After my rather scathing review of Given.to last week a surprising thing happened… Other startup founders started asking me to review their apps. To my shock, and a bit of local pride, I’m finding that local founders actually want down and dirty, no holds barred reviews so that they can… wait for it… make their startups better!
So with a tiny bit of trepidation it appears that I am falling into the role of being the Simon Cowell of our little corner of the tech world.
The first Startup to come to me is BetaPunch.com . BetaPunch.com is one of the few startups in the area that I think makes a darned bit of sense. They are solving a real problem, they have a real app, and people should be willing to pay for what they offer.
BetaPunch.com is a service that offers to User Test your website and give you the results rather quickly. So if you create a new web site and you want to know if users will be able to find your contact information you can ask BetaPunch.com testers to go to your site and see if they can. If you want to see if your User Interface makes a darned bit of sense you can put in an order for testers to try out your UI and see if they can make heads or tails of it.
The overall process, and product is pretty simple. First you create an account. Then you create/ buy a test. For the test you input the website you want the tester to go to, and then give them any special instructions. Then what happens is that a tester accepts your test. They then turn on screen recording so that their voice and monitor are being recorded. From there they do whatever it is you asked them to do. When they are done you are notified and you are given a link to watch the video of the tester trying to accomplish whatever tasks you have set out for them.
Now before I start ripping into BetaPunch.com let me first say that in my opinion it is “fine”… I was able to do everything I wanted to do on the site within a reasonable amount of time, and the test results that I received back were surprisingly good. I suppose maybe that’s a good place to start this review. If the overall site was as good as the test results I received THEN BetaPunch.com would be awesome!
So now that I’ve admitted that the site is “fine” lets rip into to it and ponder what could be better…
Now one of the things I should say is that I saw the BetaPunch.com demo at Baltimore Tech Breakfast awhile back and so I come to the site with a few expectations that may or may not be currently accurate. The first expectation is that a major selling point of BetaPunch.com is that it’s QUICK. When asked about quality control during the Baltimore Tech Breakfast the founder Ross Nochumowitz stated that although he does try his best to maintain a high standard of quality for his testers that one of the main selling points of BetaPunch.com is that you get results quickly.
In my book quick is a good thing. Realistically I generally build my websites so that a drunk 14 year old should be able to figure out what’s going on. So really a lack of “quality” may actually be a better tester for me anyway. Now what’s interesting when you hit the home page is that no words related to “Quick”, “Fast”, or “Speedy” are displayed. The founder went to pains at the Tech Breakfast to say a major selling point of his service is speed, and yet… he doesn’t bother to mention that on the site itself…
Once I get past the lack of mention of “speed” I then look at the tag line “Find Out What’s Wrong With Your Website”. My first instinct sadly is a snarky instinct as I think “how about you go first”. The issue with the home page of BetaPunch.com is that it generally is designed poorly. What you have to think about is that this site is offering User Testing Services for OTHER people’s websites, and yet my first thought is, “why haven’t they used the service themselves?”
The first glaring issue that comes up, and is throughout the site, is lack of brand cohesion. Ross has spent at least a few bucks having cute logos created for his site, and yet leaves the ugly and unemotional “betapunch” text at the top left of the page. I personally like the BetaPunch logo with the boxing mitt, but oddly enough this logo seems to only show up as a foot note throughout the site. So interestingly enough somewhere in the development process emotional connection with the user must have come up, but then was left on the cutting room floor.
Once you get past the odd omission of their logo I then find that there is simply too much stuff below the fold. Its as if they are trying to prove that they are in fact a real company. With both the Twitter feed and the the scrolling logos of companies that have used the service it just seems to scream, “We suck!”
The final thing I would say about the home page is that they should get some cutesy explanation video that is all the rage now a days. EVERY web app that’s worth a domain name seems to have little hipster animations explaining why their app is so cool, and giving a generic overview of how to use it. They do have a link that plays a demo of a test, but unless you really understand what you’re looking at the video demo could actually be a turn off. Not to mention that when the demo video plays the lightbox it shows up in is three times too large.
