Startup Youtego is bringing a new experience to social networking. It’s all about using images to define yourself, your life, and your interests, and in the little while that I’ve been playing with my account, I’m already having more fun than Facebook ever provided.
Youtego’s main screen is a layout of tiled categories. It starts you off with six: “I love”, “I know”, “I can”, “My work”, “My education” and finally “I”. In each category you can add tiles, called Tegos, of your own design. You name them, choose an image, add text and tell your personal story in a sidebar. Youtego describes its offering as self-visualization. It sounds a bit grand for anything done on a web page, but it may be accurate.It offers a creative way to self identify on the web. Youtego makes the process of building a social networking page a little more personal. Instead of typing “I love my family”, you put up a favorite picture of you and yours. You don’t tell people things about yourself, you show them. It isn’t necessarily more or less descriptive than text but it does seem to convey emotional content more easily.
It is a different experience from Facebook. Facebook lets you upload photos and video from your mobile phone, pass notes and messages and write on your friend’s wall. It provides an easy to use and effective means of communication with friends and colleagues. It has an enormous user base. For many users the network of people already on Facebook is reason enough to stick with it. Of course, Facebook has been in the technology news a lot lately. The site itself, though, is much the same as it was when I joined years ago. You define yourself in little lines of blue text, add profile pictures and shots from the party last night and voila! There you are. Click on “Tom Waits” and see a list of people in your network who also like Tom Waits. It’s practical but feels shallow.
Despite it’s flaws, which include a release date several years after Facebook’s, Youtego offers things Facebook doesn’t. You can customize a page that reflects your personality and how you see the world. You can express yourself in terms of values instead of relying on media preference lists. You can choose representative artwork from Flickr, Picasa or your hard drive to visually represent those values. It allows a more authentic expression of self. In practical terms Facebook is still ahead, but many users will want to use both.
Youtego has a more organic feel to it, but it does have some beta-form drawbacks. The full version may be smoother but in the mean time the process of adding photos and icons feels a bit clumsy. I added a tile about philosophy and the initial batch of pictures offered by Youtego included a mouse playing the violin. I clicked “Icon Library”, hoping that it would show me photos related to philosophy. Then there were flower pictures. Depending on search terms and selected libraries, Youtego is at turns intuitive and absolutely painful when you are adding visual content. Facebook makes it easier. Hopefully the photo-gathering process will be streamlined when Youtego goes all the way live, since it plays such a large part in how you build your site.
On a side note, the service asks you to rank your job satisfaction and add photos to describe how you feel about your work. This may be an oversight or naivete on Youtego’s part; the adoption of Facebook into the workplace sets a sometimes-dangerous precedent there.
Another beef is site navigation. To get from your “I love” section to “I know”, you have to click the top of the screen as an intermediary to take you to the main menu, where you click your next category. A sidebar would make the whole site easier to use, but so far no luck. The site as a whole has the feeling of a flower not in bloom or a gem unpolished. It has great potential but isn’t quite there yet.
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