This post isn't about food. It's about my favorite music site and what happens when a business doesn't get feedback from their users before they do a massive redesign.
Last year a did a brief stint at AOL. I worked mainly on their music site, AOL music. While I was working there, I looked at a lot of other sites in the online music playing, collecting, and discovering spheres. A lot of my focus was figuring out the best way to do two things: create playlists of songs, and how to have a good seamless playback experience. Both are somehow harder than you would think, but there were lots of good and bad examples out there of both.Two of the sites I discovered became regular music sites for me after I left AOL (well, 3 if you include the sadly departed original muxtape.com): first, blip.fm. This site is great for when you have a song in your head, you don't have it handy on you iPod, you can go to blip.co and do a simple search then play it online. It's also really easy to listen to what other users are listening to, but isn't really that great for discovering new, unheard music. The second site is thesixtyone.com. The site features new music, uploaded by the actual artists. I'm writing the rest of this paragraph in past tense... The playback experience was great - there was a small, unobtrusive but functional player that featured uninterrupted continuous music playback. By this I mean that if you were on a page listening to a song, and you navigated to another page on the site, the song would continue playing. I know this sounds simple, but very few sites actually support this.
I discovered a lot of great new music by small bands from all over the world on t61. I recommended it to all of my friends. When I had time at work that I wasn't in meetings, I listened to it for hours at a time. There was a whole game/reputation element to it that I didn't really understand entirely, but I was still able to easily participate in. I could indicate that I liked a song by giving it a 'heart.' I could save songs to my profile so I could listen to them again later. I was at level 14 - again not sure exactly what this meant, but 14! When I got bored of listening to my own saved songs, I could listen to other people's 'radio.' I could 'favorite' people, they could 'favorite' me and musicians that I liked could comment on my profile and thank me for 'hearting' their music. It wasn't totally perfect, but it seemed to have a lot of promise. I was really looking forward to the iPhone app so that I could take it with me.
So imagine my dismay when I went to the site yesterday and saw that they had done a total and complete redesign of the site. Gone was the list of songs on the home page. Gone was the simple music player. Gone was the genre list of songs. And gone was any sense that anybody else was actually using the site to listen to music. I do think that the new design has it's merits. It looks REALLY nice. I brings a really nice focus to the artists on the site - in a way that may be really beneficial to them. It could be a really nice way to listen to music if you start with a list, then launch the 'visual' version of the player. But I have two major issues with this redesign:
1. They removed significant functionality for no apparent reason:
They removed or disabled functionality that was primary to what I felt (and from their previous tag lines and branding indicated) was the primary experience model of the site: a community where you could discover new music. By removing this functionality, or in some cases just making it really hard to find, they made the site difficult to use and ruined one of the best music experiences on the web. In just one day of use, I've discovered specific removed/hidden functionality that have resulted in several usability issues:
- The home page is now just an image of one band, and the song starts playing on page load. It's not immediately clear how you navigate to the next song, there isn't actually any clue given that there IS a next song, and there isn't any way to tell what the next song is. By removing the list on the home page, they've made it really hard for new users to understand what the site is, and really hard for existing users to browse through songs to find stuff to play.
- Maybe it's a bug, but the same song has been the first one on the home page for the past two days. This NEVER used to happen on the old version of the site.
- They removed the genre pages. I used genre pages fairly frequently. I'd go to the "alt country" or "house" or other genre pages just to find new stuff. Artists must also be pissed that these are gone because unless music gets promoted to the 'home page' it will be really hard to find music that no one else is listening to.
- As far as I can tell, you can't purchase music from the site anymore. I didn't buy tons of music from there, but I did buy some. From what I remember, purchasing music directly from the artists was a big business differentiator for them. It seems to have gone away entirely. Were artists made aware of this change?
