This isn’t what I meant by social software

There’s an Internet Explorer plug-in from the folks at Weezu. It’s an interesting idea – trying to bring “social” activity to what is otherwise typically a solitary activity – using the web. I think it’s ultimately unsuccessful, for a few reasons I discuss below, but it will be interesting to see what other approaches might arise to the same scenario.

Basically, you install the plug-in in your copy of IE, and sign in to the Weezu servers. Then, while you browse the web, Weezu “watches” what urls you are visiting, and informs you when other Weezu users are looking at the same pages.

In other words, you can see which other Weezu users (those who also installed the plug-in and created a Weezu account) are viewing the same page you are.

In Weezu’s terms (are they using Google Babelfish for the English version?):

Thanks to the Weezu bar, you can see the avatars of all weezunauts who are connected on the same site as you are, and with a single click start to share messages with them. To achieve this, you only need to install the Weezu bar. Once connected on Internet, you will see the avatars of weezunauts visiting the web sites. Weezu works on all web sites around the world and maybe further…

One of the issues I had with Weezu is the design.

I suppose one could argue design is subjective, but who exactly is the target market for a service which looks like this?:

Weezu Avatars

This is what the Weezu plug-in looks like when it is open – here there is only the user’s avatar because no other weezunauts are visiting the same page at the same time.

Why is the user’s avatar inside the mouth of a giant blue sea monster, hovering near the sea floor in some kind of spongebob squarepants alternate universe? I assume that’s the “Weezuscaphe.”

If you should happen to find another weezunaut, you’ll have the opportunity for a chat:

Weezu with Friends

(I should mention these images are drawn from the Weezu “use” page – I did install and try it out but I never managed to find anyone on the same page as me at the same time).

Other weezunauts’ avatars appear at the left, and by clicking on them you can send them messages.

Why? That’s not entirely clear. Perhaps you want to talk to strangers about the web pages you’re both looking at?

Reminds me a bit of ThirdVoice, which allowed users to leave comments “on” web pages that other Third Voice users would be able to see – except with a synchronous twist, in that the users are there now, or something close to it.

The second issue I had with Weezu is that it’s an IE only experience at this point – though they are working on a firefox version.

Finally, they’ll have an interesting challenge managing the growth of their community.

When it is too small, as it is now, you can’t find any other avatars – you’re just crawling along the bottom of the sea floor all by your lonesome, ” . . . a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

When it gets too big, if it were to catch on among some niche set of users for example, the interface would be overwhelmed by users – at which point it becomes clear that this is just a chat room circa 1996, and plain old IRC might be more effective. It will quickly become “so crowded nobody goes there anymore.”

(OK, did I just manage to quote T.S. Eliot and Yogi Berra in one blog post?)

It might get interesting if, for example, I could set up friend lists – and determine who I might want to chat with if they happened upon the same page. Or, if sites endorsed use of such a plug-in, and made the experience of chatting somehow related to the experience of the site.

Another similar startup in invite-only mode, is Me.dium, which “reveals the hidden world of people and activity behind your browser.” According to Ajaxian, Me.dium offers some similar functionality: “You can see your friends browsing, all with relevance letting you know who is doing similar things, and letting you chat with those people.” I’ve just installed that one, will blog more about it once I’ve tried it out.


  1. Hi, I am a member of the weezu folks

    Many thanks for sharing what you think about our service. Please let me try to comment a little bit, and sorry for the poor english (you may have guessed we’re not native english speakers…)

    Design: weezu is skinnable… the first release is very cartoonesque, the current default is Christmas themed, and we have a more serious look almost ready (curious people can peep here).

    Why should one talk to strangers : mmm… beats me :) Seriously, there are so many use cases out there, and we trust people to invent new ones! Instant Messaging for instance was reduced to ICQ for a long time, before it became MSN- or Yahoo- or… based mainstream applications. We are convinced that some people will enjoy communicating through weezu.

    FireFox: we are definitely working on it, that’s a promise.

    Growth of community: you are spot on the problem faced by such a service, there has to be a big user base for it to become interesting. However too big a community is not expected to be a problem, since you only see people visiting the same websites, at the same time, and not all connected people whatever the site they’re on. Moreover, friend list and filtering the people one sees are features we plan to embed, along with many others.

    Interaction with the visited site seems also a very good idea, could you please elaborate on this ?

    Finally, since you mention Me.dium, let me list the similar services that we know about: Itzle, Gabbly, Geesee, Chatsum, Yakalike, Quickchat, Peekko chat. It seems like it’s just the begining :)

    Thanks again — Francois

  2. Francois – thanks for your comment. Certainly your English is better than my French.

    (I was going to write that sentence itself in French but even that I was afraid I would butcher.)

    I understand the idea is to offer various themes, which is great. I guess what I was reacting to is the whole concept of a visual avatar – even the more serious theme you pointed to still strikes my eyes as a bit cartoonish.

    I think once you have even a handful of other weezu users on the same page as you that interface will hit cognitive overload, as avatars take up too much space in that horizontal bar.

    I love the idea of making presence awareness (who from my friends list is on this same page) part of the experience of surfing – but I’m not convinced yet that another horizontal bar across the bottom of my web browser with visual avatars is the way to accomplish it.

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