Archive for July 2008

Zoomii – A Refreshing Way to Buy A Book Online

I recently bought a book at (in the US you can use and it was the most refreshing online purchase I ever made. This is because of the elegant simplicity and usability of the site.

The goal of the website to emulate a bricks and morter bookstore. Other online  bookstores that have attempted this went for a 3D virtual reality approach. Zoomii took a different approach. Instead there is a large zoomable image of all books in the store arranged into sections and bookshelves.

You can easily zoom in and out and pan around. Of course, you can do the normal search and checkout stuff but it is the simple metaphor that grabs your attention. Since the site was developed by Chris Thiessen, a local software developer in the Waterloo area that I had run into a few times, I decided to call him up for lunch and find out how he built Zoomii.

Chris has a simple vision: to reproduce the bookstore experience with an online bookstore. And he chose a simple business model; namely a referral fee through the Amazon affiliate program. Next is the interesting part: Chris built the entire site single-handedly using Java, JavaScript and the Amazon Web Services stack. And the result is a revenue generating site with a compelling user experience. Despite rendering over 20,000 titles the site is responsive and smooth.

Now what did I get out my experiences with Zoomii and my lunch with Chris?

  • Smaller teams are better. Now, Chris is an exceptional developer, extremely disciplined and stubborn and and a team size of 1 would not work for developers lacking these attributes.
  • Choose your technologies carefully. Chris selected Amazon Web Services but everything else was built in-house using Java and JavaScript.
  • Above all, focus on simplicity. Chris had a simple vision, a simple business model and was able to deliver a simple but powerful user experience.