- I mentioned before that I really liked the music player they had before. It was small, hung out up in the upper left corner (at least the most recent incarnation did, there was one at the bottom on the previous design). From the player I could do these things: pause, replay, heart, save, change volume, see the songs I've listened to and move to the next song in the list. Now the 'player' has been separated into two different parts: one on the left is a flyout layer that shows the band name, the song, lets you heart, comment and share. To pause, change volume, save, return to playlist (??) or replay, you have to go to the upper right of the screen. Both actions require a mouseover, and both are annoying. My most common behavior when listening to a song was to heart it and then save it. Now I have to go to two different places on the screen to do this. And now when I save it, I have to specify a playlist - an extra action that I'm not really interested in doing.
- Constant playback doesn't work the same way anymore because they have removed the song list pages. If you can find the way to get to different 'lists' of music, the song you were listening to stops and a new one starts playing. You don't have any idea what it will be, and there isn't an easy way to get back to the song you were just listening to.
- Search functionality has been removed entirely.
- The sense that there were other people on the site actively listening to the site is totally gone. I didn't come to the site because I knew other people were there listening, but it was great to discover music through other users. Radio, followers, listeners. All seem to be gone.
- There was a concept of being able to bid hearts to promote songs to the home page if you were willing to spend the hearts to do it. I can't tell if that still exists or not. This is another thing that I rarely did, but I really appreciated when others did it. It made the home page seem more dynamic and fresh.
- The new user profile on the site is just ugly. There are CD covers in the middle of the page (I think they show actual covers if you have bought albums from the site - but since I haven't bought full CDs they are just blank covers sitting in the middle of the page).
- My song lists are relegated to a small module in the bottom right of the page. I used my saved song list a lot. Now I have to scroll through a little module to find songs I'm looking for.
- People who follow me and people I follow are gone. There's a button to follow myself, but I get an error message when I try, and why would I want to anyway?
- My radio is gone as well as the ability to shuffle my saved songs
- They've added the concept of 'playlists' which may be useful for some people, but I think it's a mistake to make them such a priority. Some people make playlists, others don't.
- There's a really clear "etiquette" link that explains how to be nice on the site, but there's no-one left to be nice to.
2. They are ignoring their users
They seemed to have done this total redesign without talking to ANY of their actual users. It's possible that they did talk to some of their users, but when I read all of the backlash against the re-design on their Facebook fan page, and when one of the most active listeners that I know of, writes this on his profile: "I don't have an ipod and the[new]sixtyone is worthless - what were they thinking?" it definitely seems like they didn't. I've worked at start-ups before, and I know that it's easy to claim that you don't have time/money/resources to have multiple versions of a site available and working for A/B or user/usability testing. But these aren't small changes. This is a massive redesign and redirection for the whole site and it deserved to be vetted by some actual users. I've heard developers claim that they don't have to do usability testing or talk to actual users because they ARE the users (ahem, 37signals...) but it's just not true or right. And it doesn't have to be a difficult, expensive or time consuming process, especially when there is an ardent and active user base such as with t61.
But the most damning evidence is that NOWHERE on the site is there a way to give feedback. Not even a bug reporting link which is highly unusual for a newly launched site. And with all of the grumblings and rumblings I've read online, I haven't read any response or word from the site developers since they posted a note on their Facebook Fan page saying that saved songs were back. Not a word. Where are you guys, and why have you done this to us?
My suspicions are that there is a big business or technical reason they did this. I'd love to know what it is.There is a lot of chatter and feedback about the new redesign, most of it negative. Here's a few good links with other thoughts.
http://www.iusedtolikethesixtyone.com/ - site calling for the boycott of the new t61 with several good links
http://www.movementsixtyone.com/ - collection of links about the new redesign
http://t61place.freeforums.org/ - original forums on how to use t61
http://trinitylast.com/a-letter-to-thesixtyone/ - An open letter from an artist
http://www.thedevilsfeet.net/archive/the-rise-and-fall-of-t61-com/ - with some good links to other articles about the redesign
http://www.reddit.com/r/web_design/comments/as9ql/when_you_do_a_site_redesign_please_dont_do_this/ - great list of the basic usability issues of the new redesign