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Zude: Drag, Drop And Network

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What will the next generation of social networking sites look like? Zude, a startup based in Roslyn, N.Y., thinks the answer lies with customization, and as such is offering a platform that is part social, with a community of member pages, but also part web mashup, with a drag-and-drop design application that lets users drag content from (almost) any web site directly onto their Zude pages.

Owned by Fifth Generation Systems (5g), Zude had raised $5 million in VC funding when it rolled out its private beta last May — only to find it was unable to handle the site traffic. So the company regrouped, beefed up its capabilities, and launched a public beta, to little fanfare, in July.

The pre-designed templates on which users can build their pages resemble a typical MySpace profile, with features including a guestbook and profile information. Also like MySpace, Zude is trying to tap into cool by encouraging musicians to add profiles and music to the site. It also plans to eventually add a classified directory, according to CEO Jim McNeil.

At its core, however, the company is trying to make it easy for users to design their own, fully customizable web sites and profile pages that are a mashup of found and created content, sort of like a free-for-all NetVibes.

Do they accomplish this goal? Well, sort of. The interface is fairly painful to navigate at first, at least in Firefox (it’s supposedly better in Internet Explorer; it didn’t work at all in Safari), but with the end goal of putting together a custom webpage, it’s still easier to figure out than Dreamweaver.

It’s also easy to make a really ugly, graphic-heavy web site, replete with clashing colors. As we learned from MySpace, self-expression isn’t always pretty.

What really sets Zude apart from similar startups like ZCubes, PageFlakes, NetVibes and others is that it lets users actually drag content in from other windows and plop it right down on their page. Similar to competitor ZCubes, you can take an image from Google image search in one window, and click and drag it onto the page, easy as…potential copyright infringement? We’ll leave it to Zude’s lawyers to deal with that problem.

Like ZCubes, Zude lets users create a mashup of Internet sites. For instance, check out this Zude page that includes GigaOM, Earth2Tech, and NewTeeVee that I spent about 30 minutes creating — 25 of which were spent trying to get the application to work properly in my browser.

Don’t bother trying to put a Facebook profile on the page, though. McNiel explains that Facebook is among the list of sites that block the ability to plop their content into a mash-up page on Zude; The New York Times is another one. Instead, users are limited to posting links.

It turns out it’s not too difficult for companies to block Zude from being able to go in and, uh, borrow content from their pages. Sites might want to block Zude because it’s not exactly kosher to run ads on someone else’s content. But some sites might like the added traffic. The copied web sites load in full inside the Zude pages, with advertising intact. It’s unclear how many sites will block Zude, and if that will affect their growth potential.

The biggest problem with Zude at the moment is its interface. Even a well-designed page gets cluttered with an annoying and ugly navigational bar at the top of the screen, and the banner ad that pops up in the bottom of the screen for the first 30 seconds after the window loads doesn’t help, either. The company plans to offer paid accounts that will get rid of that advertising altogether.

If Zude can clean up its UI a bit, it could catch on.

18 Responses to “Zude: Drag, Drop And Network”

  1. Roman Geyzer

    Hi Steve,
    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I understand that Revenue may not be of immediate concern, but since I doubt money is being spent sheerly for the philanthropic thrill, I suppose you want to create something that can generate significant revenue, even if its by accident. To that effect, the site must serve some purpose for it to be of value to its users. In this regard, it is similar to other sites so it has to be significantly better to win market share. I appreciate what you are doing from a technology standpoint, but from a business standpoint, I’m not sure that this makes a lot of sense to me. But, by all means, I urge you to prove me wrong and look forward to seeing what your site may evolve into, even if its not quite there yet.

  2. Zude/5G is first and foremost a technology company (authors of the FGL programming language, creators of the open5G development platform and arguably one of the fastest servers running on the planet, as well as a pretty darn cool hybrid relational/object database) [Lots more about THAT stuff in the weeks and months to come].

