SocialSpark :: Improve The User Experience

by derek on January 2, 2009 · 27 comments

Shortly before the holidays, you likely noticed a healthy dose of controversy regarding sponsored posts that a handful of prominent bloggers published. The posts were sponsored by Kmart and were opportunities made available as part of the SocialSpark service.
Personally, I don’t have an issue with these people – or anyone else – writing sponsored posts. In the time that I have been blogging, I’ve written a few sponsored posts myself. The focus of this post isn’t about whether sponsored posts are good or bad, but rather the user experience with a service like SocialSpark – which I have found to be lacking.

Joined Social Spark

In early December, I joined up with SocialSpark so I could investigate the opportunities that were available and determine if it might be a viable tool for me to continue earning more money from my blogs. Right off the bat, I was a little disappointed with the turnaround time on verifying that their code had been installed on my blog and gaining approval to take opportunities.
While I waited for that verification, I began to browse the marketplace to get a feel for things and see what type of offers were available.
Generally speaking, I thought that the site performed well and there appeared to be a nice selection of opportunities. However, now that my blog has been approved for their Marketplace and I have used the site a little more, there are a few things that I find to be extremely poor design.

Filters That Don’t Filter

One of the most frustrating issues as a user has been the lack of functionality provided by the filters that you can apply to the list of opportunities. As you browse the listing of opportunities, there are a few filters in the sidebar that allow you to filter based on the status, search term, and offer range.
While the filters for search term and offer range appear to work fairly well, I cannot say the same for the status filter. There are three options available with the use of the status filter: all, open, or closed.
As a user interested in opportunities, naturally I would like to view the open opportunities. Unfortunately, the “open” status filter returns results that include closed opportunities, as you can see in the screen shot below.

SocialSpark Open Opportunities

When applying the “open” status filter, I have had pages of results where more than 60% of the offers were actually closed. This lack of functionality means more time spent sifting through opportunities that cannot be acted upon, and that means a less pleasant user experience.
The status filter isn’t completely worthless though, as the “closed” and “all” settings appear to work as one would expect. However, it can become quite frustrating to have filtered on the “open” opportunities and find something that sounds interesting only to find out that it is actually closed.

Resetting The Default Browsing Options

Another aspect of the user experience that needs to be improved is the implementation of the filters on the main browsing area of the marketplace. As you can see in the image below, you have the option to filter by the opportunity type (qualified, all, post, sponsorships, affiliates, spark) and then apply a sort on those opportunities.

SocialSpark Marketplace

Assume that you want to view only opportunities that are of the “post” type and you want to sort by the offer amount. Everything works great as you browse through the pages of results. When you find an opportunity that sounds interesting, you click through for more details.
After reading the opportunity details, you decide that the opportunity doesn’t sound that appealing and you want to continue searching. You navigate back to the listing of opportunities…
What the…what happened to my filter and sort?
When you navigate back from viewing the details of a specific offer, all of your previous filter/sort settings are reverted back to the default setting of viewing only qualified opportunities sorted by the launch date. Forcing your users to reset their filter and sort preferences every time they return to the marketplace during an active session is extremely poor design.

Other Observations

While it has not been something that I have noticed consistently, I am suspect of how SocialSpark determines whether or not a blog is qualified for an opportunity. There has been more than one occasion where the opportunity indicated that my blog was not qualified, however after viewing the requirements of the opportunity I could not see why I was not qualified.

SocialSpark Qualified Offers

Now my blog is not a member of the “Male Topics’s Blog Roll”, I’d have to say that this blog is certainly written in English. Maybe I’m not understanding the meaning of the word “OR”, although I also notice a rogue “.” in there so maybe this is not an either/or qualification and simply a typo.
Either way that is not a great user experience.
As I mentioned earlier, another aspect of the user experience that could use to be improved is the time spent verifying and approving a blog. While the actual review and approval process seems to include some level of manual involvement, I expected the code verification would be automated and nearly instantaneous but that was not the case.
While I have yet to actually take an opportunity with SocialSpark, I do know that a few others (such as Damien from Postcards from the Funny Farm) have taken a handful of opportunities and had relatively pleasant experiences.
So while I still think that SocialSpark has the potential to be a great service and provide an opportunity to earn a few more dollars, there are certainly aspects of the user experience that should need to be improved.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Ling@Uptake January 3, 2009 at 6:08 am

I’ve generally found that when a site was presentation problems like the ones you mention, its usually a sign of deeper problems. I’d advise you to be careful how much time and space you devote to them.

