Chris Thiessen developed Zoomii full time over the course of almost 1.5 years since December 2006.
If you know how to look for books in a bookstore then you basically know how to use Zoomii.
For book lover, have you ever love the experience and thrill of casually skimming over wide range of books on the bookshelf at a glance hoping for something interesting to spontaneously catch your attention ? If you do, you might have thought that such experience could only be found in real bookstore but not anymore since (www.zoomii.com), a fantastic service whose mission is to bring back that kind of ‘fun’ experience on the web, has been available publicly since 16 June 2008. Simply imagine all the books in a bookstore is directly layout on a screen and available for pick and purchase, and that is exactly what the underlying concept of Zoomii is all about. Zoomii also draw its inspiration from Google Map with its all familiar navigation control for panning and zooming. Indeed, the user interface of Zoomii can be perceived as Google Map for Amazon Books. As its name implies, the concept of zooming in and out of the bookstore is the cornerstone of the service, which akin to the same physical experience of walking from one bookshelf to another to check up the book.
Given the advantage of using the lightning-fast online search that return the book information efficiently with a blink of eyes, why will one still bother to browse books in a tedious physical way ? For many, it turns out that the thrill and joy of discovering new and related book in a physical bookstore is not something a computing experience can easily replace. Many still prefer the challenge and curiosity to discover something in a raw way within a familiar and conducive physical environment that piques them further. In addition, the relaxed ambience and the environment are what make going to a bookstore fun and enjoyable.
Quick Video on Zoomii
The Main Screen. Yes, this is exactly what you get in the site initally
The following screen will greet you. However, Zoomii will restore the last zoom for next visit.
Zoomii, a free web application that builds on highly scalable Java server and AJAX, heavily leverages on the resource, performance and cost-effectiveness of Amazon web services, Amazon EC2 and Amazon S3 to bring a familiar face of book browsing experience to Amazon online bookstore. In this aspect, Zoomii accomplishes its objective very admirably. Indeed, when using Zoomii, one can really feel like traversing a real bookstore going from bookshelf to bookshelf. The screen is uncluttered and straight forward to use. On the left side is the Navigation Bar where navigation, searching and checkout are done. User need not register to use the service but registering and logging into the service allows user to add book to wish list. A wish list allows one to store the unlimited number of book request which one later can return to purchase it. In addition, registering could possibly (I yet to check up on this ) means that Zoomii could offer seamless checkout service with Amazon by using email address for verification.
Zoomii has a viable business model because every book that user click on Zoomii for purchase help to generate revenue through commission with Amazon.
However, do take note that Zoomii is ONLY able to browse and search limited number of books currently. Information located on its top panel shows the number of books that are available for Browse Mode in the main screen and for searching using the Search Mode. However, with daily indexing of book information from Amazon, the number will increase with time.
|Beside, Zoomii has problem working with Opera (testing with v9.5b). When accessing the site in Opera, the entire site shows a blank screen .|
How it works
The familiar concept of bookstore is been meticulously modelled onto the web application both in user interface and purchasing process. Just like a real bookstore, each category of books are placed into respective bookshelf that is located at specific region of screen akin to a shelf location in a real bookstore. And there may be many bookshelves having the same category but placed in close proximity.
Click on the Category Picker button will show slide a screen that intelligently shows all the categories of the bookshelf and position of the categories in the thumbnail of the ‘bookstore’ as the mouse hover over the Category item. This is innovative and I wonder if a real bookstore could offer such functionality. clicking on the category bring one to the region on the screen where the Bookshelf belonging to that category resides.
Does the following reminds you of a BookStore physical location ?
For example, clicking on Science from the Category Screen bring focus onto the Science region.
When one clicks on the Category bookshelf label (eg Art) , the bookshelf is zoomed to fit the whole screen so that book titles can be clearly deciphered, however there seems to be no way to revert back to previous zoom (Going from A to B but not B back to A). Hover zoom for book that is when mouse is hovered on book region, a magnified book image will be shown so as to eliminate manual zooming.
|A) Helicopter View
||B) BookShelf View
Navigation is done not by foot but by panning using mouse drag or using the Google Map’s like-navigational control. Clicking on the Home button send one back to the initial screen where all the books fit into the screen.