    Zude quickly became a very effective way for us to show off our technology. To that end, we have spent the last year focusing on enhancing, refining, and evolving the social computing space — while tactfully embracing advanced technology. We don’t always get it right the first time — but we ARE persistant.

    We have also been fortunate to have the funds and a VERY supportive board that have enabled us to focus on the important things — power, performance, flexibility, user experience (and so much more), without concern for today’s revenue. Revenue is NOT the goal — it is a PLEASANT CONSEQUENCE of our efforts.

    And now, after nearly a year of living in the shadows — NOW, we continue. NOW we bring it to the world — not perfect, not even close, but with the technical power to evolve, refine, and revolutionize, as well as the financial wherewithall and technical prowess that is always required in such endevours.

    And way more than “one or two features” — just ask any of the existing Zude users that profess to be “addicted”. Or, better yet, spend more than a few minutes there and see first hand.

  3. Roman Geyzer

    Perhaps I’m missing something here, but where’s the UMP? what’s the business here? I don’t understand web sites whose foundation is built on one or two features that are relatively easily copied. The technology for this isn’t exactly rocket science. Yahoo, MySpace, Google, Netvibes and Facebook all have the resources to develop this and add it to their arsenal and user base. And I doubt it would cost 5M to develop this so I’m really left scratching my head on this one.

  4. Power and flexibility aren’t always pretty, and very often not easy to use — and THAT is a challenge for us here at Zude. But, it is a challenge we accept. We will forever listen to our customer base and continue leading the evolution in social computing.

    If you haven’t been to Zude recently, then the first thing you’ll notice is (drum-roll please) a new interface! But not simply new — it is just another option (in this case, the default option). Plenty of Zude power-users LOVE the original UI — but others wanted and needed something a friendlier. As software developers, our job is to not only appease both sides, but also to empower and excite both sides — and everyone in between.

    But that isn’t the end — it’s barely the beginning. And I suspect (with more than a little bit of insider knowledge) that you are going to see A LOT of evolution and revolution from Zude over the next little bit…


  5. Adena
    First of all thank you for taking the time to play with Zude.
    I understand where you are coming from. Why isn’t there an application designed to manage my entire digital life? Why cant I, or any novice, build and manage a multidimensional multi-page web presence? One of the biggest challenges in building Zude has been explaining to people how rich and robust it can be. The reason, I believe, people are having a difficult time positioning Zude is the simple reason that what we do has never been done before. Who ever imagined you could pull up Google images in a non-proprietary browser, like IE, and drag those images into a Firefox browser containing your Zude page? Once an object is present it can be resized and, positioned and then told what to do when it is touched in any way. Objects include:widgets, gadgets, videos, music, text, flash, nearly anything that can live on a webpage.

    These very basic tools make an extremely rich user experience possible. I use Zude to manage my digital life. If you go to you will see that I use zude to read the news, manage webex session, host my myspace, host my blog, and host dozens of other blogs as well. What you can not see are the dozens of private and shared pages I have which contain excel, word and powerpoint documents which are easily accessible to my colleagues from around the globe. None of the work done in my 100+ page Zudescape required even 1 line of code.

    Another example of how rich an experience can be built and easily managed without code is . While it was designed by an MIT student he was a student in the school for urban design and not computer engineering. In Future Boston more than 160 people are beginning a dialog about how to make Boston a more livable and global city.

    In a completely different direction check out one of my favorite new bands at . If u click on the “in the studio link” on the left you can play with the band like they are paper dolls and here what they are saying when they are in the recording studio. (they may still be adding a few voices, but you will get the idea)

    I was speaking with Liz Strauss yesterday and she was saying that we are not a new MySpace or PageFlakes, She said we were the New Web. When you really dig into Zude and realize how deep you can go and how rich an experience you can create you might start to think about the web in a completely new way. I know that I do.

