Zorap: Let’s Meet!

Alas, this masterpiece didn’t survive the rigors of start-up-dom. We don’t know when it went offline, but we do know that while it existed it made the web a little bit brighter for all of us.

Every once in a while you have an experience that takes you to a new level. It may be because a hope is fulfilled, or a longing is brought to completion. Usually a close friend is involved or a romantic partner. Oftentimes there’s a favorite song that brings you back to these moments time and time again. Pictures of the memories stay with you for years.

I had a moment like this just the other day. It came in a way that can only happen to a web junkie. I found a website that was everything I hoped it would be. Zorap.

At first glance there’s nothing all that fancy about this site. It has a simple home page with some ramblings about getting a room. It was easy enough to enter someone else’s room, so I did. Upon entering my eyes were opened up to a whole new world of web. This was what I’d been looking for. I knew it had to exist somewhere but hadn’t quite found it yet. A place where I can share files, videos, links, pictures, webcam chats, phone chat and music with anyone I like. An extensive list of features and off the wall information can be found on this blog post.

Quickly I ran off to create my own room and drummed up a friend or two to join. It was great. We could talk freely on the web cam. I showed off a video I had made recently, and shared a few songs found on Imeem.  While I was at it I found my favorite viral video of all time, a parody of the Dove Evolution ad. And I did it all quickly and easily in my private room.

Welcome to Steve's Luxury Room.

Zorap does so many things well it’s a nuisance to bemoan any issues with the site. I’ll just gloss over them casually as I’m still star struck by coming face to screen with this near masterpiece. The most important suggestion I already mentioned, the home page. The text is small, the box displaying featured rooms is fairly unwelcoming. It looks like I may end up in some bland comment board or something. Its navigation is clumsy with small page numbers and no previous and next buttons. Each featured room has very little info about what’s in that room, and even the icons are too small to make out the details. I’m calling for a redo of the homepage. The two features that need to be better highlighted are the featured rooms and a preview or demo of how a room works. It currently leaves little trace of what a room is actually like and why people will like it. Somehow or another Zorap’s landing page needs to better reflect their product.

Once we join a room the real fun begins. On the left panel are sharing options. On the right is a roll call and chat utility, or settings panel depending on the current selection. Buttons line the top and user login/registration hides out on the bottom. The sharing options allow you to select what you’d like to show the room participants. If you’d like to share a song or video select the button, share the file, and it will play within the room.  Shared Youtube videos or Imeem songs work the same except you select them from a search function in a new browser rather than from the hard drive. Files that can be shared are various file types from Microsoft Office suite. These files are easily transferred to other people’s computers if they click on it.

Probably the least intuitive aspect of Zorap is how long each item continues to be displayed in the room. Music and Videos from the local drive are played once, and then automatically removed. Music and videos from the web are played once and then remain within the rooms until the person who shared them removes them. Photos whether from the hard drive or web are also viewable until the person who shared them removes them. All these can also be removed from individual views of the room as well. Files on the other hand remain in each person’s room until that individual removes it. So if you share a file, it’s out there for good. I’d like two changes here. I’d like the ability to play a local video or music file more than once. Also, the shared files should have an option to remove them from the room altogether, not just your own view.

A few of the sharing buttons could be more intuitive. I’m not sure everyone knows that Imeem is a great place to look for music videos. Perhaps placing a music note or treble clef in the icon would make it more clear. I am sure everyone knows what Google is but in this case it’s specific to Images. This needs to be visually clear based upon the icon as well. Another observation is the upper four sharing options all share local files, whereas the lower three share web content. There’s the opportunity to draw a visual distinction between these. Perhaps placing a bar between the two is sufficient. Beyond that I’ll defer to a graphic designer’s creativity.

When entering the room it prompts you for an audio/visual test to make sure the cam, speakers and mic are in working order. For those who aren’t registered or logged in it then automatically assigns an anonymous ID as they enter. This can be changed later, but the option to do so is on the bottom right of the screen. It’s not exactly the first place new users would look. Prompting anonymous users when they enter the room to introduce themselves, would reduce the number of anonymous ID’s.

Here’s a list of other observations about the site that could be tweaked a bit.

