Sight: Web content indexing the hard, user-unfriendly way

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Credit: Wikipedia

Startup Landscape Mobile's Sight app uses screenshots to bookmark content but isn't well-designed or convincingly more efficient than other methods

I just got off the phone with startup called Landscape Mobile, that publishes an app called Sight, and which claims:

Sight [is] an app that takes an image — a screenshot — and finds the article behind the image, retrieves the content, and then formats it for a better reading experience.

Let me clarify that for you … when there’s content displayed on your iOS screen that exists on the Web and you take a screenshot, the Sight app searches the Internet for that content and, if found, adds the page to a list that Sight keeps on your iDevice. Selecting  an item on the list displays the page content reformatted to be more readable with a link at the top that will take you to the target page.

The thinking behind the app is that saving Web content displayed  by browsers and various apps is somehow difficult and Sight makes it easier. That said, I’m not sure how taking a screenshot is easier than clicking on a browser’s menu to send the link by email or save the URL as a bookmark. I also have some serious issues with the app’s design because it is counterintuitive and doesn’t follow many of the expected UI design models that iOS users are used to.

According to Landscape Mobile:

The day that the team came up with the idea for Sight, they pulled an all-nighter to get the first version prototyped. The designers and front end engineers then created many iterations to make the app simple and elegant, while the backend engineers built out a series of smart systems to find and bring the best matching articles to the user. Now that Sight is ready we're excited to present it to the world, and see how it helps users collect information more easily and efficiently.

I am, as you might have guessed, not sold on this pitch.

The first of the UI issues appear when you fire up the app and are presented with a screen that explains how the app is to be used. Unfortunately the screen doesn’t make it clear that you need to take a screenshot of the page that’s displayed to start the app (by the time you read this that oversight may have been fixed).

The next UI issue is that there’s a summary screen that is only visible by swiping down on the display (yes, this potentially conflicts with iOS’s swipe down to reveal the notifications panel) but, again, there are no instructions or UI indications that this screen  exists. The really big problem here is that if you don’t know this screen exists and how to get to it then you can’t access the configuration page which we'll come back to in a minute.

Sight's summary screen sight.sc

The summary screen shows how many articles you've “sighted” as well as giving you some stats about your ranking in “sighting” the article and how many people have followed you but I can't say these metrics give any useful insight into your social reach.

The configuration screen, revealed by touching a gear-like icon on the summary screen, allows you to enable or disable various settings. The first setting is whether to auto-analyze new screenshots, the next is whether to enable background analysis, and the third is whether to allow notifications when articles have been analyzed. 

The second setting is interesting because it uses iOS’s geolocation change notification API to trigger background processing (location changes are notified to all applications that have registered for callbacks for geolocation changes). The Sight app, of course, doesn't care about geolocation at all and just uses this feature as a an opportunity to process screen captures.

But when you enable background processing the option disappears from the settings page! This is ridiculous. There’s no guidance that the option ever existed and therefore no guidance on how to disable the feature should you want to (sure, you, a techie, know how to do this but consumers, who are very much the target audience, will not).

There are also a number of other options in the configuration panel such as rating the app, providing feedback, social media following, etc., that aren’t that interesting. According to the company:

The day that the team came up with the idea for Sight, they pulled an all-nighter to get the first version prototyped. The designers and front end engineers then created many iterations to make the app simple and elegant, while the backend engineers built out a series of smart systems to find and bring the best matching articles to the user. Now that Sight is ready we're excited to present it to the world, and see how it helps users collect information more easily and efficiently.

There’s something else that Landscape does that annoys the crap out of me when any service provider or app does it: They don’t ask you to confirm your password; they give you one shot at setting your password without allowing you to see what you’ve typed so if you, like me, suffer from having banana-like fingers and you miskey your intended password you won’t know until you try to log in after which you’ll have to go through the tedious whole password reset process.

This might all sound harsh but the team should have taken their time rather than rush an "all-nighter" because what they've produced is naive. Moreover, as I wrote above, I'm not convinced of the need for this app given the existing tools for saving URLs; despite the company's claims, images are not a better or more efficient way to access and catalog Web content (in my first few attempts the app returned a completely - not slightly - wrong page for the screenshot I saved. I have no idea if this is as common as the roughly one in twelve failures I experienced ... I ran out of patience).

The founders of Landscape have apparently good credentials and consequently IDG Capital Partners and individual investors gave them a seed fund investment of $1.85 million for a valuation of $10 million (wow) so perhaps the investors can see something I don’t. The same goes for the various industry publications that have breathlessly reported on Sight with an obvious lack of hands-on.

According to Yue Zhuge, CEO of Landscape Mobile, as quoted by Marketwatch and Digital Journal straight from Landscape Media's Business Wire press release, “In Sight, we put images front and center as the new user-friendly URL for mobile - images can now be used smartly to discover related info ... Smart technologies such as ours separate the important DNA within images from the clutter, unlocking the power of the mobile web.”

Sorry, but in Sight I just don't see it.

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