July 14, 2004

News flash: They still don’t get it

allmusic just launched a major overhaul of their site. Unfortunately, they decided to carry over several of their poor design decisions into the new version, still for no discernable reason. The big one is their URL scheme. Their homepage isn’t www.allmusic.com, it’s www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg. If you click through to a band like Cake, you get www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&token=&sql=11:xq5h8q9tbtz4. Mmm hmm. That’s clear. Now, I understand that a huge site like this with a huge database needs tons and tons of programming behind it, and that’s fine. But there’s no reason to make everybody suffer through it. Almost every web server has some kind of URL rewriting available, either built-in or as an add-on. So they could easily cut that down to www.allmusic.com/11:xq5h8q9tbtz4 or something like that, hiding most of the mess from the visiting public.

They also had an opportunity to cut out the JavaScript links, but they didn’t take it. I mean, look at the cruft in this list of bandmates:

<ul>
<li><span class="libg"><a onclick="z('11:bzd9keztjq7m')">
Vince Di Fiore</a></span></li>
<li><span class="libg"><a onclick="z('11:pu7m968odepc')">
John McCrea</a></span></li>
<li><span class="libg"><a onclick="z('11:is9ds35ia39g')">
Greg Brown</a></span></li>
</ul>

Now come on. Seriously. Hey, at least I can commend them for using an actual list for this, instead of a string of line breaks. And they’ve actually used style sheets for the styles. But come on. All those classes? <a> without an href? Mozilla doesn’t even think those are links, so it won’t show a hand cursor. On top of that, there’s no way to put any hover effects on those links. Nor is there any way to use their site if you’re not using a mouse. Think about that. Speech browsers, keyboard browsers, text browsers—you can’t follow any of the links because you’re not using a mouse. On top of that, think Google is going to be able to index any part of this site? Fat chance. And, the best I can tell, the only point to having this javascript is so they can add some kind of “token” into the URL when you click. A “token” which has been blank every time I’ve clicked on something.

Plus, you don’t need all those classes. Put one class on the <ul>, and hang your styles off that.

<ul class="libg">
<li><a href="/11:bzd9keztjq7m">
Vince Di Fiore</a></li>
<li><a href="/11:pu7m968odepc">
John McCrea</a></li>
<li><a href="/11:is9ds35ia39g">
Greg Brown</a></li>
</ul>

Better? Cleaner? They can have it if they want. Steal it right off this page. Just do something!

Apparently they’ve gotten a lot of complaints, since they had to put up a page (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&token=&sql=32:amg/info_pages/a_responses.html, now removed, seemingly) justifying all their poor decisions. And this is where it gets laid on thick. Never mind the URL, just look at their “reasons” for the site falling apart in Mozilla, et al:

Our resources are limited. We’re a small company from Ann Arbor, MI, trying to provide a great resource for music fans.

While we would love to optimize the AMG sites for all browsers and all operating systems, we simply don’t have the necessary resources to do so.

We had to pick the most widely used browser by our users (over 87%) to optimize the site for and then work on compatibility issues with the other major browsers as we go forward.

That’s funny. I think it’s been pretty well proven that supporting all browsers is just as simple, if not simpler, than building an IE-only site. Of course, big companies seem to be the ones struggling with this concept, while small developers working out of their living rooms are the ones who can pull it off. Maybe allmusic’s problem isn’t that they’re too small; maybe they’re too big!

Seriously, the site looks horrible in Mozilla. They used to have a banner-ad-sized message at the top of the page warning you that you were using an “unsupported browser”. That’s gone, but the site is still full of positioning errors and overlapping content. I realize that, like they said, “this isn’t a simple ‘brochure-ware’ site of static pages.” But all their pages look to be built from the same few templates. And while I have neither the time nor the inclination to do so, I could probably fix most of the cross-browser problems in their templates before sunset tonight. It’s not hard if you know what you’re doing. But they’ve chosen to cling to the mantra “cross browser is hard” instead of taking the time to learn that it really isn’t. How quaint.

Maybe one day they’ll wake up. Maybe a barrage of e-mails will open their eyes. But I’m not holding my breath. They’re not worth the trouble.

Filed under The Computer Vet Weblog