  • When customizing the room it gives you Done, Save and Cancel options. I know this is a common scheme but I’m an advocate of only having Done and Cancel. The Save option was also quirky when setting my profile pic.
  • Privacy options aren’t completely clear. I can both enter a password for the room and/or make it private. Private means the room won’t be a featured room, I think. Creating a room password means people who come to the room will be prompted to enter it. The current user base of Zorap is primarily French speakers. Until I figured out the distinction I had a number of French guys come by and say hello to my lady friend. They did seem nice enough though. It was kind of neat having people drop in and say hello.
  • I took the opportunity to test the Eject User functionality on one of the French guys (I suspect from Quebec, Canada actually). I accidentally ejected my friend instead since both had auto assigned user names. I couldn’t let her back in until I myself exited the room and started a new session. I guess that makes sense, since otherwise someone could keep pestering you. There was no other way to let her in though.
  • The Imeem search should show song writer and more album info. Currently it just has song title.
  • It would be helpful to share other file types, in particular PDF’s.
  • When sharing videos or audio files they have up and down arrows on the top left. It took me a bit to figure out that this was volume control. It’s slick looking but needs to look like volume control as well.
  • I expected the invite feature to have a send mail function. It just gives you a link to the room.
  • It gives me the option to allow my friend to be a moderator, but it didn’t work. I think it was because she was an anonymous user, but then it shouldn’t allow me to select that option.
  • When I changed the background it didn’t update my friend’s screen until she left and re-entered the room.
  • When you log in on the soon to be revamped Homepage, it doesn’t give you any indication that you’re logged in.
  • When I log in it should provide a link to my room so I don’t have to remember it or type it.
  • One of my favorite room management features is the pin and unpin functionality to move windows around. When windows are pinned you can place them anywhere. By default all the windows are unpinned to the screen and automatically moved around by Zorap. For the most part this is fine- even cool. Sometimes I want all windows pinned to the screen though. I’d like to have a Pin/Unpin All button, so I don’t have to pin each window separately.

Like all websites with a lot of promise there are features that could enhance the product and take it to the next level. I have two suggestions to do just that, one small, and one large. First, if I’m logged in then I’d like to retain a history of the web based links I’ve shared in the past. That way I don’t have to go searching for them again. Second, I’d like to embed this room wherever I want. Having the ability to place the Zorap room on one’s own webpage would be a giant leap forward. I could invite my friends to it, have my own personal webcam chat, share documents and everything else described above. I think it has the potential to catch on like wildfire.

Zorap is truly a find. The basic product offering and functionality of the site is implemented very well. The only real downside is the need to install an ActiveX or Fire Fox Plugin. There’s no way around this since it needs to access the local file system to interact with the files. The customizable look and feel of the room is great and sharing options are very useful. Zorap could be used for personal or business meetings. The Homepage needs some work to better introduce the services. These services portend to provide a new way to connect with people online. And so to Zorap and its French speaking clientele I bid thee, “Bon Voyage!”

SlapBack: Very valuable feedback. Thank you!

Without further adieu, here, let me respond to a few of your points.

First, with regard to the homepage.   The current Zorap homepage is intended to be a temporary placeholder.   Before we started integrating Zorap with social networks like Facebook and Ning, we needed a simple way of publicizing rooms – so we opted for a very simple chat-site style central directory.

Directories of this sort simply don’t scale – they result in user content issues and other undesirable community dynamics.  In the next few months, we will introduce some changes to the structure of zorap.com that will address these more fundamental issues.

I completely agree with your comments about a preview or demo of how a room works.  We will be making a video for our homepage that will graphically demonstrate the “Zorap experience”.

We could remove youtube and imeem content as soon as it’s done playing, but unfortunately, there is no simple way of detecting when the content is done playing.   When you share something on Zorap, and then you close the window that contains the ‘shared something’, the windows automatically close for all the viewers.   Hence, if you share a file on Zorap, and want to stop sharing it, just close the window.   And yes, I agree there is some non-intuitiveness here.

We are considering reworking the sharing bar so that we use colorized logo-buttons for content shared from the web.   YouTube for instance, would have the distinctive red/white/black color scheme.

Displaying a dialog box for “guest name” would be a fine way to address the anonymous user issue.   We’ve considered this several times, but never actually implemented it.   This same dialog box could have an option that would let the user log in to their own Zorap account first.   Again, however, this issue somewhat hinges on the organizational paradigm for zorap.com – which is going to change sooner or later.

I appreciate your bulleted list of recommendations, there are a lot of great suggestions in there.

Your critique wraps up with two interesting points.  The history list idea was actually on our roadmap – seasoned Zorap users would even tell you that we even had a non-operable history button available on the button bar.   However, we simply didn’t have the time to implement the feature, so the button went away.

Nonetheless, I agree that it would be a supercool feature.  I would even like the ability to look at other people’s history lists, and share from them.   Or, at a minimum, have all things that I’ve shared or witnessed be included in my history list.   That way, I can share that cool video that my buddy showed me at a later date.

Zorap embedded on a webpage?    We had an early implementation, but it wasn’t user friendly enough – of course, those problems can be dealt with.  Also, due to size constraints, we would need a way to have the embedded window “pop out” somehow so you can have more space for you, your friends and your shared stuff.

One other thing – there is a Zorap Facebook App.   We consider social networks to be the future venue for Zorap.
You can check it out at <removed>
And, we also have a Ning App.