Wednesday, March 22, 2006

observed: boxxet

I don't remember where I learned about Boxxet - but when I first logged in, they weren't accepting new users, thanks for your application, though, we'll let you know when we're ready for you.

So when the invite landed in my inbox today I had to think hard - what the hell was Boxxet again? A down-market Porsche knock-off? Something in undergarments? A smaller species of low, leafy evergreen shrub for the border?

It turns out, Boxxet (pronounced "box set") is something entirely different - but strangely familiar. And fun.

Boxxet takes a few familiar concepts and repackages them in a clever new way. The concepts are social networking, news aggregation, learning engines and - my personal favorite - the vote button. Throw in a little wikipedia "specialist magnet" flavor, and a functional, "work in progress" UI, and you're about there.

When I finally logged in to Boxxet I immediately found an assortment of existing "box sets" - collections of digital "stuff" (news, pictures, locations, etc) arranged around a central topic, be that a sports team (I spend a blissful 15 minutes making the NY Yankess box set better today), a TV show, a company, whatever. The default page has a few of these box sets neatly laid out with a clear eye to print design principles - you feel like you're looking at a magazine cover.

Dig a little deeper and you discover that box sets are defined through a process of users both qualifying and disqualifying machine-searched data and explicitly including new content on their own. For a box set in a state of "becoming", a real person (comme moi) can click through a series of questions, in which you vote whether a news item, place, piece of gear, picture has anything to do with the topic of the box set.

For a "mature" box set, you can add new entries, blogs, and whatnot, and in principle (because I haven't fully experienced it yet) the learning engine must get "smarter" about what it pulls into the specific box set - because after a while, the NY Yankees box set I was working on seemed to look better than it did when I started.

In a nice touch, if you spend any time working on a box set, your user icon is shown as a "contributor", along with the most recent item you purged.

A few observations:

1. The UI is clearly a work-in-progress. Finding your way around isn't entirely intuitive, but at this point, that's not a bad thing. The forced-exploration that an early UI demands of you is a great way to learn.
2. Site performance is spotty. Sometimes you'll fly from screen to screen, other times you. . . just. . .wait. Success is a bitch.
3. The current roster of box sets is, shall we say, limited. Which wouldn't be bad were it not for the fact that. . .
4. You can't create your own box sets. Yet. The operators claim this is coming, and I'll take their word for it.

Tim O'Reilly had a lot of nice things to say about Boxxet at his conference back in early March - and I have to agree. To quote a comment I left on the founder's blog at Boxxet:

The exciting element I see behind the Boxxet concept is being able to capture - in a broad-based way - the combination of passion and knowledge that so many individuals carry around for their favorite topics. Then share it. It's a "benevolent cycle" - more readers create more specificity create more impressions drive better content which draws more readers. . .lather, rinse, repeat.

I hate to compare it to anything, but it's almost a live wikipedia, a snapshot of the digital gestalt around a particular topic, distilled and presented in a tight, relevant way. Charming and terribly addicting.

BTW - I have two invitations left - if you want in, drop me a private note.


You Mon Tsang said...


I think you got us pretty well figured out. UI that needs a little help. Subjects that need to expand. But perhaps it can be useful. That is all we can ask for!

Once we get more Yankee fans in there (hello out there!) as well as other fans, the content should get better and better and the machine will learn more and more.

Wish us luck,
You Mon
Founder, Boxxet

Anonymous said...

hey bob,

thanks for the review of this boxxet thing. sure i do want to try this! any invitation left? maybe you could send it at ysbstn at yahoo com? thanks.

Anonymous said...

I would like to try this too if you have an invoite left?

neil at p800forum dot com



fogfish said...

I would love an invite. Nice write-up.