    While I agree that we can always work to make things easier, and we do, I also believe that Zude provides the means to manage an extremely diverse and complex digital existence. We would be delighted to help you build your multidimensional digital persona. So in summary I think Zude is different, it is the best way to manage your: digital life, Rock Band, online civic dialog, landscaping business, insert your life here…

    Drop me a line when you are in Zude the next time.

  6. Andy:

    Let me give you a response. I am sure others will too.

    Good points. First off: “chicken scratch handwriting look like cursive hand” – nice observation. ZCubes drawing tools have the advanced capability of smoothing your handwriting – it uses advanced algorithms (AI) to do this. This can obviously be switched off, if you wish to do sketches etc.

    Secondly, “How about helping simple minded bloggers like you and me concentrate on writing rich content and knowledge management”:
    ZCubes Enterprise versions focus on much of your knowledge management aspects. Also ZCubes is the SIMPLEST SOFTWARE FOR BLOGGING. All you have to do is to Cubee any content to your Blogs, and there you go. This is so much simpler than having to use a software specifically for blogging. You could be blogging as you are browsing in ZCubes with the ZCubes browser. It is as simple as 1,2,3.

    At ZCubes, our focus is not the “myspace generation”. It is the new generation of software. The generation where we do not worry about webpages, spreadsheets, documents, and other segmented nonsense that clutter our lives.

  7. Adena,

    Both Zude and ZCubes are probably headed in the right direction offering complete freedom to novice netizens like me. But I wonder what one can do with these applications? I’ve tried both applications and was able to get a little ahead in ZCubes as compared to Zude which could partially be because of, as you rightly pointed out, the UI issue. The only thing I liked in both applications was the handwrite tool in ZCubes, only because it made my chicken scratch handwriting look like cursive hand.

    “The pre-designed templates on which users can build their pages resemble a typical MySpace profile, with features ………. to the site”

    Everyone seems to be on the MySpace bandwagon but my question is who’s working for the Non Myspace generation? How about helping simple minded bloggers like you and me concentrate on writing rich content without the hassle of coding or helping an enterprise resolve its knowledge management dilemma through a simple rich content sharing platform. Has ‘Out of the Box’ been replaced by ‘inside the Space’?

    • Andy
  8. Quoted: “What really sets Zude apart from similar startups like ZCubes and others is that it lets users actually drag content in from other windows and plop it right down on their page.”

    FYI: Copy/paste or drag-drop of ANY CONTENT is a breeze with ZCubes.

    With Advanced Features enabled ZCubes lets you drag-drop files from your hard-drive, and directly extract full web content from ANY site. You can even rotate Google webpage in ZCubes. Others still dream of doing this someday.

    However, ZCubes also lets you do fascinating thing with vector animation, content manipulation, real-time sharing, and a lot more! In the pipeline are amazing features that will blow your mind away.

    More later!

  9. Adena,

    Its interesting that you’ve metioned and compared ZCubes in your post about Zude. While Zude does have some of the functionality provided by ZCubes, it ia only a very small fraction of the ZCubes list.

    In ZCubes, you can integrate unlimited websites (as you’ve indicated), media, RSS feeds, games, gadgets, and EVEN YOUR OWN HANDWRITING AND PAINTING. You can then customize the content by changing backgrounds, layout, fonts etc to your liking. In other words…an extremely powerful tool to help users express themselves. In addition, there is a fully functional built in browser for efficient browsing.

    In addition, there are no UGLY navigation and advertisement bars or popus/rollins. We are committed to not diluting the users expression in any way.

    They say “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. While certain self-expression may appear ugly to some, it may be attrative to others. The bottom line is that the users are empowered to express their creativity.

    FYI…ZCubes allows drag-drop from Google images, Google video, Wikimedia Commons, YouTube.

    Parag Mathur
    VP, Product Management

  10. Alexander van Elsas

    I agree with you on the last paragraph, the interface is truly awful. I can’t see this going anywhere unless they clean that up real well.
    I’m also not sure which problem they are trying to solve? netvibes seems to do a much better job at it.