Posts tagged ‘usability’

iTunes Music Store Sweden Launches

May 10th, 2005

I just bought Chopin & Rachmaninov: Piano Sonatas played by the incredible Héléne Grimaud. I discovered her through my mother who was blown away by her Bach performance in the Stockholm Concert Hall. Apart from being one of the top interpreters of composers such as Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninov, and Arvo Pärt, she apparently runs a wolf farm in the state of New York!


HeleneShe has eyes like a wolf, too!

This wonderful music aside, I’m not terribly impressed by ITMS. That it’s so successful is really proof of the fact that this market is in its infancy. After all, Apple’s music initiative is 100% vertically integrated; They own the hardware and the software the platform runs on, they own the distribution platform itself, they own the player, they own the format, hell they almost own the artists. I’ve sold over 1000 tracks on ITMS, and what do I get? Well, not much! In fact extraordinarily little! And thanks to some bizarre licensing deal, my record seems not to be in the Swedish store (Just one track).

Browsing around, I also realise how much I miss tabs and the normal browser interface. Where is the “bookmark this track” button? Where are the easy-to-use permalinks! This is an n-dimensional space I’m navigating after all! I discovered lots of music metadata errors when browsing the classic catalog — where can I submit the errors? Sadly, my comments on Beatport seem to apply for ITMS aswell!

But, there is still nothing preventing Apple from creating a browser based store later on. They can solve the music integration the same way they’ve done with Widgets, which is quite beautiful (Or they could do it with an HTTP header, which would enable Firefox integration). And lastly, they have promised to open up iTunes when the iPod’s market share drops significantly. Even though I love Apple, I actually can’t wait to see this happen.

Giving Plazes a chance

April 20th, 2005

After Jyri told me about the exciting possibilties for location aware social software, I once again gave Plazes a chance. The showstopper last time I tried it was their ugly and buggy OS X “launcher”, which you need to use in order for Plazes to discover where you are. Since then, they’ve opened up their API, and Martin Pittenauer from Coding Monkeys has made a much nicer launcher that sits in the menubar just like it should.


Plazes

I figured it would be cool to have a badge on my blog, announcing where I’m currently at. However, I quickly had to give up on getting that to work after encountering too many stumbling blocks too quickly. I’ll share them here; hopefully the Plazes guys are listening.

  • The new launcher plugin did indeed turn out to be buggy; its auto-login feature didn’t work, and it crashed several times when my Powerbook wake up from sleep. That makes it practially useless for now.
  • It could not identify the VPN network that I have to use at my school. I read that the Windows version had VPN-support though…
  • There is no way to customize the badge, and the current badge code sucks. I ended up parsing the current code, extracted the location link with a regex, and wrapped it in my own container.
  • The website doesn’t keep me logged in (by using a cookie).
  • I won’t talk more about the actual website here as it contains so many profound design mistakes that it would take up too much space to list them all…

What I’m realising is that if a site is going to be in beta, it’s still very important that does it’s core business right from the start — in this case providing people with a transparent way to announce where they are — otherwise users will leave after the first hype. Now Plazes is left with 30-40 concurrent users and 10-20 new plazes per day. There are 50 plazes in Stockholm, and 11 users.

It will take a lot more than fixing the bugs listed above to push Plazes out of its current state.

No more drill-downs!

April 1st, 2005

Hierarchic filesystems are dying a slow death. While we wait for Apple to get its act together, we can use Quicksilver (my machine’s own little Google) to advoid endless clicking and drill-downs in open/save-dialog boxes. If you use this script, you can get rid of the clicking altogether!

Beatport 2.0 Comments

March 28th, 2005

Beatport is a fairly new online music store for dance/electronica, created by my favorite music software company.


Beatport

The problem is that Beatport — in it’s current state — sucks pretty badly. Since I’m such a fan of their music production software, and since they actually sponsor me with products, I thought I should give them some honest feedback from a consumer/web developer point of view. And to really make them hurry up with implementing my proposed changes, I publish the mail I wrote to them here:

“Hi,
I greatly appreciate the beatport initiative. There is a huge demand for good online stores for electronic music and dance music.

Beatport got even better with the recent 2.0 release, but I still feel it didn’t address some of its most important inherent problems. I’m probably quite an optimal customer — I love electronic music and mp3s, and I’ve got a credit card loaded with money to spend on good music! Even so, I got fairly frustrated when trying to use your store the other day. So I though I’d better give you some comments and advice, from a developer’s and customer’s point of view.

