This marks the first time (to my knowledge) that SixApart is embarking on a free hosted blogging service, so it was definitely worth a look, especially given some of the things we’ve worked on, have recently got working, and will work on at here at Automattic. Besides, free is the price I like 🙂
The blog, though there is some confusion as to the URL, has an aesthetically pleasing layout. It certainly seems to share a lot of influences from Twitter, WordPress P2, Pownce, etc. but the biggest influence has to be Tumblr.
The blog it created
The theme selection is limited, something I’ll chalk up to a rush to initial launch. But the most glaring deficiency is that you cannot add content from the blog page. The biggest lesson learned from P2 is that if you are looking for “micro” style content, you must put a content add page in the reading page: just like Twitter, Tumblr, and P2 do.
The auto-capture of my Gravatar is pretty cool—since it did that, I don’t know if it grabs the Facebook image if you integrate with that first. It turns out I already have a TypePad account via TypeKey that I forgot about. So now I have two accounts. I hope they find some way to fix that weirdness.
But what is the “speak bubble” leaving the user? It’s actually a gravatars of what other users I follow (having joined via micro, it auto-follows the TypePad group and that’s the icon). Such a bubble is universally recognized affordance for showing the latest content and click-to-edit for adding or modifying an existing status message. It took me more than a few seconds to figure out that brain-fart—not to mention prioritizing this content on the high-priority left—who designed this, an Israeli? Clearly the sidebar and the main content areas should be reversed just as it is on P2, Twitter, etc.
The administration page
The big concession toward the “micro” feature is adding a quick compose area to the administration page here. I’m not too sure why they put it here, since it is at least an extra two clicks away from the homepage—that is another weirdness: why not show the toolbar on blog pages and save the user a click like WordPress.com does?
The idea here, which is not obvious at first glance, is that the “dashboard” contains the users personal life stream, much like it does when you log into WordPress’s admin page, or use FriendFeed or Facebook profile page. Because of this, they want to drive the user to go to this page in place of their blog page (which is what the outside world sees). That’s the idea, anyway.
Their dashboard seems a good deal less confusing than the WordPress MU one, but that seems to create a naming confusion on the toolbar: Click on the “TypePad” logo above or the “Dashboard” takes you to the dashboard viewed above, while clicking on the “Blogs” menu gets you to what WordPress would call a Dashboard, which uses a tabbed navigation interface instead of WordPress’s sidebar navigation. The redundancy is confusing, but I suppose they think a first time user won’t be using the blog overview administration panel much (if at all).
Speaking of the new micro dashboard, a big kudos to the sidebar on the right, which makes things more accessible for a first time user (and non-blogger), highlighting the features that are already in every blogging platform, but whose accessibility in Tumblr helped take off.
However, overall I think the layout is still too busy. It’d be a better user experience to put the content creation part right into the blog.
Another deal killer I noticed is the quick compose only allows image upload (instead of image by URL or via linked accounts). Not only that, but I simply pasted in the pseudo mark down I wrote from my Flickr page, and it didn’t do the mark down correctly. Argh! Also no support (or non-obvious support) for oEmbed. This is a frustrating experience for a content creator, especially if you like storing content on Flickr like yours truly. Hopefully they just missed this in the rush to market.
More importantly, it doesn’t automatically pull content in from your other sites that you link. Nor does it automatically push content out to other sites: all push is manual. One nice thing about Tumblr, FriendFeed, Plaxo Pulse, and Facebook is that this content integration is automatic.
They should have stolen more shit from Tumblr. 😀
I love where they’re going with this (microblogging looks like it is really here to stay), but the product falls short now. I wish SixApart a lot of luck—but not too much luck—I do work for Automattic. 😉