At any point in time, clicking on the book image will display the respective Book Detail Screen where user can view a brief introduction of the book and add to purchase or wish list. On the screen itself, user can click on link to view related information like Amazon Book Page or Comment Page on the book.
There are two primary modes of finding the book. One is the casual Browse mode where the user just check up the surrounding book on the bookshelf as shown in the ubiquitous main screen. However the methods only allows user to view subset of the books due to the fact that imitating the physical bookstore model also extols that Zoomii replicates physical bookstore limitation, that is limited capacity to shelf all the books within the screen space. Therefore, Zoomii never did show all the books on the screen but a fraction of what is available in the Amazon store. This is a tradeoff to save space and to improve performance by not downloading book images over-excessively that may impact the service performance. Still, this may not be a showstopper because Zoomii seems to comprehensively display many popular books on screen. For example, the Computer category shows a great number of popular Computer books sort by Author name. The amount of books in Zoomii easily rivals the actual bookstore itself. I assume that those books shown are at least included the newest or popular titles.
However, all is not lost if the desired book could not be found on the main screen. A alternative is to use the Search feature locate on the Navigation Bar where another screen will popup to show the result of the search from Amazon bookstore. The users can select to view by Book Image List or by Book Detail list.
A) Book Image List
Opppss…. a minor bug manifests when the books are not properly rearranged to fit the consecutive empty slot but scatter throughout the empty slot.
B) Book Detail list
Using cable modem, performance on the whole is surprisely fastand really depend on the traffic usage during the peak period. Despite been graphic-intensive, Zoomii did admirably handle the load very well that I hardly feel the slowdown during non-office hour. However, it will be best to avoid using it at peak hour because the bottle-neck might not be Zoomii and Amazon but rather on ISP.
During office hour, using Zoomii is unbearable due to the waiting time redrawing the screen when one navigate through the bookshelf (It runs very fast now due to recent optimization, give it a try)
Zoomii is a interesting application where obviously a great deal of thought and design have been spent on how to replicate the real bookstore experience onto the web, and the effort really pays off. It is intuitive, fast and simple to use. There is a lot of potential in Zoomii and in current version it barely scratch the surface of its potential. Still, even the best application could stand some improvements. The following are just my suggestions.
1) User-customisable background
A bookstore is a kind of lifestyle for many, and what if a background image can be used to promote that kind of feeling. The image doesn’t have to be high resolution as it may take time to download but rather just lucid enough to show the difference .
2) Add a Revert Zoom function
The system automatically zoom to the bookshelf to fill the screen when click on the Category label. However there seems no way to revert back to previous zoom. Adding a Revert Zoom under Home button will make many happy.
3) Show book title or magnified book image when mouse hover on the miniature book image.
|After a while, zooming in and out becomes tiresome and counterproductive. User will want the option to glance the bookstore at small size and it will be helpful if a book title is shown when the mouse hovered over the book image. Better still, if the magnified book image is shown just like what Apple did. It will pose a technical challenge since it will not make sense when the book image is zoom to a size larger than the magnified book image. To make it simple initally, maybe just show the image and book title in the Navigation Bar.|
4) Make extensive use of Drag N Drop
Drag N Drop could provide a more pleasant experience that mimic the real world. In the real world, no one buy a book through ‘Checkout’, rather they collect the book they want to buy and bring it to cashier. So in the same way, why not add a Buy button ? Imagine user can multi-select books and drag the book to buy buttons and the system will clear the purchase as little steps as possible. Moreover, if user want to queue the book for later purchase, he too can drag it to WishList button. If the user press the Buy button, the system ask if the user want to purchase item from wishlist and allows select the items for purchase. This might work differently from familiar system of checkout but then doing thing differently and intuitively could be a differential advantage.
