The moment that all 1.5 million members on openBC have waited for is finally here– the redesign and rebranding to Xing.com. The redesign went live on Saturday as to allow the developers time to fix any bugs that were still occuring. Alot has been said about the new redesign in various forums, especially within the Moderators Forum that I belong to. I want to take some time to write out a decent review of the new design and list the improvements they’ve made as well as some of the design aspects that they’ve taken a step back on. It is with some hope that they are listening to a more objective viewpoint rather than some of the emotional tirades that have been made on the various forums on Xing.
First let me list the improvements they’ve made and why these are beneficial to the user;
- Implementation of drop down menus for various sections. Drop downs are of great benefit to a design because they help make a design cleaner by improving white space and ridding the site of excess features that can overwhelm a user. Anyone who was using the old design knows just how overwhelming it was for a newbie. The old openBC site had very little use of drop down menus. If we take the member’s start page on the redesign, we notice that there are drop down menus for the â€œcustomize info boxesâ€ and â€œsearch agentsâ€ on member’s start page.
- Improved structure and site architecture. There has been a remarkable improvement given to the redesign. One of the biggest angst about the openBC design is that it was not very user friendly. I even know of employees of the company who commented about that. Good usability relies heavily on clean site architecture. One of the improvements with Xing is that they focused on improving breadcrumb navigation with the main horizontal navigation. Users don’t feel as displaced as they may have felt before and they know where on the site they are.
- Color scheme and graphics. The green hues are the perfect color scheme for the new company colors and logo. The forest and lime green are great at clashing and harmonious at the same time. Green typically symbolizes money and prosperity. Xing also has more use of graphical buttons then the old design. This helps contribute to a more aesthetically pleasing design. It’s very Web 2.0.
- Stronger initiative to avoid incomplete member profiles. One of the challenges that many SNS face are incomplete profiles of members. There is no way to eliminate this but there are ways to help avoid high counts of incomplete profiles. openBC had alot of incomplete profiles especially among the new members joining. There were often complaints of how newbies felt that the sign up process was overwhelming. I took a quick look at the sign up process and it seems not much has changed. However, Xing has taken the initiative to give members a subtle nudge that their profiles may be incomplete in the ways of a status bar as shown here.
As you can see, my status bar shows that my profile is 86% complete. I click on the go button and it takes me to this screen.
I am now shown which areas of my profile is incomplete and prompted to fill it out. As it shows in the photo, the bolded areas are what’s causing an incomplete profile. In this case, I am missing a photo and need to fill out my interests. The status bar is a simple but effective way of avoiding the high counts of incomplete profiles that we find on SNS. More complete profiles result in more business productivity within the business community at Xing. Complete win/win.
Here are some other minor tweaks that were made that I commend as well.
- Additional business card view for our confirmed contacts. Aside from the typical list view that we had, the new business card view allows members to quickly glance at our contacts rather than having scroll down to see our contacts. The little graphical buttons beneath the photos has five features we can use. We can email the contact, skype them, introduce them to mutual contact, delete them as a contact, and download their contact info into our Outlook program. This results in allowing membership to use Xing as a more robust contact management system. Sweet move. Please note that I’ve whited out the phone numbers on this screenshot for privacy concerns.
- Increased size of member photos for our profile page and for the forum threads. I remember the old dimensions that openBC had of member’s pics on the forum threads and profile pages– it was too small. The new pics for our homepage is roughly 138 in width and 170 in length. I think the old dimensions were 75×75? The new dimensions are just right. I get to see more of me. As Katie Couric said, “There’s just more of me of me to love now”
Now, having discussed the good, let’s talk about the bad. Here are some elements of the redesign that I think the former openBC took a step back in. The first one that I am listing is the biggest mishap.
- Business details of a person’s profile page of a member is no longer above the fold. With the old openBC design, members visiting another member’s profile page were able to quickly glance at the crucial business details. Roughly 80 percent of the information was above the fold. With the Xing design, I must scroll down to see the rest of a personâ€™s profile such as their company name, industry affiliations, interests, etc…We should have as much of a personâ€™s business details above the fold rather then below. On my 17 inch screen, I can only see up to a personâ€™s wants. Imagine how bad it must be for someone with a 15 inch screen. Pretty bad. This is bad usability. On a business networking site, a personâ€™s profile is their digital identity. It is what most of us use to decide if we want to make contact with another business person. The new layout for the memberâ€™s homepage is the antithesis of this very belief for an important and innovative business social networking site like Xing. They are hampering the online networking experience of the membership by not having more information above the fold. I know some people may think this is a minor issue but when you consider the fact that most of us will browse and click around on a few new profiles on a daily basis, then you start to see that people don’t want to keep scrolling down for each new profile they visit. I’d say 80% of the business details is actually below the fold. This is the current look.
This is what I think it should look like. I took the liberty of rearranging some of the sections to make it look like something that is more accessible to all. As you can see, this suggested layout looks very similar to the old openBC layout for a person’s profile. Photo is on the left, with some contact date below the photo, and the crucial business details are on the right. The only difference from the old design are how the developers improved some graphic buttons and fonts. I know that a redesign is meant to offer something fresh and innovative. I applaud the designers for at least trying, but it is a better idea to settle for the older layout for the profile page or a variation of it. I think something like this is also nice.
This is the only real angst that I have of the new layout design. But for the sake of posterity, here are a few other minor elements that the redesign took a step back in.
- The most active and largest groups are at the bottom of the groups page. This decreases visibility for these groups and no longer serve a purpose if displayed down here. It’s a known usabilty and accessibility fact that the farther down an element is, the less likely that people will pay attention to it.
- Move the url of memberâ€™s website link back to the business details tab rather than the web tab. I like the idea of creating a new web tab and putting all pertinent “web information” there, but having a link to a business professional’s website should stay on the business details tab. If I want to learn more about the member, then I want immediate access to their company website. Anything that Xing can do to minimize one less click for the membership is preferred and only makes for a more enjoyable experience online.
Interactivty design is huge with online communities. Xing made some great improvements in this area and I hope to see more once the online drama settles within some of the forums. If you haven’t joined yet, here’s an invitation to join
With the impending IPO, rebranding efforts, and attempts to internationlize the platform into European, Asia, and U.S markets, Xing should give any business focused SNS a run for their money. LinkedIN is doing well with having just recently hit 8 million members and they are now turning a profit. Unfortunately, Ecademy is putting their site up for sale. Not too surprising considering they have only achieved 100,000 members in their 7 years of operation. Ryze is still lingering around with 400,000 members but the perception is that it’s been neglected by management for nearly the past two years. You know things have been going downhill when moderators have repeatedly brought up on their own forum as to whether Ryze is fading away on. I recall CEO, Adrian Scott, making a post within the site’s community board that he was starting to hire out his team in January 2006. It’s now November 2006 and he just made another posting to the community board that he is now getting settled with leasing out a building and now they will start building out the team.
I consider these to be the “Big 4″ for business focused SNS. As you can see, the market is wide open and Xing could easily achieve market dominance. They have strong technology, a scalable platform, strong base of 1.5 million members in only 3 years of operation, and a solid business strategy. And on a personal note, their employees are extremely courteous, bright and affable people. There are some who I’ve talked to over the phone a few times [Zhiyi Yu], exchanged a few emails [Justin Jowett] and I’ve at least met one in person [Maria Sipka].
I think this is one of the most most attractive and internationally-minded group of employees of a social networking company that I’ve seen. Or is it just me? You be the judge. See pic below.