When you spend as much time as I do exploring the shiny and the brand new in the technology world, it’s easy to forget that the middle of the bell curve is receding into the distance. I sometimes get frustrated when Normal Humans, who (quite legitimately) don’t know any better, make poor decisions about their web presence.
Take, for example, the Victoria Fringe’s website. It’s nicely-designed, and accommodates almost all of my Fringe-going needs. There’s one glaring exception: the online schedule. They appear to have just converted the offline, hard copy schedule into HTML and dumped it on the site.
As you can see, it’s sorted by venue. There’s one page for each location where shows are running. That’s possibly a reasonable option for the printed schedule. On the other hand, it may be evidence of a classic information design mistake, where the designer chooses a structure that fits their needs instead of their users’. After all, the Fringe sorts its volunteers, technicians and shows by venue. You’d expect Fringe organizers to think of the schedule in those terms, too.
However, users may want to browse or search the show listings in different ways:
- They may only be in town for a couple of days, so they only want to see shows for a particular date range.
- They may only want to see comedies.
- They may only want to see shows from out of town. All things being equal, traveling performers tend to produce better shows.
- They may want to search for performers they’ve seen in previous years (either by the performer’s name or, for bonus points, by the titles of old shows).
Happily, this is a problem that the geeks have already solved. We can think of each show listing as ‘structured data’–each listing (or database record, if you like) has an expected series of values–show title, performers’ names, venue, dates, times and so forth. It’s really easy to host this information in a database and display it so that it’s easy to browse, sort and search.
I’m not sure about front-ends for these, but free database services like Google Base or Dabble DB would be a natural place to start. Even if the user interface was a little clunky in the first year, or a little messy to look at, I’m betting it would be an improvement on the current approach.
The problem, of course, is that this looks like a hard problem for a Normal Human. We need more Common Crafts, who are expert explainers of the new.