I was recently honored with the opportunity to have a discussion with the founder of one of my favorite web services: Zootool.
Today we’ll give you a look into our chat with Bastian Allgeier about why he created Zootool, what challenges he faced transitioning a web service into an iPhone app and whether or not we can expect to see an iPad version any time soon!
What Is ZooTool?
Zootool makes it easy to bookmark, organize and share, images, videos, documents and links from all over the web. It’s like your personal scrapbook for the things you like and get inspired by each day.
I’m currently living and working in Mannheim, Germany. I studied Communication Design at the University of Applied Sciences here in Mannheim and graduated with my Master’s degree in November 2009. I started working as a self-taught web designer and developer about 10 years ago, long before I went to Uni, but somehow had the feeling that I should make it more “official”.
The first version of Zootool actually happened to be my bachelor thesis project in 2007 and I built the best part of the current version for the Master degree, so it was definitely worth it to go that way.
At the moment I’m working about 50% as a freelancer on client projects and 50% on Zootool.
What does a typical day look like for you?
After having a chaotic schedule and weird working hours for years, I finally found it to be essential for me to have a mostly organized workday to maintain my sanity! I start working at about 9 AM, go out for lunch at 1 PM and finish working at 7:30 PM. I know it sounds awfully boring, but it really helps me to stay focused.
I’m working from home, so I’m sorry about not being able to show you pictures of a fancy 600 square meter Zootool office!
The first thing I normally do in the morning, is to check all Zootool stats, Twitter and email. I used to read a lot of RSS feeds, but stopped a few months ago because it simply takes too long and the important stuff somehow always pops up on Twitter sooner or later.
I don’t really have a fixed schedule when to work on client projects or when to work on Zootool. I just try to balance both as well as possible. Switching between design and development and between Zootool and client projects has become the key for me to always stay motivated. I love working that way.
What’s on your iPhone right now?
My most used third-party apps (beside the Zootool app *cough*) would be the official Twitter app, Wunderlist and the Facebook app. The Twitter app still feels like the snappiest, most native way of using Twitter on the iPhone to me.
Wunderlist kicked Things out about a few weeks ago, just because I can’t stand to still not have OTA sync in Things. And Facebook has become a really important way for me to get in contact with Zootool users, so I use it quite a lot.
Why did you create ZooTool? What does it have that other similar services don’t?
I was always searching for a good way to collect all the inspiring things I find on the web each day. I had a huge pile of bookmarks in Safari, which became totally unusable and none of the web services out there had what I was looking for.
FFFFOUND had just become really popular and I loved the idea to be able to collect images from all over the web instead of bookmarking text links or saving those images on my hard drive. But I wanted to build a tool that I could also use for videos, documents and websites that gave me previews for all my various collected resources.
The special thing about Zootool is that it can automatically detect different types of content – images, videos, documents and links – by their URL. So when you bookmark a video from Youtube or Vimeo for example, it will know that it is a video, give you matching tag suggestions, a preview image and the embedded video right in your bookmark collection.
What challenges did you face transitioning a browser-based service to a native iPhone app?
I must confess that I thought it’d be pretty easy to design the iPhone app. Everything is defined. You can rely on the size of the screen and that it will look the same on every device. But the truth is that it was super hard. You have to consider and plan so much more, when you try to squeeze a lot of functionality into such a small screen, every additional button and UI element becomes really, really painful.
The good thing was that I found an outstanding developer and a real good friend in Nicolas Cormier, who decided to help me with the app and spent hundreds of hours in the last year building it in his spare time with me. He helped me a lot to keep focused with the design and to build an app that feels native but has tons of custom UI styles and elements at the same time.
Our personal challenge was to find a productive way to work together even though he lives in Oslo and I live in Mannheim (we’ve still never met in person!). We found Basecamp and Dropbox to be extremely helpful in that situation and it’s sometimes still hard for me to believe how much work we got done that way.
What are your main goals with ZooTool for iPhone. Who should use it?
The main goal of the app is to provide a really cool way to browse your collection and the collections of other Zootool users on the go and to be able to add new content to your “Zoo” on MobileSafari or from your clipboard very easily. We always wanted it to feel like a standalone app, which works great with the web app, but also without it. So basically everybody who’s looking for a great, visual way to collect content from the web on the iPhone will enjoy it.
Has launching the iPhone app brought new users to your service?
Definitely! The app had a good start so far and it’s really cool to see that people sign up for the app, who didn’t know about Zootool from the web before.
Can we look forward to ZooTool for iPad?
We just started working on Zootool for iPad and hope to be able to launch it soon. It will be another challenge to transfer a mixture of the iPhone app and the web app to the iPad, but I think that Zootool fits on the iPad really, really well, so I can’t wait until we got it ready.
What’s next for ZooTool?
I’m currently working on our upcoming pro accounts, which will bring lots of additional features like syncing your shared links from Facebook or Twitter or bookmarking via Email. My goal is to make Zootool a central hub for all stuff you like on the web and to make its content detection even smarter.
A huge thanks to Zootool founder Bastian Allgeier for taking the time to share a bit of his life and work with us. It was really great to get some insight into what goes into such a great service and the challenges that arose during iPhone app development.
Now comes your chance, leave a comment below with a question for Bastian and if he gets some time in that crazy work day he’ll try to throw out a few answers. In the mean time, be sure to check out both the Zootool web service and the accompanying iPhone app!