For years, designers everywhere have been quietly listening to the prophets of doom, predicting a "paperless society". Our paperless society has generated more hubris and debris than in ancient times when people took a sheet of paper and actually put it into a typewriter and typed with a bottle of white out nearby. Ah, the bad old days. Now that everybody and their mother has a PC and a printer, you can forget that paperless thing.
But what about the human thing? Many of us enjoy holding a book while we read; we love the feel of turning the page and in that brief second, mulling over what we've just read. That's the ambiance of reading and another aspect of being able to pursue a task without using energy or technology to read a book. And that's what a lot of technology makes us lose as a society- the joy of doing - like in that Star Trek Movie "Insurrection" where the entire society turns a cold shoulder to technology. Why can't we have both the ease of technology and the ambiance of the familiar? http://zoomii.com
is pretty close.
ZOOMII is Canadian web entrepreneur Chris Thiessen's effort to humanize and resurrect the book store experience. If you love browsing through books the old fashioned way, satisfying your need for eye candy and stumbling across the odd title you otherwise never would have considered, ZOOMII provides a satisfying virtual shopping excursion. The site emulates a believable view of what you would actually see if you were standing in a store and satisfies the need for that old bookstore ambiance. The AJAX based UI creates easy access to each volume, allowing close up viewing, page turning and a feel for the actual size of a book. Plus there are sections as in book topics just like in an actual book store. It smacks of items bearing the sticker "genuine wood".
Today there are many reasons to find an alternative to that beloved visit to the local bookstore. Gas prices, time, trouble, and those prices at Amazon are so much more enticing, not to mention that a mere $25 purchase secures free shipping. But what about the ambiance? There's certainly none of that online. There's no comfortable love seat to sink into, no familiar clerk to exchange greetings with; and no reason to get dressed for public consumption. But now, without the benefit of putting on street clothes, you can regain some of that old ambiance at ZOOMII. It's the eye candy that's been missing at the usual online retail juncture and it works pretty well if you have broadband. If you're one of the millions still using dial-up, stick with Amazon.com and let your less challenged peers use ZOOMII.
It would be interesting if the experience was more inviting: Set up a chat line so customer service is readily available. It would be interesting if the UI included a social network with avatars-- a casual public interface where you can actually meet people and move over to a real social network to watch things develop. Afterall, geeks, techies and nerds love to pick up brainy babes at the book store. Let's see what happens when they bring that part of reality into the ZOOMII experience.