Notes on Zipcast design: exchanging control for engagement

This is the first of several notes about design of Zipcast.

When thinking about Zipcast design, we thought a lot about why people feel trapped in the online meeting experience. After talking to users and observing how users behave in online meetings, I’ve come to believe that one of the core reasons people feel trapped is that meeting participants don’t have any control over the experience. Their screen is taken over, they cannot do anything else on the computer, they are merely observers not participants. So a core design question for Zipcast was – how could you let users feel more in control of the experience? Here are some ways we tried to let meeting participants feel more in control of their experience.

First not take over their screen. Zipcast is just another tab in your browser. You can go back and forth with your email, Twitter or anything else you are doing. Zipcast does take over your computer.

Second, though the presenter controls the slides, you can also navigate slides on your own, checking out whets coming ahead or reviewing what you missed. This small tweak has huge implications. When showing Zipcast to reporters for briefings, I would tell them about this feature and they would be surprised. I would suggest they try it out and immediately they loved the experience. Within minutes, instead of my driving the conversation, they would start asking me questions about the part of the conversation they found interesting. Instead of being this one-way briefing, this simple tweak turns it into a two-way conversation where the participant is engaged.

The third tweak was to make it a social experience where the participants have an effective way to express themselves. The chat channel in Zipcast is very engaging. People actively participate and talk. As my friend Livia Labate pointed out: “Chat is where the action is in Zipcast”.

What do you think? Do you feel that Zipcasts are more engaging as a participant than a regular online meeting / webinar? Any feedback about the experience?