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blog.gkaindl.com » Wakoopa revisited

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Wakoopa revisited

A little more than 2 weeks ago, I’ve written a post about Wakoopa, a Web 2.0 start-up that wants to make your software get social (Rather: Your software usage pattern). I was excited to witness the launch of this Web 2.0 app first-hand, since I’m usually late to the party. Now, after having played with the app, it’s time to share some thoughts about it.

First, the launch didn’t exactly happen smoothly: Apparently due to a large group of people flooding the site all at the same time, it crawled for a while, but an acceptable speed was restored an hour or so later. Not a big thing, that’s exactly the kind of little annoyance that can happen on a launch day, and the Wakoopa folks were quite open about it on their blog (openness about bugs and problems is a good thing!).

Hi, my name is…

While waiting for the sign-up page to load (yes, I was actually persistent enough to try it during the near-death phase), I was thinking about their name. I would like to like it. “Wakoopa” definitely has a certain Web 2.0 feel to it, yet it’s a horribly generic name. While being based in Amsterdam, Wakoopa doesn’t sound anything like a Dutch word, so that’s not where it’s coming from. Generally, an application’s name is the first thing a potential user comes in contact with. “Wakoopa” doesn’t tell me anything about what the app is supposed to do, yet it doesn’t even wake my interest. It could be anything.

Sure, in-your-face names like “SoftwareTracker” aren’t very suitable either, sounding more like an enterprise product than a fun app. However, Web 2.0 developers can never go wrong when looking at what 37signals does: Basecamp, Campfire, Writeboard, all their names don’t reveal exactly what the app does, but give a subtle hint that wakes your interest. They work on a metaphorical level, while still having that light, one is dared to say “cool”, feel to them. Names based on metaphors are very common in the Mac community (think “GarageBand”). Wakoopa only evokes nostalgia about Super Mario Bros. in me. It’s too generic to keep ringing in my head, but when I stumbled across “Basecamp” the first time, I just needed to know what it was, given the mysterious, yet interesting name.

Let’s roll

Finally, the sign-up page loaded. The first impression was great: Signing up to Wakoopa is incredibly simple. No need to enter lots of superfluous data, just a name and a password. Marvelous. The sign-up process is certainly grandma-proof.

However, the joy about Wakoopa not wanting to have my email address lasted only shortly: In the frenzy of billions of eager Web 2.0 aficionados hammering the site, my password seems to have gotten lost. I got kicked out of the account and couldn’t log back in (For the record, I didn’t forget my password, in fact, it was even still on the pasteboard). Well, since they don’t have my email address, I didn’t even look for a “Send me my password” linky. A support button was what I needed.

After a while of desperate poking around on the site, I finally discovered a little button to the right that barely resembles a speech-bubble (Hint: When shrinking an icon into oblivion, make sure the most salient features are still visible. A speech-bubble without the arrow-like thingie is just an ellipse). I clicked it - and nothing happened. Ah, the joys of AJAX. It would be advisable to at least give some sort of feedback to the user that something is actually loading. Finally, a support form popped up, and off I sent my whiny request. A few hours later, I had a new password. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to change it from what it has been reset to (Wakoopa tells me that the new password got saved, but still expects the old one). Well, as long as I can log in, I’m happy.

Note that theoretically, the login process is extremely simple and well-designed. My problems appear to be mostly related to the additional load of a launch day, even though Wakoopa still experiences occasional slowdowns.

Listilicious

The visual design of the website is very appealing, combining soft, web-appy pastel colors with an attractive and simple layout. Apart from the “Support Request” button that I’ve mentioned early, I find the site to be easy to navigate. There aren’t lots and lots of sub-pages, just “Home”, “Software”, “People” and “Developers” (even though I would have probably ditched the last one, too). No matter how much I click through the various links, I never get the feeling of being lost.

However, the one thing that strikes me most about Wakoopa’s design is its list-heaviness. On the homepage, for example, there’s already a total of 6 (!!) lists: “Recently used software”, “Latest Reviews”, “Categories”, “Tags” (do we really need both, by the way?), “Most active users” and “Most active groups”. That’s quite a lot of information to digest for a random passerby. This constellation could definitely use some re-thinking: Do we really need to see the most recently used software on the homepage? Wouldn’t the most often used software be more salient? Do we really want to see the mini-reviews? The site isn’t really about reviews, is it? Why not just link to them? Tags and categories on the frontpage? What about users that do not know what’s the difference between them? Is there actually a difference that justifies having both?

Similarly, billions of lists in the “Software” section. It’s just a bit too much. Sure, having a simple site structure is great, but then again, does the vision of the app really warrant such a simple structure? After all, the complexity is simply boiled down into less pages, but still there. It feels like lots of sub-pages crammed together into a single one.

For example, what if the “software” section only showed a tag cloud? Clicking on a tag could take the user to a page listing the most recently or often used software with that tag. Maybe there could be a way to quickly switch between most often and recently used software. What if the homepage only told what Wakoopa actually does, while keeping the aggregated info to a minimum.

All these lists just provide for visual clutter. Such a design doesn’t encourage an explorative user behavior. There’s just too much information per page for casual browsing. We just see a “long list” and switch into skimming mode. We start seeing the content as a layout element, not as content that we would want to read. In a forest, you don’t look at individual trees. Cram less info in there, but make the info more meaningful. It’s questionable what the salience of “most recently used software” is anyways (Oh, wow, somebody just used the “Finder” for 10 seconds. I would have never thought other people have files, too!).

