Seesmic is an equal opportunity application developer, making apps for every major mobile platform and all three global operating systems. Their new product Seesmic Look is designed for “Mom and Dad,” people who might not want to become immersed in Twitter, but have heard of it and want to see what the hype is all about.
Aside from the fact that that market is shrinking faster than the ice on Mount Kilimanjaro, does Look actually fit that mark? That is, does Look provide the experience that your technophobic parents have been waiting for? Not at all. From my testing, Look is a step backwards, even for the most casual user. Its user interface goals are bold, but theyconfuse the core aspects of Twitter just enough that their distance from a normal Twitter application makes Look merely a crippled news or celebrity tracking tool.
If you have not used Look yet, I will walk you through the interface, along the way pointing out what I view as the principle flaws with the application. Before we can get to that, we must disavow a few things. I do fully understand that I am not the target market for this product. I have a dedicated 22″ monitor half of which is TweetDeck. I get that Look is not made for me. However, I do know my parents and their generations technology needs well. I fix their problems, so I know what they are. As soon as I can get my dear mother to stop calling it “the tweeter,” I will talk her into getting an account.
And furthermore I appreciate the concept of enjoying Twitter sans an account. To take Twitter from low barrier to no barrier of entry is a smart and good move. Even with those things in mind, Look is not a bullseye, or even in the first three rings of the archery target. Let’s begin.
Seesmic Look is a Windows application built under Microsoft BizSpark, Microsoft startup something, promoting itself within startups. A good move for everyone. Microsoft software is not always that cheap, so getting it for less makes sense. This is the second major release from Seesmic with Microsoft, the first being Seesmic for Windows launched at the most recent PDC. Great software.
When Look is loaded you get asked to take a tour of Look, which gives a full run through of how Look works. This part of Look is elegant, well put together, and explained. What they are explaining is the problem.
What you see first are a number of trends that pop in and out of view. Trends from right now: #specialfollowfriday, #nowTHATSghetto, #nowplaying, Follow Friday, and #LetsBeHonest. Here we have our first snag. If you want people without Twitter accounts to enjoy Twitter, and the fire hose of information that it brings, spoon-feeding them Twitter jargon and memes on their firsts screen at launch hardly makes sense. Are my parents, who still can’t figure out how to download an app to their iPhones going to know what #nowTHATSghetto means?
What is ghetto? Why is part of it capitalized? What does it mean that it is a “trend?” None of my friends are talking about that. This would require several minutes explanation for them. So, to put them there first is a mistake. Now, if Look curated the trends to make them relevant to normal people, this would be different. Haiti, for example, does not need explanation. The use of ghetto in the declarative as a trend does.
But past that, what about the rest of Look? Look has two main content sections for the non-Twitter user: Interests and Channels. Interests are very similar to the new Twitter SUL, with a number of users being grouped into genres such as Technology, or Celebrities. Channels are sponsored brand sections from major companies. Red Bull has one, Kodak does as well. Look is monetized, something that we can applaud.
Disregarding Channels as something that is corporate, the real data source option for users of Look who are not Twitter users is Interests. There are fourteen interests, (that I will not list),in the section. They represent a good mix of content from a curated list. Sport to music. Style to deals. Each interest displays a full feed, and the list of users that it is following. Music, for example, follows MTV, 50 Cent, John Mayer, and others. A good mix. However, again, we run into problems.
My wonderful mother is going to download Look, open it, get past the odd trends, click on Interests, then Music, and then be instantly lost. Why are there now three columns? Two are lists, and one is this odd image and text bit that scrolls when I use this almost invisible scroll bar. Alex what is this? Those are tweets, Mother. And here we find the intrinsic problem with Look.
Look has a good focus, and a great mission: to make the wonderful Twitter information that we all love open to everyone. It misses that mark by not fully transcending the Twitter genre. It is still a Twitter application, and that does not sit well with non Twitter users. Look should have transcended the genre and done something radical away from Twitter with Twitter’s data. Instead, we have some Twitter lists with a different UI and an over designed Trends section that will confuse more than update.
To put it plainly, Look would not help my Mother, or anyone else in her position. By the time I explained to them the lists, and what that meant, I know that they would ask “well, what if i want to change the lists?” Look, from what I can tell, does not do that. They would either want to move towards being real Twitter users (unlikely), or they want to have nothing to do with that aspect, and consume that pre-digested data. Either run your own curation, or let them curate. What Look does now is provide feeds of data that Yahoo news already does, broken down in similar genres. And to use Yahoo News does not even require a download.
Seesmic Look is the right idea, and the wrong implementation. I must tip my hat to Seesmic for doing what Twitter should have done long ago, make Twitter data universal, and accounts not mandatory. But Look cannot leave its (excellent) Seesmic roots behind, and is thus lost from its genesis. Look can be made into a killer app, and I fully expect version 2.0 to fix everything that we have faulted. Seesmic, I applaud your version. Bring in a few grandparents as beta testers, and they will lead you (albeit slowly) to the finish line.