In my last entry Facebook and Twitter WTF Internet I explored my dissatisfaction with Facebook and made a few suggestions on what in my opinion would be improvements to the site. That said. After a thinking a little more, though not much more as this thought has crossed my mind previously, I am going to put Xanga in the mix.
Rather then making suggestions for just Facebook, I’d like to go in a different direction and make a few suggestions for Xanga. I understand Xanga has a suggestions feature, but this is a little more in depth.
Xanga is a social blogging site. Now you might argue (or you might not) that any blog that allows commenting is a social blogging site. But by my definition a social blogging site is any website that hosts a number of blogs and allows its members to interact with each other using the same profiles over the entire network.
A social blogging site is just a more in-depth description of a type of social networking site. Networking is such a broad term and blogging narrows it down a little bit.
The heart of any social network is the profiles. They each represent a real person. A user, a member.
Personally I use xanga all the time because it’s a great site, well made and hosts a wonderful community of users. Xanga is the most powerful and feature rich social blogging site I’ve ever seen. But will it ever become more then that? Does it ever want to? Lets pretend for a moment it does. Lets pretend that secretly the xanga team wants to turn this place into the next Facebook or God forbid Myspace. In other words an incredibly popular social phenomenon.
To do that, Xanga would need to rise above its niche corner of the internet as a social blogging site into a full blown social networking site. Now of course there are exceptions. Twitter is the exception. A blogging (or rather microblogging) site that just exploded in popularity. But while everyone else, including Facebook, is trying to chase and jump on the Twitter bandwagon, the truth is, the internet and its future is far from just simple text messages.
There still exists a space on the internet for the ultimate social network. A site that many would confuse as the internet itself. A harkening back to the days of the walled gardens of AOL and Compuserve. back when people didn’t realize there was a larger internet out there and some cases didn’t care until years later.
When the walls began to tumble just before and leading up to the dot com boom, we saw personal home pages spring up all over the place. Most notably on sites like Geocities and Angelfire. people hacking together sloppy HTML pages filled with self vanity and pre-emo doubt. Sign my guestbook, check out pictures of my cat or download my friends mp3. These pages had a litte of everything and yet a pattern was emerging.
Personal home pages gave way into full blown movabletype blogs or other websites. Those without the skills found there way to sites like livejournal, friendster or even yes, Xanga.
But as the years went by new sites showed up, gaining in popularity. Myspace, Facebook and Twitter. Not to mention the countless others.
Eventually the personal home pages of yesteryear evolved into wordpress sites by those that got out and myspace and facebook profiles for those that didn’t. Now Twitter accounts to be added to the list. The walled gardens being rebuilt.
So where did Xanga go wrong? Did Xanga go wrong? For a site that started in 1999, Xanga is old in internet years. The site has evolved. By like all sites that start one way and evolve into something more, why didn’t Xanga become the Facebook or MySpace for this generation. I can only guess until I’m told different. That is if the Xanga team even knows itself. I know from my filmmaking background that over the course of production when you’re down in the dirt digging, sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture, even if you’re the one building it.
My guess is that Xanga, like so many sites, developed a certain following, carved a niche for itself and found that it was both difficult and obtrusive to expand outside of the niche. Once you’re on your path and you have a decent following you’re careful not to want to upset that following and lose ground. As more years go by it becomes harder to make any drastic moves. Creating new things while phasing old things out become a long drawn out process so as not to alienate anyone too much.
If this guess is true, this could very well be how and why we find Xanga to be primarily a blogging site still, today.
My second guess might be that they just prefer the site the way it is, focusing primarily on blogging.
However looking at the current state of Xanga, the site has a lot of options moving forward.
It has a solid user base consisting of a large female population of users. Which is an interesting position to find itself in.
Beyond that, the site is well designed and very web 2.0 in terms of features and interactivity. It’s clear the developers haven’t been asleep behind the wheel. Introducing media features like video, audio and image uploads. Pulses, credits, modules and ish sites rounding out the overall larger feature set. It has set itself up to host nearly all major types of user submitted content and display it in a unique but blog compatible way.
Still its focus is on blogging and connecting people through blogging. The question is, can it expand itself into something more and what would it take?