1) I quickly discovered a track on beatport that I wanted to point a friend to. Too bad it turns out there is no way of doing so! There seem to be no permanent, unique links attached to each track/release/artist/label! That effectively shuts out the whole community of people who put up their thoughts online and who pass valuable links to each other (bloggers 20m+, special interest groups etc) which in turn has a sizable impact on your sales! Recent research shows that this community is indeed very important for online stores, and to neglect its existence is arguably a very stupid business decision.

Don’t believe me? Read this.

Talking about links, I believe they should be pretty. That is: beatport.com/artist/photek/release/1 or beatport.com/label/basic_channel/ is much better than beatport.com/track_id.cgi? id=23967764234&viewmode=artist&a=photek

Also bidirectional links (a.k.a. trackbacks) are nice (and the main reason why blogs work). Let users trackback, rate and comment on the beatport releases and your sales would increase, maybe double.

2) After I signed up on beatport, I started getting annoying news mails with long ‘top lists’ of tracks that didn’t interest me. please provide a number of rss-feeds for relevant topics instead (new releases in each genre, new releases by a specific label etc). Think about building a recommendation system.

3) It doesn’t remember my username, and it doesn’t keep me logged in (by using a cookie).

4) Improve the search function. Not my intention to sound rude, but it is broken as it stands today.

4) Lastly, it is still my opinion that Flash sucks. It’s a good idea, but given the implementation and the current state of the web, it sucks. And I’m not saying this because I don’t know how Flash works nor because I never worked with it. On the contrary, I did a few projects with Flash and I’ve learned to appreciate it for some tasks, but *far* from all.

Needless to say, I was quite disappointed when I loaded up beatport 2.0 for the first time and realized that now *everything* is Flash. (it is still better than the godforsaken flash-multi-framesets it replaced though.)

But it still sucks, for the following reasons (among others):

  • The GUI doesn’t fit on my screen (1024*768 12” powerbook), so I have to scroll up and down constantly.
  • It doesn’t flex, and there is no way of using the keyboard for navigation. very frustrating, especially when browsing long lists of artists.
  • It does away with the whole browser interface paradigm, in effect creating a new application within the application (that means re-learning the navigation, back buttons etc.)
  • You lose the benefits of standard things that web browsers do for you (like remembering usernames, passwords on sites, there goes another part of your sales, due to users who forgot their passwords. You can’t search the page for info, something people who search for e.g. a track on the web often do — and you can’t bookmark things. Bookmark?!! Yes, bookmarks are coming back in a big way, I’m using del.icio.us myself. )
  • search engines won’t index your catalog
  • It’s slow and buggy on Firefox for Mac OS X (yes, even with the latest plugin) and it doesn’t work well on Linux.

Here I’d like to put in a good word for simple no-frames XHTML+CSS with a bunch of nifty javascripting on top. Nowadays all major browsers support background loading of data (used to be one of the major advantages of using Flash). Since you are only using pixelated graphics (the text is usually annoyingly small, and there is no way of changing that, again due to Flash), users would hardly notice the change in terms of visual experience. In fact there is hardly nothing you couldn’t do with HTML (provided you are using a nice server technology like j2ee or so) that you are doing with your Flash app now (yes, you could still use a little flash-applet for the track preview-thingie).

All in all, I think beatport is a great initiative — I surely hope I didn’t sound too negative! I really like your other products (already eagerly awaiting the new Kontakt 2.0 release, which seems brilliant).

So finally, I wish you good luck with the future development of beatport.com, and I really hope you take some of my views into account!”

Annoyingly hard to aggregate!

March 23rd, 2005

Just looking at how I could integrate my last.fm recently played tracks feed on my site, and it turns out I’ll have to parse rss (with some rdf thrown in), transform it to html, cache it on my server and then include that snipped on my page. I fully understand why few bloggers do this — it’s simply too complicated!

The easiest way to include stuff on a page is probably by using javascript, but few sites provide feeds and even if they do, it’s a far from optimal technique as your site will build up gradually when content is loading (and it won’t be very accessible either…). And now the rumors has it that IE7 will prohibit all kinds of cross-domain scripting, which effectively will kill much of the really interesting content syndication taking place on the web now…

So what we need, as my friend Adam argues, is a simple standard for seamlessly including stuff on a web page. I propose XML Inclusions, with standard http headers for smart content caching (e.g. “304 Not Modified”). Some smart, transparent proxy system would still be needed for high traffic sites — that, of course, is still the harder problem.

With this, I could include whichever feed I wanted to with one line of code. Just think of how many millions of people who would start aggregating stuff…