brilliantly coded and 100% focused on presenting the images in the best way possible and building a community out of it’s users. Yahoo! on the other hand is just…. well…. crap.

Yahoo!‘s signup process has caused no end of complaints already (including people finding that it says their username choice is already taken when they hit random keys on the keyboard), signing them up for a Yahoo! mail account even when they tell it not to, etc. There’s also concerns about what happens if you’re Yahoo! account is disabled due to not using the email system for a while. As it currently stands, the Flickr team are ‘working on it’.

Good luck, guys.

People are moaning because Flickr is great, and Yahoo! isn’t. Perhaps they should have put that particular house in order before enforcing anything.

So, I’ve given zoomr a fair crack of the whip before Yahoo! brings in the bulldozers and completely defaces the bestest photo-sharing site on the planet. Today Zoomr has been almost painfully slow, and I’m guessing that means I wasn’t the only one doing this very thing :)

Zoomr fulfills it’s primary role very well. It’s relatively simple to upload a few images on using the web interface, tag them, view them in different sizes and snarf the code to drop the images back into your blog.

That’s all well and good; Zoomr passes the functionality test – it does what it’s designed to do.

But.

Actually, there are a lot of buts. First of all, I couldn’t get the email-upload system to work. That’s a shame as it would be great to just email the photos straight from Picasa. That’s what I do to upload to Flickr, and doing the same thing to Zoomr would solve my upload needs, perfectly.

So the choice is either the web upload, or jUploadr. The main problem with the latter option is the first letter. J, for java. On Christa’s laptop it wouldn’t work at all under Windows XP regardless of which version of java we installed. Over on Linux it worked, but crashed Firefox when it tried to authenticate. When we closed Firefox it automatically opened it again, and crashed in again. Grrrrr.

On mine it (somehow) worked but suffers from the perennial problem of all java apps. It’s a Huge Monster Memory Eater. Forget about trying to use jUploadr and another app at the same time if you’re uploading more than 20 images. Which is a shame as you need another app open to drag-and-drop the images from. Bummer.

Zoomr’s biggest problem is it’s interface. It’s ugly, unattractive and counter-intuitive. Case in point. Here’s zoomr’s banner/interface:

http://home.greywulf.net/images/zoomr_banner.jpg

And here’s Flickr’s:

http://home.greywulf.net/images/flickr_banner.jpg

All those colours! Oh God! My eyes! The most important thing on the page should be the photos, not some garish red, blue and yellow huge ugly banner graphic with Netscape-style buttons-that-aren’t-buttons glued on top. To get to any section in Zoomr you have to hover over the “buttons”. This changes the menu below which you then move down to select the option. This goes against all logic and established design principles.

The “buttons” themselves are poorly labelled. What’s the difference between “Discover”, “Social Circle” and “The World”? Surely they’re all just ways to see pictures from other people? What’s a “Welcome Mat”, why is it still there now I’m through the door, and why is it below the other pseudo-buttons?

Down the right side of the screen on the default view shows three useful stats for any user: how many photos you’ve got uploaded, how many views they’ve have, and (unique to Zoomr) the number of trackbacks into your shots. Incredibly annoyingly, none of these are clickable! What’s the point of showing you those trackback numbers without being able to see the breakdown? It’s just a tease, nothing more. I’d have also liked to see number of comments and faves, with a similar click-through for the details.

There’s an interesting Recent Activity view which shows a timeline displaying when and what people have faved and commented on, but nothing beats a simple summary list. Also, there appears to be no way to see new comments on other peoples’ photos you’ve commented on. That’s a big omission and one of Flickr’s strengths. That one simple thing makes every photo a forum for itself and a key part of turning a photo site into a community.

Zoomr has no concept of Groups either, but that’s no great loss. I’d be quite happy if they instead provided better tag and set-based discussion tools. If you could create a Smart Set of all photos containing the “Portraits” tag, and comment on the Set as a whole, there’s your Group solution.

Talking of Sets; Smart Sets are all well and good, but I’d like Dumb Sets too where it’s possible to drag-and-drop a load of photos into a Set and it’s done. Tagging photos individually then creating a new Smart Set with a search criteria of that unique tag isn’t smart; it’s counter-intuitive and a royal pain in the ass.

While we’re in wish-list territory, I’d also love to see more made of a photo’s exif data. If it could be treated as “just more tags” we could create Smart Sets of all photos taken with a 300D and a shutter speed of more than 1 second, or all photos taken after 11pm. Now that would be cool!

Finally, on to Zoomr’s much-vaunted feature. Geotagging would be great if there was a simple way to find the location on the provided Google map. Instead we have to zoom… and zoom… and zoom….. If we know the address and postcode, why can’t we just enter that, check it’s correct, and click. Again, it’s a good idea with a poor implementation.

I don’t want to come across as being overly negative; Flickr is a hard act to follow, and Zoomr has the best chance of any other photo site to give it a run for it’s money. I’d like to see it succeed and provide us with a little more choice; as it stands though, it needs a serious design shake-up, and fast.

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