Here are some suggestions based off my use and observation:
1. Profiles – Xanga needs to rethink its profiles. Profiles are a members calling card on a given social network. Right now Xanga profiles act almost as an afterthought and are even trumped by some of the old “about me” pages people put up on Geocities and Angelfire sites. I would guess that many times people don’t even look at each other profiles and many here go unfilled and blank. People need a reason to fill out their profiles and check out other peoples profiles. I understand that many of the profile information seems to leak over into the the side column on weblogs, that’s fine. Perhaps profiles need to be loaded in an Ajax style using a tab above the weblog where people can easily flip back and forth from profile to weblog without loading new pages.
2. Don’t lose the Xanga nav bar. I’ve noticed that it’s optional for people to pull out the Xanga nav bar from the top of their xanga sites. Bad idea. Some of these Xanga sites can be poorly themed and the only hope for a visitor finding their way around is through the nav bar up top. When it goes missing, chaos insues.
3. Xanga image galleries need a revamp. I understand the appeal of trying somethign different using a slideshow style display. Unfortuantely the icons are rather small and even the full sized images often display small. People generally don’t view images in a linear fashion. Often their eye catches a single thumbnail the click on. The bigger the thumbnail the more likely they are be able to deduce whether they want to click on the image or not. This in turn could save bandwidth if they can see a clearer thumbnail and realize it’s not something they want to see.
I would suggest a more tradition grid style gallery layout spanning multiple pages with thumbnails at least 100×60 pixels in size if not 120×80. This will likely get more people uploading, viewing and commenting on images. The ability to categorizes these images into albums and promote those albums would also be of dire need for such a gallery revamp.
4. Friends Groups. As it stands Xanga already has this feature for it’s protected lists. However this is mostly a paid feature if you want to go beyond a single group of ten people. Which leads me to believe a lot of people who are not paid members are probably not using this feature. Yet this feature also stands at the heart of building Xanga into a powerful new social network. The ability of who sees what and when with anything from weblog entries to pictures, pulses, video and audio.
5. Pulses. I’ve said it before but I think pulses are better then Tweets. The only reason is because pulses allow for easy commenting in a linear fashion attached directly to that pulse. However Pulses are currently treated very similar to blog post with the only difference being length of copy. Pulses need to be easier to do. One suggestion is to add a pulse box to the users home screen. I know there exists now a series of large buttons for users to “add” wahtever kind of content they want just by clicking. However nothing gets easier then just an exposed text field with the words “what are you up to?”.
6. Video Galleries. I don’t see videos getting used a lot around here. If they do, they generally get embedded into blog entries. Although that’s always a nice option, the abilty to browse a public gallery of member videos would add a certain amount of exposure to members video content, as well as an excuse to link to their profiles. i’m thinking a sort of youtube style list of videos with a nice tag cloud off to the side and the ability to search videos by keyword and category.
7. Communities with community blogs, image, video and audio galleries. Including search within those communities and multiple community moderators. This pretty much speaks for itself and I remember hearing somethinh about Xanga working on somethign like this. So I’m going to leave it as it is right now. But I will add it would go farther with these features then being just an ability for people to create their own ish sites.
The ideas here present a Xanga in which blogging is still a powerful and much desired pull for the website, but not the only pull for the site. There still exists a huge populace of people who don’t find a website like xanga to be much of a conern for them. Yet they are signing up for facebook, twitter and youtube accounts. Now it may be that these sites have a certain pul because of their fame and members. Friends joining because other friends belong to them. But there is also a number of people who drop off from these sites after realizing that the content there just doesn’t stack up in the long run. The goal is to find that balance in which a blogging site like xanga can grow its other features and it’s membership and in turn ad revenue, without a huge fall off rate.
It may very well be that users perfer to go to different sites for different things. Where Xanga is to blogging as YouTube is to video and Flickr is to photos. But if a site like Facebook can outpace Flickr in photo hosting popularity while still being a broad social network, it’s only a matter of time and a few feature upgrades before it can also outpace youtube for videos and eventually Xanga for blogging. Time will only tell just what role twitter plays in all of this.