So once I get past the design elements of the home page I then look to see what the home page is telling me. A curious thing pops out as I look at the “About BetaPunch” section. It states that they offer “FREE user testing…” As I read that I was thinking, “That’s curious… I thought they made money off of user testing..?” I shrugged my shoulders and then clicked on the “Get Feedback” button to start my attempt to actually use the service. And the next step was where… I got a bit pissy…
Because once you go to the next step where you create your User Account and such it then asks how many tests you want. All of a sudden the “ing” plural talked about originally turns into a SINGLE free test. Now to many people reading this it may seem like no big deal. You’ll thing, “There goes Eli the Computer Guy splitting hairs and being a jackass again…”, BUT having run a real business I have found that it seems to be surprisingly easy for vendors to screw business people over. They say one thing, and then do another. They have little respect for your time as a business owner and will swallow up 30 minutes of what could be more profitably spent doing something else just to try to con you into a sale. So when I see “ing” go to a single test frankly my reaction is to exit the site and go back to the work that I know needs to get done.
Once your account has been created you then come to your account page. It’s usable.. I used it, but I’m still not sure what’s going on. What’s the “record” button for? What’s the “referral link” for?
When I clicked on the “My Startup” button I got to something… I’m not sure what the hell I’m looking at, but it is in fact something…
Past this somehow my test went live, and within 2 hours someone had tested my site EliTheComputerGuy.com. Frankly I wasn’t really sure what to test for so I just asked if a new user could figure out what my site was about in 10 seconds. (That’s something that’s important to me).
The first tester checked out my site and said that in fact he could figure out what my site was about in 10 seconds. Thankfully he then went on to give approx. 10 minutes of thoughts about my site as he wandered through it. He did an exceptional job, and it goes to show the quality of the testers that he did not in fact stop testing my site in less then a minute.
I guess Ross saw my name come up as a new user, and so I was given a second test automatically. The second tester was great and again did far more then I had asked.
Overall the testers, and the resulting test video were Great, AWESOME, truly a cool thing..!
Sadly… the more I look at the site in order to do this review… the worse the thing looks… It’s confusing, there’s no brand cohesions, and generally it screams out for it’s own testers to fix it. There are just a lot of problems with this site. Now if this site was for some other service this may be excusable. But being that this site is supposed to be about making your site better… it fails…
This site should be as slick as snail slime on a greased pan. It’s a simple concept. It’s a rather simple service (at least as far as the front end is involved). This should be Apple, or Twitter simple. Instead it’s just… not…
Truth be told if I was still in the consulting business I would use BetaPunch.com, but not because of the site itself. I would use the service because Ross was so good at selling the idea at the Baltimore Tech Breakfast. He has a good idea, and it does work. So because I have seen him speak I would use the service.
On the other hand… if I simply ran across this site as I was searching for other things and had no personal connection at all to it… I don’t think I would pony up $65 for additional tests… A single test would not give me enough confidence to overcome my wariness of the poor design of the site. “How can they tell me what to do better, if THIS is what they have come up with?”
At the end of the day though I have to say Ross is in an enviable position for our little startup tech community. Really all he needs to do to solve his issues and then start cranking away is to toss a few thousand dollars at someone like Friends of the Web and have them turn this mess into a coherent product. When he does that I think this has a real shot at being an impressive site.
For my fans out there… You all should be looking at beefing up your offerings by selling User Testing to your clients. Whether you come up with a system yourself, or you just resell something like BetaPunch.com’s this can be a real differentiator to allow you to close deals and make your clients happy. Believe me… far too many web design firms don’t do a modicum of User Testing for client’s sites, and clients end up with barely usable web sites after having spent thousands or tens of thousands of dollars having them built. User Testing is an easy way to add 5-20% to clients bill, and make the client happier to boot. (Plus the best way to upsell a client is to have proof that users want something extra!)