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Jesse@SoLinkable January 3, 2009 at 10:03 am

This is an excellent point. I’d be fearful of a website in which something as simple as a filter fails to work properly. If they can’t do that correctly, what else can’t they do?
Now, I don’t know that much about SocialSpark, and it may be useful for some, but based on this review I think I’ll steer clear (at least for now).
Jesses last blog post..All Amazing Articles Β» 40 Unusual Websites you should Bookmark

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derek January 4, 2009 at 8:25 pm

At this point I have not devoted much time to pursuing anything with SocialSpark but I do like to browse the opportunities occasionally.
Issues like I have described can certainly be signs of bigger problems. The key is to see whether or not the business is working on addressing the issues or keeps their head in the sand.

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Neil@PS3 January 3, 2009 at 6:58 am

I had never heard of this type of blogging. I will have a quick look into it and see what it is all about. Thanks again derek.

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derek January 4, 2009 at 8:26 pm

There are a handful of similar services that provide opportunities to write sponsored posts. Depending on the type of blog, as well as how you approach sponsored posts, they can actually be quite lucrative.

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Nicole Price January 3, 2009 at 9:09 am

You have taken a great deal of pain to write about your experience. Thank you. I hope that they are listening.
Nicole Prices last blog post..New Year Resolutions to Help You Save Money

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derek January 4, 2009 at 8:26 pm

The pain is all in the use of their interface, lol.

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Damien January 3, 2009 at 11:50 am

I’m glad you wrote that review. I have been bothered by that search reset for some time now. Like any tool, I see it as limited so I’ve learned to work within the limitations.
When I go to browse opportunities, I select to view 100 results. At my level, that shows me all the latest stuff I haven’t seen with no need for a new page load. Then, I open the ones I am interested in with a “open in new tab” command. By the time I browse the 100, I usually have 5-10 I am interested in.
Then I quickly view each opp tabbing through and closing the tabs that don’t say “take this opp …” You see, some you have to apply for or wait for and I usually don’t care to wait for opps on bathtub fixtures etc.
Once in a while I’ll get 1-3 good ones for anywhere from 5-$50 a post. Note, the $5 ones are far more plentiful.
I like them best because they are 100% disclosure and 100% nofollow so I don’t have to fiddle with that bs.
To date I have done 13 transactions with them and made $153.79
Bigger money makers for me by far have been PayPerPost where I just passed the grand mark and I am beginning to like Linkworth more and more for opps.
If your readers try SocialSpark I’d be happy to help if they add me as a friend. I am cre8nnov8 (create and innovate) there.
Ok, my post comment will stop now πŸ™‚
Damiens last blog post..Blog Tips I Picked Up Doing Blog Reviews

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Nick@romandock dot com January 4, 2009 at 1:57 am

I have a bad habit of always opening links in a new tab or new window…then I end up with 20 windows and tabs opened up and I forget where I originally started from and need to start reading everything and working my way back…nonetheless, I was going to suggest this to Derek as a workaround.
I agree with Derek though, these “glitches” in their website do not make for a very pleasant user experience.
@Derek, thanks for this review and sharing your thoughts. Perhaps, as has happened so many times before, those you are talking about will take notice and help you out. In the meantime, I think I’ll not sign up for them just yet.
Nicks last blog post..This Week In Blogging – 017

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derek January 4, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Damien, thanks for jumping in with your feedback on SocialSpark and a few of the others too.
As you mentioned, there are ways to work within the limitations of how their interface works right now but I’d still like to see them make improvements. The tab bar in my browser is always getting a good workout, particularly when browsing SocialSpark.
I didn’t realize that you have made that much from PPP. It has been quite some time since I even logged in over there to check things out.
Thanks again Damien for helping out!

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Nicole Price January 5, 2009 at 8:38 am

I am not personally interested, but you will shortly hear from a very dear friend who is.
Nicole Prices last blog post..New Year Resolutions to Help You Save Money

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derek January 5, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Thanks Nicole!

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Neil@PS3 January 4, 2009 at 3:54 am

I registered yesterday and installed the code. It made it easy for me to claim my blog but I couldn’t get the itk installed correctly. I am waiting to be approved and then I will look at how the posts work for payment.
Thanks for the initial review and I may take Damien up on his offer of help if I find it a bit difficult.

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derek January 4, 2009 at 8:34 pm

The initial step of claiming your blog and installing the code went smoothly, it was the next step of having SocialSpark confirm the code was installed and then verify my blog that took some time.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of chatting with Damien as of yet, I highly recommend you head on over to his blogs and get to know him too. He’s a great guy and always willing to help.