A way to separate the Windows-stuff from the Mac-stuff would be cool, too. After all, that’s one of the things you shouldn’t simplify away. There is a significant difference. After all, Windows apps are totally useless to Mac users, no matter how good they might be or how many people are using them (and vice-versa, of course).

Tabula Rasa

My other complaint about the user interface is that there’s no “blank” state: As soon as I logged in, without even having used the tracker for a second yet, Wakoopa already suggested new applications to me. Most unfortunately, all of this software was Windows-specific (I’m on a Mac), and one even had its name written in Greek letters.

Upon the first login, Wakoopa already behaved as if I was a seasoned user. Rather than giving meaningless information, the boxes should simply have contained some explanatory text, like “We will show you some software you might be interested in here, once we have collected enough data about your usage pattern”. This would also build up more trust into the app’s workings: Right now, I have the feeling that the suggested apps might just be randomly selected, considering that there already were some before Wakoopa even knew what I use. Most likely, it isn’t random, but the feeling is there now.

Track me

It took a while for the Mac-tracker to be ready for download. However, it’s quite a nicely done piece of unobtrusive software. It’s running in the background (with a little status bar icon), and the dock icon can be disabled. There’s nothing to worry about. Sweet.

Configuring the tracker is very easy: Upon the first start, it asks for a username and a password. It verifies your input, then goes on to do the dirty tracking work.

I’m not sure how exactly the tracker works, but I believe it simply registers which application has been in the foreground for which amount of time. However, it doesn’t seem to register when the user is actually idle, i.e. away from the computer. Right now, my user profile shows that I’ve been using Safari for 12 hours (in just 2 days), but what actually happens is that Safari is always the one app I have in the foreground when I leave the computer, to cook, for example. Thusly, this information is a bit off from the truth.

The status bar icon is not exactly nicely done: While Apple-supplied status bar icons only use 3 colors (”black”, “gray” and “transparent”), Wakoopa’s icon is just a grayscale version of their logo. Consequently, it neither fits my status bar color-wise, nor size-wise: It’s considerably wider than the other icons I have up there. Let’s have a look at this screenshot: Which one doesn’t fit?

Another flaw of the current tracker is that it constantly uses some CPU time. On my PowerBook, it looks like this. I assume that the tracker is constantly polling the workspace to fork over the information about the front-most application. Wouldn’t a time resolution of 1 second, or maybe even 10 seconds, be a better solution. After all, it’s just a tracker that needs to be constantly running, so it shouldn’t really get in the way of the actual work I do.

Oh, and one more thing: Please, let me exclude some software from the tracking. I don’t want my work-in-progress stuff or my license generation tools to show up on my Wakoopa account!

Boiling it down

Wakoopa is visually well designed. The login and sign-up process is as simple as it can be, and the site feels well-structured. The tracker is easy to set up and works in an unobtrusive manner.

My main complaints about Wakoopa are its love for list-frenziness, which makes it feel more like an enterprise tool disguised as social community, its slowness (speed is a feature, too!), no apparent differentiation of platforms and a Mac-specific tracker that feels a bit rough around the edges.

After all, we will have to see where Wakoopa is going. Right now, it starts feeling a little boring to me. Sure, tracking my software usage pattern was fun for a day or two, but I do not really know how to connect to other people based on that. “Hey, so you’re using TextMate, too” doesn’t exactly sound like a good pickup line for new friends, and purely software based communities (in the sense of “tips and hints” board or “help forums”) aren’t supported either. Additionally, Wakoopa just doesn’t feel about being social. Sure, the features are there, but they feel more like gimmicks rather than an integral part of the design. Wakoopa is about tracking your software usage pattern, the social features appear to be tacked on.

One such potential feature that comes to my mind would be ditching the “Reviews” for “Tips”. There are already loads of other sites focusing on software reviews, and most often, user reviews aren’t very salient anyways. Rather, let the post tricks. “Hey, I discovered a simple way to do something cool in Quicksilver, here’s how…”. That’s what would make come software alive. Give us RSS feeds for these tips then, or give us an RSS feed for all tips about software that using! After all, that’s putting the tracking data to good use!

On a little sidenote, it would be greatly appreciated by the community if Wakoopa posted a bit more information about their business model, i.e. how they want to make money with the app. Most reviews about Wakoopa sooner or later mention privacy concerns, such as Wakoopa probably selling its users’ usage patterns to other corporations. After all, there are no ads on the page, so we are somewhat left in the dark. Just openly say it ain’t so, and a lot of this type of criticism would go away.

Generally, I still believe what Wakoopa does is (in its essence) an idea with a lot of potential. Right now, the uses I would have had in mind aren’t really supported by the (social) design, but that may change in the future. Wakoopa is definitely something to keep and eye on, and I will come back to it later again.

About

Hi, how are you? My name is Georg Kaindl, and I'm a twenty-something from Vienna, Austria. During the day, I'm a CS student at the Vienna University of Technology, but at night, I turn into an independent software developer for the Macintosh platform, social nerd, lazy entrepreneur and intuitive researcher.

I like to write about everything that matters to considerate technology enthusiasts, but humbly retain the right to go off-topic from time to time.

My posts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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