Sometimes I find myself guilty of making the assumption that all web workers are like I am, and that my needs and requirements are typical of everyone. As someone who reviews web services and applications, I find I need to step back and try to look at things with a different perspective.
I’ve found that to be particularly true during my evaluation of ZooLoo , a new service offering a complete online environment for your web-based activities, including a personal dashboard, social networking, a site builder and more.
ZooLoo is one of the most comprehensive and ambitious services I’ve seen in a long while. Integrating both public and private areas, ZooLoo tries to do a lot. I have to admit that at first glance it confused me. Its huge array of features — including portal pages, media sharing, site building, blogging and more — was a bit overwhelming.
I also thought about the individual options I am already using for some of this functionality, an iGoogle page, Flickr, a custom blog etc.. I’m used to choosing individual tools and services that best fit my needs and the suite of tools offered by ZooLoo challenged that practice. But as I dug in and began to play around with the integrated tools, I imagined how useful it would be for those who use the web in different ways than I do.
My ZooLoo — The Private Area
Your dashboard is the main entry point to your private “My ZooLoo” area. With the idea that ZooLoo is your single point of entry for all things web related, it does a good job of integrating with your email, social networks and news sites. Like most portal pages there are widgets available to integrate email, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
The “zLife” area brings calendaring, an address book and to-do list functionality to your ZooLoo. While these tools are competent, they are basic, and as a power user I found them to lack some of the features I require and appreciate from the standalone counterparts I use. The ability to have everything in one place is appealing though, and if your needs are modest, it is nicely done. I’d like to see some better integration options here, such as iCal imports.
As more and more of your friends begin to use ZooLoo, the “zSocial” area lets you track what your friends are doing online and offers easy communication with them.
Other sections for shopping and entertainment let you create and manage wishlists and access streaming audio and video selections from Last.fm, YouTube, ESPN and various news and media outlets.
My Site — The Public Side
As all of this content sits on your own domain (included in the cost of the paid Plus membership), you can customize the public side of your ZooLoo site, too. The free ZooLoo account gives you the ability to create three custom pages, in addition to a profile, graffiti wall, blog and photo and video pages. The graffiti wall is a storing house for a clipping service, with a bookmarklet that quickly captures links and other information.
I found the page creation and customization options to be easy to use. A simple multi-page site can be created pretty quickly and the zCreator app allows for some serious tweaking to themes and other presentation options.
One of the things I really appreciated most about ZooLoo is that the privacy controls are excellent. Each page is private by default until you explicitly choose to share it, and the sharing options available are thorough. You can assign different visibility options to each individual page and the interface to manage it is really intuitive. A big thumbs up for making privacy a key feature and for implementing it so well.
Overall I really like ZooLoo. For a new service it is exceptionally well developed and offers quite a strong base for future development. Power users might find some of the features lacking but there are quite a few compelling options here for just about anyone. It’s not necessary to use everything, so picking and choosing the items that work for you is a good way to get started.
ZooLoo is ad-supported with a combination of Google AdSense and affiliate links. This is fine for the free service but the display of these ads on the public sites for paid Plus accounts doesn’t sit well with me. A ZooLoo site could otherwise serve as a basic small business site or blog but the appearance of ads is a deal-breaker for my recommending it for that purpose. I really hope ZooLoo reconsiders this.
The Plus ZooLoo account includes a new domain name registration and unlimited custom pages for $29.99. If you’re comfortable with digging in to your domain tools it is also possible to point a pre-existing domain to your ZooLoo account.
Have you tried ZooLoo? What did you think of the everything-under-the-sun approach?