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?