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Let’s Design Like It’s 1999

What the IMDb is to movies, the AMG (or Allmusic Guide) is to movies music. You can go there and search for any obscure artist, get discographies and reviews, histories, lists of peers and influences, genre descriptions, etc. I find it to be an invaluable resource when working on reviews, and I even sometimes surf it for fun, catching up on the history of artists or finding out about releases I don’t have, but should. There’s a ton of great content on the site. Unfortunately, it’s wrapped up within one the clunkiest and least-reliable designs I’ve seen in awhile. And yes, I’m saying that after the new redesign.

Don’t get me wrong… the old design was no prize, either. But it was more reliable than this new one. True, the new design does look a bit spiffier, and they added a number of new features. However, as the old saying goes: “One step forward, two steps back”.

When I came to the site, using good ol’ reliable Safari, I was greeted by this friendly notice:

You are accessing with a browser that is not currently supported. The appearance and functionality of the site could be impacted. is optimized for Internet Explorer 5.5 and above for Windows.

For a minute there, I thought I’d been whisked back the halcyon days of the late ’90s, when web designers (foolishly) optimized their sites for either Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, largely because the browsers (foolishly) supported different standards and ways of doing things. Thankfully, much of that foolishness is past us, as structurally-sound, standards-based design is quickly becoming a reality.

But for whatever reason, the designers behind the new AMG have decided to forget that it’s 2004 and have regressed. Not only is the site “optimized” for IE, but a quick view of the source code will reveal the sort of bloated code (nested tables, classes everywhere, little structural sense) that can (and should) be a spectre of the past.

I decided to fire up IE6 on my Windows machine, just to see what great “user experience” I was missing out on in my unsupported browser. And irony of ironies, the site wouldn’t even come up reliably. That’s right, the only browser in which the site was remotely usable was little ol’ unsupported Safari. Once the pages finally loaded in IE (after all of the timeout errors and connection delays), they did look better, but it was all eye candy. For example, mousing over an album title results in a little dropdown section with the album title, sleeve, and recommended tracks. Sure, it looks cool, but it quickly becomes annoying and tedious (and also adds considerably to the page’s load time).

Aside from that, there are some interface issues. Do a search for, say, U2’s October (a fave of mine, and woefully underappreciated, even by AMG). An overview page comes up, with the album sleeve, the introduction to their review, a track listing, and rating and release info. Clicking on the “More” link that follows the review intro will take you to the complete review. However, doing so removes the track listing, which I don’t remember occurring in the old design, and was actually quite nice. This new way, although it sounds minor, is a bit jarring for someone who has used the site a lot in the past (like me).

Then I noticed the tabs across the top: “Overview,” “Review,” “Credits,” and “Chart & Awards.” Okay, so I guess that makes sense. I’m now in the “Review” section of the album’s info, and so the review should be all that’s there… I suppose So what about “Credits” or “Chart & Awards”? Oops, that content is for subscribers’ eyes only. Blech.

I love the idea behind the AMG, just like I love the idea behind the IMDb. A comprehensive online database of artists and albums is a virtual Godsend for us musically-obsessive types. And I’ll probably continue to use the AMG, if only because of the wealth of content. I just wish I didn’t have to grit my teeth everytime I did so.

Note: Waxy has a great post on the redesign, pointing out other display bugs, the labyrinthine URL structure, Javascript links, and the slower-than-slow server. And if you still haven’t had your daily allowance of vitriol, check out the MeFi post.

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