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Fernando@Tohn January 4, 2009 at 5:58 am

I agree with the comment above. Where a site has these issues, not necessarily huge problems, but ones that should have been resolved by now, then it kind of injects a bit of doubt with respect to how well they run their business. Still, I’m glad for opportunities like these which provide alternatives for bloggers looking to make money online.

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Terry January 5, 2009 at 7:16 am

I was waiting for about a week for my approval and alas it never happened. Apparently my blog is too “commercial” I guess I have been using to much of their payperpost product.
Terrys last blog post..My one Christmas regret

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derek January 5, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Were you given a reason for why your site was denied? It would be interesting to see if too much use of PPP could have impacted your SS approval.

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Carri Bright January 5, 2009 at 8:43 am

Hi Derek,
Thanks so much for taking the time to put together this post. I have forwarded it directly to Jamie who is our SocialSpark product manager.
We cannot tell you how much we appreciate user feedback and this post addresses several known issues which are slated for work in early 2009.

In the 9 months since SocialSpark opened in Alpha, we have kept a pretty aggressive schedule of releases for new features and bug fixes (anywhere from 3-6 each month).
At this point, we have a good handle on the main components (please keep in mind that this is a massive build), but understand that we do need to go back and address several functionality and usability issues which is our main focus for 2009.
Again, thanks so much for adding your voice to this and should you have any further questions or concerns with anything IZEA realted, please be sure to submit a help ticket to Customer Love or send me an e-mail directly or contact us through Twitter at @Izeainc, @izealove or drop our CEO a line @tedmurphy.
All the Best,
Carri Bright
Communications
IZEA Customer Love
Carri Brights last blog post..Announcing the winners of the Sears promotion

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derek January 5, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Carri,
First, thank you for taking the time to stop by my blog and share your feedback. As I stated in a post about another service, having someone from the company stop by and personally leave a note speaks volumes to me – so I appreciate the comment.
As a software developer myself, I fully understand the complexities of completing a new release and resolving issues. I’ll be happy to provide additional feedback, but also please let me know if there is anything else that I can do to help.
I am now following the two Izea accounts on twitter and had been following Ted since having a chance to chat with him briefly at BlogWorld.
Thanks again!

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Damien January 5, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Rule #133 I have learned from my friend Derek Semmler’s marketing class: Have enough reputation and traffic to criticize companies in a post and hear from them personally πŸ˜‰
Success is neat! Since I got into the “above 10k visits a month” group I find I am treated faster and better by companies as well. I’m not sure but I’d say Derek is three times above that number.
Derek, I need to meet you at the next blog conference. You da man!
Damiens last blog post..Blog Tips I Picked Up Doing Blog Reviews

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Nick@romandock dot com January 5, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I agree, it’s pretty amazing how he seems to get a personal response each and every time he criticizes a company or writes a post like this. Maybe one day that will happen for me too!
Nicks last blog post..Found a post you want to share?

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derek January 5, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Well, eBay never responded – what does that say about them? Lol.
If you write a post about Threaded Web or Red Staple Media, I am sure you would get a response from them directly. πŸ˜‰

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derek January 5, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Lol, I don’t know how much it has to do with my reputation (do I have one of those?) or my traffic but I have been extremely fortunate to have caught the attention of companies that I write about.
To me, that says less about me and more about the companies, as they are likely monitoring the mention of their name across the Interweb. That is the type of company that I would like to work for, one that is tuned into the consumer and uses technology to foster that relationship.
For the record, I wish my traffic numbers were three times above the 10k you mention but they aren’t there yet. And I am cannot wait until we can hook up at a conference and share a conversation in person!

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Jesse@SoLinkable January 6, 2009 at 9:25 pm

You should still take it as a great sign of respect that they treat you in such a professional manner. She really seemed to take your comments and concerns seriously. Maybe you should send them a consulting fee πŸ˜‰
SoLinkables last blog post..Changes Coming to the iTunes Store — It’s going DRM free

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derek January 6, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Lol, how about a resume instead? πŸ˜‰
While I haven’t confirmed this yet, I believe that Nicole had something to do with the attention from SocialSpark – but I do appreciate the treatment that I have been fortunate enough to receive.

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Veronica Cervera@brickell key condos August 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Thanks for the tip, Derek. I was just about to try SocialSpark out. Though there’s still lots of room for improvement, I guess it won’t hurt to try. Appreciate the post.

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Steve@Electric Cig October 7, 2011 at 5:29 am

To be honest, i never heard of socialspark before. But i’m always up to try new things. Thanks for sharing Derek!

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