And the truth (or at least, an attempt at redressing the balance)

Menshn v2: reviewed

The dust has now settled on Menshn’s recent relaunch, so therefore I’m revisiting the site after my initial write-up about it, written back in July. The headline feature of this new design is a mobile version, so along with my original criticisms, I’ll also cover the new territory too.

It wasn’t the most auspicious of relaunches: a lengthy email from cofounder Luke Bozier managed to include the wrong URL, pointing mobile users at “m.mobile.com” (for a moment I actually thought it was real and was impressed they’d manage to snag such a prestigious URL). The email is timestamped at 23:37, which might suggest a hurried mailshot written when the update was finally pushed out – maybe wait till the morning next time?

The email itself boasted the following claim:

Behind the scenes, we’ve invested in technology that filters menshns for spam in the same way your email inbox might be. Other social networking sites don’t block spam, but from the very beginning we wanted to create a clean, enjoyable platform free from things that degrade the experience.

Other social networking sites don’t block spam? Someone better tell Facebook, Twitter, Google+ … Still, it’s good to hear they’re taking things more seriously. Let’s have a look at the new site.

Only one text input for entering a new password

First I decided to log in. I entered my username and password and was returned to the homepage — with the “login” option still visible. Tried again, same thing. Maybe I got my password wrong? I reset my password and logged in again. Still nothing. I tried opening the page in Firefox and it worked first time. No idea why it wouldn’t work in Chrome.

A quick note on resetting passwords: you only get one go at setting your new password – better make sure there aren’t any typos! Menshn don’t need no stinkin’ password confirmation boxes.

Once logged in I was pleased to see that the previous “mystery meat” navigation (figure 1, below) at the top of the old design has been updated to one that actually looks usable (figure 2, below). Brilliant.

Before:

Figure 1: the old Menshn’s mysterious navigation with its vague icons

… and after:

Figure 2: a much improved nav with clearer options
A better design for the new version of Menshn

Browsing the site, I was pleased to see it looked much nicer, overall. Use of colour is smart and the typography, while still fairly poor in terms of readability, is generally a little more polished. Some of the headers are enormous, though, making it tricky to actually get to the content.

Revisiting my earlier criticism of the site, I was sad to see they’ve still decided not to show timestamps against menshns, but they’ve at least addressed this in their newly-added “menshn user guide”, hinting that they may introduce them in the future. My tip: introduce them now. The argument about wanting people to be able to resurrect old conversations is overruled (for me) by the sheer lack of context when it comes to responding. Although it does allow them to conceal how quiet some conversations are…

Still no descriptions of the “rooms” anywhere on the page. Honestly can’t get my mind around this one, given that the user is asked to supply a description and a title when they create a room, and the site’s code displays the description to search engines.

In technical terms, things are better: Google PageSpeed now gives a much more respectable 76, compared to v1’s weak 56. A quick .htaccess tweak would probably get them most of the way to 100, leveraging basic HTTP caching. They also seemed to have removed  most of the dodgy javascript popups which plagued v1, making things more accessible in the process.

I turned to the mobile site next. This was a bit of a shock: it looked awful. Given the high profile criticism of the v1 launch and its security holes, I’d expected their next major launch to be a bit more polished. Here’s what I was greeted with when I loaded the site on my (fairly recent Android device):

I’m including this screenshot at full size in order to illustrate just how enormous everything is. Obviously this is a bug: the page (presumably) isn’t meant to load in quite so awful a style, and pinching to zoom out makes things look a bit more normal (see right).

Things are still pretty big, text-wise, and I’m not quite sure why: while larger text sizes are advised for small-screen devices, doing it to this degree seems faintly ridiculous – it’s almost unreadable and most of the headings look ridiculous, like it’s a Fisher-Price design or something. I don’t have an iPhone so can’t test it there, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it probably renders okay on one, and that the developers simply tested it on their own phone and didn’t bother looking at it on any other device.

I had a quick browse but couldn’t get past the typography issues, not to mention having to zoom out every time I loaded a page. Back to the drawing board on that one please, chaps.

Finally, I have to comment on the most recent email debacles from the site. I received six “We haven’t seen you on menshn in a while” emails in a short period, each one with a slightly different number of “interesting posts” to plug:

Don’t repeat yourself.

Yep, this is simply some sort of error, but if I was Menshn, I’d be damn fucking careful sending out emails these days, after the m.mobile.com fiasco above. To top this off, I later received yet another email apologising for this error, with the most insanely-titled subject line ever:

This subject line: the best/worst call to action ever?

While I respect Menshn for admitting the cock-up and showing me how to unsubscribe/close my account, to send an email with the subject line “Close your account or unsubscribe” is almost hilarious. Is that an order? Maybe I will.

So, final thoughts: not a bad effort, and certainly an improvement, but still a long way to go. Design-wise I think Luke (or whoever else writes the code) needs to take a long, hard look at readability studies (or even just browse other similar websites and pay attention to how they do it), because most of this is a pain to read, still. UI-wise though it’s come on a bit, so kudos there. As for the mobile site: have another go – or at least test it in more devices than you currently are. On the email topic: don’t let this become menshn’s “thing” (eg. sending out silly or poorly-proofread emails).

I’d still say that the site’s goal is missed and that really they should be building their own service which augments existing Twitter accounts (hiding the stuff you don’t care about, showing you the stuff you do) rather than doing it their own way, but that’s me. Keep at it, perhaps, but not without a bit more effort next time.