Zude Pages and the Future of Social Networks

In the previous article I gave you a taste of Zude, the new offering from Fifth Generation Systems that some claim will revolutionize social networking and the web. In this article I will actually build a Zude profile and speculate on the uses and possible pitfalls of this technology.

Zude accounts are free, and you must be at least 15 years old to open one. You can click on the Help link on Zude’s home page, then go to the Quick Start folder and click on Creating an Account if you want to know what to expect:

An ordinary Zude account is free, but you can expect to see ads on the pages you create — not unlike what you can expect from a free web hosting account, which is what this is when you come right down to it. If you want to have a Zude account without the ads, it costs $25 per year. When you click the link to sign up for Zude, it gives you four options: Individual, Family, Group, and Business. The Help instructions recommend going with the Individual sign up, since that’s the only one that is actually available currently (the others are coming later).

The Individual membership gives you an unlimited number of customizable pages; public, private, and personal pages; a personalized Zude address; and lets you include content from the web, your own computer, and widgets and gadgets. Naturally, this is the one I chose.

The form you fill out for Zude memberships asks for your first name, last name, zip/postal code, country, screen name, birth year and gender. In the directions, Zude asks that you include your real birth year, not the birth year you tell everyone online — a nod to how people actually behave online. It’s nice to see that this company is at least that web savvy. When you give your first and last names, it automatically fills those in as your screen name, but you can change it.

The next step is to give your e-mail address and password. As is typical for these kinds of sign-ups, you have to enter your password twice, type in a security code, and tick a box saying that you agree to the site’s terms.

The last step to signing up is to choose the page template for your default home page. There are 18 to choose from, including a completely blank page. Themes include various colors, surfing, dragons, a family gallery, "hodge-podge" (a bit of everything in one page) and others.

I wasn’t quite ready to face a blank page, but I wanted as much freedom as I could get. I thought the minimalist page might do the trick. I quickly discovered, not too surprisingly, that I had to have cookies enabled to be able to completely sign in. If you don’t have cookies enabled, you get ERROR in the security screen (the captcha), and you go on to the next screen where you can pick your template, but after you pick it you get a message saying the session has timed out. It does not tell you that you need to activate cookies, or at least permit cookies for the Zude web site.

The first thing I wanted to do was change the background image of my page. This could be done by grabbing images from the web, the Zude Image Library, or by uploading my own photos to use as wallpaper. Zude gave explicit directions as to how to create wallpaper from Google images. It involved searching on Google Images in a different window while keeping Zude open. Then, after locating the image, you simply hold down the CTL key on your keyboard while dragging and dropping the image onto the Zude page.

Before doing that, though, I went ahead and uploaded a photo. Zude said that it would automatically crop it so as not to exceed a 130 by 160 frame. The photo itself had to be less than 150K in size. After you upload the photo, Zude also asks you for the usual information you’d expect from a networking site. I was a little surprised that it asked for skin tone. And the options for marital status went far beyond the usual three or four (a very good thing, in my opinion).

But when I tried to get some new wallpaper up, I discovered that everyone’s comments about Zude having a horrendous interface were true. It took me quite a while to get it to work as advertised. Ideally, I should have just been able to click on the image I wanted, and drag and drop it to my page while holding down the CTR key. It took quite a bit of fiddling and some help from someone who is more technologically savvy to get the appropriate image in place.

Let me make a further, more positive note about the interface: it does get easier with practice. I found that you do eventually get an "a-ha!" moment where suddenly it all makes sense, and you realize what you can do with it. It doesn’t take too long to get to that moment, especially if you have someone experienced talking you through it (and here I’d like to give a big "thank you" to Matt Wulkan). Then of course you start to have more questions about what you can do, but at that point you’re able to reason that what you want to do is not only possible, but probably easy. That reduces the frustration factor with learning new stuff, because you’re over the first hurdle. The trick is getting to that moment.

Here is the page I managed to put together at this point, after having uploaded an image, answered a few questions, and struggled to get my wallpaper in place (thanks to Astronomy Picture of the Day for the image):

This image has been cropped and reduced to fit the page. Not bad…but I had to struggle a lot more than Zude lets on to manage this. I couldn’t even figure out how to get it directly from the web onto the Zude page; I had to save the image locally first, then upload it into their file manager. From the file manager, I got it onto the page by dragging and dropping while holding the CTL key.

