Wine-ing on the Web

I posted the following entry last June on my company’s blog:

Early last year, I pointed to the excellent Cellar Tracker web site, where the hardcore wine geek (or aficionado, if you please) could keep track of everything in her cellar and even connect with a community to share tasting notes. Despite the overall thoroughness and wealth of features, though, the design is a bit spare, and the site is clearly aimed at people with large cellars.

Now, along come not one but two new sites offering to bring the benefits of online cellar management to the masses. Both WineLog and Cork’d have launched recently, and are in a desperate battle to sign up new users who will share their wine tasting notes and recommendations. I’m happy to see that these sites make use of some newer web technology like tagging to make classifying (and more importantly, finding) wines easier and more intuitive.

Though both sites are evolving rapidly, I’d have to give the edge at the moment to Cork’d, whose playful graphic design really invites users to jump right in. I also like the community features (though calling it “Drinking Buddies” might strike the wrong note with some people) and look forward to using this as a resource in the months to come.

But I won’t be abandoning Cellar Tracker, whose powerful features are just too useful. If we could just get them talking to the folks at Cork’d…

I have to admit that since then, the underdog WineLog seems to have closed the gap considerably, and maybe even pushed ahead. While Cork’d attracted a lot of the web design/blog crowd who enjoyed the work of designers/programmers Dan Cederholm and Dan Benjamin, there seem to be fewer, well, wine people there, and I find the site harder to actually use, especially when searching for wines. I still think the biggest challenge involved in making sites like these useful is formatting the information consistently and weeding out redundancies. Which is why I still generally use Cellar Tracker over the upstarts. But it’s fun to keep track of how these projects are developing.

2 thoughts on “Wine-ing on the Web

  1. Thanks for the kind words, James. It means a lot to us. We pride ourselves on the strength of our UI and the quality of our users. It’s great to have those both being recognized by you and others.

    When WineLog and Cork’d first launched, the Dan’s definitely had a sexier looking site. I didn’t realize how important aesthetics would be to those early reviews. First impressions really do matter. If you read those old TechCrunch or Digg comments, you’ll see a lot of people declaring Cork’d the better site based on its look and tight code.

    Even though Cork’d looked better, I still thought our site was easier to use. We tried to make it as easy as possible to get to the information you wanted. “Information architecture” was a term I threw around in the office a lot (and still do). “What do I really want to do?” “What information do I want to see here?” “Where do I expect that button to be?”

    Although we didn’t actually have any AJAX features on the site until last October, we were still featured at AjaxMatters.com before that. I think it was the best compliment I’ve ever gotten as a web developer. It turns out fast response times and really good UI can be as pleasing to use as an AJAX-loaded website. We managed to create a website that was so responsive that it felt like AJAX even though it wasn’t.

    Since then, we have added some AJAX to places where it helps, and I think we use it smartly. I think everyone realized now that AJAX is just one tool to be used when appropriate.

    I also think you make a really good point about the types of users our site has vs. Cork’d and some others (even CellarTracker). We’ve really tried to become part of the wine-blogging and general wine-drinking community. I think we offer a better product for a real wine-lover, but more important than that is that we’ve included the wine-blogging community in the development of our site. We have a number of great people from the wine world blogging on our site and giving us feedback all the time. I think all of this helps people feel the “authenticity” of our site.

    Anyway, thanks again for the kind words. We are committed to making WineLog a great site for people looking for great wine and trying to keep track of their wine logs. The site is constantly being refined, and new features come out as fast as we can integrate them without cluttering up the basic experience.

    We’ve just launched mobile access via http://winelog.mobi. Check it out and let us know what you think.

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