Xtranormal is a site I have championed around the blogosphere before. It allows users to make animated movies by clicking and dragging icons, and converts text to voice in a variety of computer generated accents. If you have time, it is a great way of creating skits with students. We can work on body language, study the relationship between spelling and pronunciation, explore topics which are hard to talk about face to face, or just have a lot of fun!

A guy working for Best Buy in the US made a video about dumb iPhone users, which has now been seen by more than a million people. It’s rather rude (so don’t watch it if you don’t like swearing).

I was excited to see the tool used to make a big hit like this. The site is running a little slower due to all the extra attention generated by this video, and good for them! It’s a great idea, and in the past has always worked well. This has been a great opportunity for them to pull in a lot of new users.

But unfortunately, in the parlance of the internet, they seem to have gone for the epic fail. In their recent site updates, they have made the site more difficult to use and more difficult to understand. So what do I want?

1. Make it searchable

It used to be. But the search functions – movies, users… and even help forums, are all gone. How am I supposed to find the best videos to show as examples? How can I dig out my students’ videos? How do I find an answer to my particular question? Even this blog is searchable. Who ever heard of a site that wasn’t?  There are a lot of xtranormal videos on youtube, but most of them are pretty filthy (it is pretty funny to make cartoon rabbits do Lil’ Wayne tracks in computer voices, I admit). Filtered searches onsite would help educators and students. As one of my students said when presenting the tool to the class last week ‘We can’t show you an example because they all have bad words in’.

2. Make it easy

To be fair, xtranormal is ridiculously easy to use. The final product you see above probably took very little time to make, and the more familiar one gets with the application, the quicker it is. However, at the moment the user is offered three options at the bottom of the screen when it comes to saving the movie – preview, save or publish. What is the difference? Well, that depends on which of the packages you have signed up for… to make it even more complex, the ‘quick tips’ guide refers to the ‘action’ and ‘it’s a wrap’ buttons, which no longer exist. Five options for saving a movie?

3. Make it payable

I am very grateful for all the hardworking developers out there who make basic versions of their work available for free. If I use them enough (like vimeo and flickr) I am happy to upgrade and pay for premium functions and storage. That seems to be the standard model, and no one can complain. But when a site suddenly changes it’s pricing policy (as ning tried to do) a lot of people get irate. So imagine how irritating it is when a site keeps their pricing policy totally hidden. I am signed up for a free text-to-movie package with xtranormal but it wasn’t until I tried to publish a movie that I discovered I would have to pay. A new screen pops up telling me I don’t have enough points to publish, and that I should buy a bundle. There is nowhere on the site (that I can find) to explain exactly what the pricing package is. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it, right?

4. Make it friendly

Reports are that people attempting to pay at this point are experiencing great difficulty. Customer support is perfunctory, with pretty flimsy answers to my questions so far..

I feel a bit mean picking on one particular application, but unless it improves I will be looking around for an alternative next semester. I’ve written about technology checklists in previous posts – any of you have feedback on this particular story?

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9 Thoughts on “what teachers want from technology (epic fail)

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention the lives of teachers » Blog Archive » what teachers want from technology (epic fail) -- Topsy.com

  2. Totally, totally agree…with all your points,

    Focusing on one in particular, tho’, after reading David Deubel’s recent post – I think we’re beginning to see questions on ethics arising. Basically, it’s fine to charge but make sure its transparent, in fact, rant warming up, make anything that’s related to money-making transparent – because at least when people were putting up GoogleAds, everyone knew what was going on… this whole, let’s screw the customer and pretend to be something “we’re” not is just plain wrong.


  3. darren on July 9, 2010 at 7:56 pm said:

    I’m not sure we can complain about that… I’m not a customer until I pay, and if they want to ask people to pay out of the blue, then make it very difficult to do so, it is stupid rather than unethical. That’s my point – they have just received a huge boost in visibility and interest for free, and they capitalise by making their site really rubbish.

  4. As I see more and more of these types of tools hitting the market I become excited about the educational potential for student learning. At the same time, however, I become more and more cautious. Do they have an education version? What is their privacy policy and terms of use policies? These are questions I find myself asking regularly with these web-based applications – and for good reason.

    Facebook’s terms of use with respect to who owns the personal content uploaded by users should have all educational leaders asking questions about what information a site needs to gather about its users and what they will do with that info.

    Xtranormal is a good example of why we should be asking for an EDU-specific site. Do you want to see an epic fail? The galley is filled with user content rife with obscenities and inappropriate content most teachers wouldn’t feel comfortable allowing students to watch. Sites like Glogster and GoAnimate understand this and have created EDU-specific sites where the content is easier to control by teachers and the tool is geared toward schools.

    Teachers need to model the types of citizenship skills we want our students to develop in using web-based publishing and media creation tools. Jumping into using a site without doing so, IMO, would be the epic fail.

  5. darren on July 12, 2010 at 7:00 am said:

    You are quite right. I have a checklist to go through when researching new tools for classroom application, and the issues you raise are all covered. My personal epic fail on this occasion was to assume that the site hadn’t changed for the worse in the last few months. Although it didn’t have a specific education site, it was a lot easier to find more appropriate content previously. To be honest, the sweary stuff isn’t my major problem – my students are old enough to deal with it, and on the internet you need to learn to confront and discard things like that. I just wish they hadn’t hidden the pricing information….

  6. xtranormalgra on July 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm said:


    can I just say that I agree with pretty much everything you say.

    Our problem has been that we were in the middle of a major change to our site -and yes were were going to start charging a small amount – when a Tsunami hit us – we are extremely grateful to the iPhone video guy, but at the same time it caught us in the middle of a major upgrade, so we were swamped on all fronts.

    We have been busy trying to make amends to educators, but at the same time, we will end up having to charge a little – just doing the rendering costs money.

    please stick with us……we will get there!



  7. darren on July 15, 2010 at 8:03 pm said:

    Thanks for stopping by! I sympathise, and I did feel bad complaining about the site when my students and I have got so much out of it for free over the last year or so. It isn’t the charges that bother me, it is the fact that users can’t find out where, how, or how much they need to pay, and what they will get for it. A small chart explaining the charges, in an easily accessible place, would dispel a lot of frustration (and you must have seen the forums!).

    But I’ll be checking back, and when everything is fixed I may well pay out of my own pocket to let the students enjoy this. Good luck, and I urge everyone else to keep an eye on this great idea!

  8. julie carle on July 25, 2010 at 9:03 pm said:

    I am a great supporter of Xtranormal and the ability through this website to illustrate how teachers and learners can engage with Web 2.0 tools for effective teaching. If you follow the following link you will see 11 xtranornal videos of returning adult learners engaging in debate of technology in an UK open uni cloudworks educational networking site http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/4103. Janet Hart of the Centre of Learning and Performance Technologies gave the Xtranormal Bob and Sue videos the wthumps up http://janeknight.typepad.com/

  9. Julie Carle on July 26, 2010 at 5:54 pm said:

    Here is an example of Xtranormal videos posted on the UK Open University Educational Network site Cloudworks http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/4103 Bob and Sue are returning to Higher Education studying Technology Enhanced Learning. Here they discuss many of the frustration that are experiencing.

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