When you want to drag and drop images onto a page in Zude, you need to do it with two separate windows set up. One should contain your Zude page, while the other contains the page from which you’re trying to copy. This time, I succeeded in dragging and dropping an image onto my Zude page after only three tries.


Steve helpfully told me that I could right click the image to resize it, which I did; it’s a little big in this screen shot. I could also move it around. But most of all, when I right-clicked on the image, I saw a list of shortcuts:

These in turn let me do various things with the image. Clicking on Edit Properties led me to an entirely different menu that allowed me to make the image more interactive; I could control what happened when someone clicked on the image, for example (such as have it take the person to a different web site).

Here I’d like to finally mention those buttons that appear across the top of most Zude pages; you see some of them in this picture. They’re labeled Save, Pages, Objects, User, Tags, Rate, Review, and Tools. Pages lets you create, delete, and edit pages; Objects lets you add and manage things on your page; and all of them reveal menus that let you do some pretty cool stuff. Many things can be done by dragging and dropping. For example, I learned an interesting trick for multiple pages: by clicking on Pages and then clicking on My Pages, I got a list of my pages. If I then dragged and dropped one of those files onto the page that was open in my browser, I put a button on the current page that led to the page I’d just dragged.

In fact, dragging and dropping is how you do most things in Zude, along with right-clicking to get to the menus you need. Zude has a number of preformated objects (guest books, headlines, text blocks, etc.) that you can drag and drop onto a page to make it your own. I put together a second Zude page that features a short text block (three paragraphs), a video that I embedded into the page from Google Video, and a guest book. Now that I’ve had some more time to play with Zude, I’ve made some minor updates to my main page. Here’s a screen shot:

 

On the top left is my own image, as you would find at many social networking sites. From this box I can access my messages and view my pages. Below it is my user profile, which I’ve set to be closed on initial viewing (it can be opened by anyone who’s curious about it). The flower I found is tucked to the right, as is a button that takes the user to my second page when clicked. Above the lily is a header that takes me to Zude’s tutorials when opened. Finally, near the top middle is a headline that says "Welcome to a tranquil part of the web." Any of these elements could be moved or deleted with just a click of the mouse. There is a lot more you can do with Zude; I’ve only had time to scratch the surface.

The interface is somewhat tricky for beginners. Once things start clicking, however, it’s really eye-opening what you can do. If you like to experiment, you’ll enjoy playing around with this site, especially if you’re not afraid to push buttons, click on things, and drag and drop to see what happens. There is a lot more you can do with it, however. If you own your own business, you can not only set up links to the site from yours; you can practically drag and drop the whole thing onto Zude. But that’s just one example.

The fact that you can make your pages public, private, or personal is very nice. Furthermore, you can add ratings to your pages as they do for the movies, to keep mature or adult content away from prying eyes (yes, they make a distinction between the two, and it’s not just you rating it; the community can rate it as well). Your public pages can be seen by everyone, and might be a good place to show your interests, hobbies, or possibly your resume if you’re job hunting. The private pages can be seen by just a few friends you designate; here you might have a blog that talks about your personal life or pictures from the last science fiction convention you went to. Only you can see your personal pages, which makes them a good place to put all of the things you like to check every time you get on the web: your web mail, feeds from your favorite news sites, and perhaps some web-related projects you’re working on.

One of the most important positive aspects of Zude is that it offers a way to consolidate your entire web presence onto one site. Among other things, you get a URL that you can give to friends that takes them to your page; you can even use a URL that you already own, emphasizing Zude’s basic nature as a web host. Putting everything in one place could be a massive time saver for active web users, especially those who belong to several social networks. Imagine updating several different sites from one page!

One real concern is that Zude makes copyright infringement online even easier than it already is. As one reviewer commented, that’s going to be a matter for Zude’s lawyers to figure out. If Zude catches on, it’s possible that we’ll see a lot more DMCA takedown notices than we do now. Viacom’s lawsuit against Google and YouTube would be just the beginning.

The other major concern is the interface. Zude claims that it is easy enough for grandmas and kids to use. I’m sure that kids will figure it out, but Grandma might get frustrated unless she is both patient and tech savvy. I’d recommend persistence, because it is fun once you figure it out; however, I have to admit I had to call for help to get a better understanding of the interface. But yes, if Zude smooths out its interface and catches on, "revolutionary" might be the right word – at least as far as how its users feel it lets them relate to the Internet and to each other.

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