5) Real Book Browsing
Currently, using Zoomii is like walking in a bookstore where all books are been wrapped for purchase. The user can only read the brief abstract of the book from the back of the book. It will be useful if user can flip the first few pages of the book. Amazon has such service and I wonder if Zoomii could work with Amazon to offer similar service because the interaction design of Zoomii fits that process well.
6) Last but not least, add a Company Logo
It is the first startup company that I see with no noticeable company logo (at least I could not find any in its own site). A company logo is important for branding. A company without logo is like a company without representative.
Future of Zoomii ?
The more I explore Zoomii, the more I get intrigued with its potential and future. This is definitely one awesome service that life-changing but yet so simple. I believe that its design will provide some clue to future design of online store. A design that replicates the experience of a physical store is also what virtual world like Second Life is trying to achieve albeit with little success. Let me comment on the future of Zoomii from both business and technical point of views.
Zoomii may well represents the next facet of online bookstore to come. A lot could be learnt by exploring a real bookstore and perhaps the future of Zoomii lies in not been about books alone but rather as a LifeStyle bookstore. A LifeStyle bookstore like not only sells books alone but also sell ambience, service, souvenirs, presents, music, albums etc. The same Google Map interface used in Zoomii used for books can easily been reused for tangible items like souvenirs, music, albums, magazine. This perhaps a area that Zoomii will like to pursue as its unique interface expand the business possibility of what can be done to Zoomii. Notice the main title says zoomii books. Could it be that this replaced by combobox which then allow user to select other choices like Album, souvenirs, magazine too since a lifestyle bookstore sell all these items too ?
Zoomii is unlikely to a pose a serious threat to the big boys like Border, Amazon etc. Rather Zoomii’s compelling stategy could be competing in the middle market where 20% of the items shown in the Bookshelf satisfy 80% of the buyers and that alone is sufficient to generate revenue that help the service to sustain and grow. That to say, Zoomii makes a good acquisition for Amazon, Borders etc whose respective service becomes so powerful and feature-laden that make it harder to use, this create a opportunity for Zoomii to focus on target market of book buyers who prefer to ‘shop’ for books in the traditional way. Nonetheless, the existence of Zoomii will surely make the big boys seriously rethink of how to design their future site.
It is very amazing that this application is written in AJAX with Java as backend, let alone by a sole talented developer. It really take sheer determination, perseverance and immense focus and unravelling commitment to deliver application of such scale by a single developer. In fact, it is rare to find talented developer who is both a excellent software designer and developer. Nonetheless, talent aside, it still take a sheer amount of hard work and patience to create a non-trivial system. Therefore kudos for Chris for such a stellar effort and result.
Competiton-wise, it will hard to compete AJAX with true RIA solution in term of maintenance and development. Unlike Google Map which can still choose to use the trusty AJAX technology to accomplish its feat because it is not the interface that impossible to duplicate but the mapping content that Google owns that creates the actual entry of barrier to incumbent, Zoomii will have no such enthralling competitive advantage as it relies on the public non-exclusive Amazon services that others can easily do likewise. The current source of differentiation is its enticing user interface which needless to say, will likely to be replicated in competing solution. However, competitor will unlikely to utilize the AJAX technology of choice that Chris choose for Zoomii evelopment, but capitalizing on more advantageous playing field by utilizing true RIA designed for the task. (After personally exploring Flex and JavaFX, it is not hard to see where the current AJAX deficiencies lie in, maintenance , enhancement might take substantial longer time becomes bottleneck that competitors use to play catch up. Whatever the cases, the future seems promising to Zoomii as it has successfully attracted attention for its innovativeness and able to attract serious funding which enable it to determine the next technology to build on.
Is 3D version of a bookstore a overkill ?
Zoomii has to be one of the most exciting and innovative web applications I used by far this year. The service’s ease of use and replication of a real bookstore are outstanding. Zoomii makes a very impressive debut and its design provides the glimpse of the future online store to come.