See It. Hear It. Vox It.

Last Thursday, I opened Safari, and found a death notice. Vox, a blogging platform I’ve used for four years, was on death row. At the end of this month, it dies.

I used to love Vox. Up until mid-2008 I was an enthusiastic Voxer, posting there as least as much as I do here. But my activity had petered off in recent years, and I think there are some lessons worth learning in the demise of this once-promising platform.

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I was a Vox user from June 9th 2006, and for about two years I loved it. It had an ease of use and a simplified posting interface that was unmatched until the arrival of Tumblr – and Tumblr still lacks Vox’s superb integration with other sites. It was very much a “son of Livejournal”, which Six Apart owned at the time, combining Livejournal’s social network features that allowed you to show certain posts to a limited selection of your contacts, with a really easy-to-use interface.

A few people tried to use Vox as a straight blogging platform, but it was far more of a communication tool, as Six Apart CEO Chris Alden once characterised it to me, designed for publishing to the dozen people you care about most, rather than the world at large. It was a good idea. Yet, four years on, it’s dead.

So, what happened? Two things, I think:

  • The most obvious is the old adage that when you have a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. Six Apart is a blog company, and when they decided to build a communication tool, they built it in a blog form. But blogs are quite hard to maintain. Not everyone has the inclination to create structure content in a way that a blog demands. And that made it hard to get your friends and family on there. My only notable success in that area was Rev Stan. My late mother managed two posts. My wife? None.
  • The bigger problem was timing. Vox was launched in 2006. The earliest mention I can find on my blog was in June. Facebook opened up from students to the general public in the September of that year. By the time Mena Trott was promoting Vox at Le Web in December, Facebook was building up a head of steam, one that Vox was never able to match.

These two factors were, in conjunction, killers. Facebook made it much easier to do Vox’s “private communication” schtick by reducing the barriers to getting content into it – upload a photo, post a status update, rather than write a post.

There were other issues. Users who accuse Six Apart of neglecting the platform are pretty accurate. All of the US team’s development resources have been focused on the relaunched Typepad in the last couple of years, and to good effect. But the neglect of Vox showed, particularly in the spam management area. The writing had been on the wall for a while.

Anyway, my Vox posts are now safely ensconced in my Typepad blog, and it feels surprisingly good to have consolidated somewhat. There are some features from Vox I’d like to see resurface:

  • Easy pulling in of media from other sources (Flickr, Amazon, YouTube, etc)
  • Ability to limit some posts to certain contacts
  • The asset management

And, with a bit of luck, we’ll see some of that emerge in Typepad, which, as it develops, seems to have integrated many of the lessons from Vox. It’s not trying to be anything other than a content-focused tool. It plays very nicely with social networks like Twitter and Facebook, allowing you to share content with family and friends, even if they’ll never be bloggers.

Vox was a brave attempt to build a blog-based social network. But I still believe that social tools on top of existing services will be more important that building social network after social network. And I suspect that Vox won’t be the last social network to fail in the coming months.

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