Looking at Six Apart's new Vox service

 by Martin Belam, 24 July 2006

Like many people with some kind of Six Apart account, over the last week or so I've been trying out the preview of their new Vox service - you can find what little I've posted at currybet.vox.com.

To get something off my chest straight away, I'm with Dave on the spelling issue - it really bugs me that the social network feature of the service is spelt incorrectly for anyone outside of the U.S.A.

I know spelling isn't my greatest skill, but it just screams out at me "I'm missing a U from Neighbourhood" in the toolbar on my Vox page. Getting the little details of localisation right is often key to making users feel at home, and that spelling really makes me feel like I'm using a 'foreign' service. Mind you, I've set my profile to say I live in Greece, so probably my toolbar ought to say Γειτονιά anyway.

Where is my 'U'?

Connecting my Vox blog to neighbors [sic] was very easy, from a drop-down menu that appeared with the kind of web2.0 dazzle you'd expect when clicking on the 'edit' button in the toolbar when I visited their page. It did take me a little while though to realise that 'edit' actually meant 'edit' my relationship with the person, and so I wondered if a dynamic 'add' or 'remove' depending on your existing relationship with the member might be more appropriate and easier to understand.

Neighborhood [sic] settings drop-down

The blogging features of Vox are pretty standard fare, just with a rather nice interface. There were some little pockets of interaction over the site that I didn't understand at first. For example when submitting a comment on a Vox blog, you are offered a little check-box that says "This is good". I didn't understand whether it meant I was signifying that my particular comment was great (I mean, aren't they all?) or whether I thought the original post was special. I also didn't understand what would happen once I checked it - would my comment be flagged up "left by a big-head" on the target blog, or would it appear somewhere else as a selection of my choice comments. I really wanted some contextual help on that.

Posting a comment on Vox

One of the other things that has puzzled me is who Six Apart are actually aiming the service at. TypePad was clearly intended as Movable Type for people who didn't want to deal with the hassle of UNIX file permissions, so what is Vox? TypePad for people who wouldn't be willing to pay for it? Blogging for people who don't find TypePad social networky enough? MySpace for grown-ups?

I'm not sure I agree with Six Apart's premise that "Many people still don't blog because they don't want to post private stories and photos and have them viewed by outsiders". That sounds like the kind of thing people say in focus groups when you ask them "Are privacy concerns one of the reasons you don't have a blog?". I suspect that the real deterrent is the time/effort required to keep it all going.

I also think that the way they are trying to initially populate the service pre-public launch by inviting waves of users from TypePad over is one that could potentially backfire. I can't see many TypePad users wanting to keep two Six Apart powered blogs on the go, and at the minute Vox is full of geeky early adopter types making "Hello, World!" posts, who will then presumably vanish leaving loads of ghost accounts.

What does seem to make the service a little different though is the feature allowing you to collect together pictures, video and audio, and arrange them into collections - and the way Vox 'plays' with third party services. Tomorrow I'm going to have a look at those features to illustrate what I feel works well, and what doesn't.


I've finally put my finger on what it is that annoys me so much about "neighbo(u)rhood" and the like.

It's the fact that English localisation (or do I mean "localization") will always right at the bottom of the list for American web sites. They just don't think it's necessary because the British all understand American English perfectly well so they never bother. It's actually far more likely that you'll get your Greek localisation than we'll ever get any British localisation.

And, of course, it's true that we British all understand American English. It's just that some of us don't want it thrust down our throats all the time.

If you ever want to hear me rant at length about American English ask me about the "discussions" I had when my first publisher tried to replace "got" with "gotten" throughout the manuscript!

Martin, I agree with everything you wrote here. I took me days to figure out just what Vox was for, after joining up myself. At the beginning, I just cross-posted. But after discovering a Six Apart page on it, I can see there is potential for, say, young couples wanting to share baby photos with the flexibility of a blog, but not the prying eyes of weirdos.

However, the problem has been that the early adopters of Vox are seasoned bloggers, not the newbies and everyday folks that should be going on. So not only will there be ghost accounts after a while, the existing accounts there, all made by expert bloggers, could well signal to these newbies, ‘This site ain’t for you.’

I have only sent off one invitation myself: to a young couple with an infant who already do a web site, accessible by all. Of course, New Zealand is a more innocent country and Amber Alerts are not part of our landscape, but I can see the need for privacy. But for people like me (and I suspect, you, too), Vox is less relevant.

I've been fiddling around on Vox for the past couple of days and I'm not all that impressed so far. Yes, it's reasonably pretty, but I agree that there are features that are unclear. Plus, the privacy thing (which is really the main selling point) is a non-issue for me. My main platform, 20six.co.uk, used to be similar and have the option for private posts, as well as locking out anyone except the people you specified. When I first started blogging I really liked that. Now, however, I really enjoy the random interaction that I get on my blogs and don't really want to go back to a closed community.

Keep up to date on my new blog