||CBC website interface needs work
||“Elliot Smith” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
||Mon, February 18, 2013 5:46 am
||View Full Header | View Printable Version | Download this as a file | | Add to Address Book
Dear CBC person:
I am writing you with a concern that more than likely isn't within your
sphere of responsibility... I'm writing about user interface. The user
interface for the CBC radio web site is nuts. I'm guessing that it got
designed by a committee, I'm guessing that the design was more a product
of procedure and due process than of common sense. If you could take a
minute to take your own personal common sense out for a spin, and examine
this question, you might find that you agree with this concern... or you
might find that you disagree... Either way, whatever initiative you can
personally muster and bring to bear on this concern would be better than
the endless string of transfers and referrals and total lack of initiative
and ownership that I've encountered so far in attempting to bring this
concern to the attention of CBC...
What is the concern? Well, ironically enough, my concern stems from my
interest in the CBC programme "Ideas," although, this concern probably
applies to all CBC programmes. (I haven't actually checked as whenever I
visit the CBC web site I'm generally too distracted from fighting the
website interface just trying to find some "Ideas" episodes to have any
energy (or motivation) left over to want to explore any other CBC
I live in Chicago, and the local PBS stations broadcast your "Ideas"
programme on a regular basis. Every now and again I would happen upon
"Ideas" whilst driving to or from my job, and I would sometimes be so
impressed with your "Ideas" program that I would go home to listen to the
entire program via your web site, and I would even sometimes e-mail a
friend or colleague a link to the "Ideas" episode in question. There's
only one problem. The interface on the "Ideas" web site is junk, so much
so that actually listening to the "Ideas" program poses real and
significant obstacles for most users.
To get around CBC's junky website interface, I sometimes have to download
the programme, often with the help of 'ripping' software which 'rips' the
programme from the streaming audio player, (since often no podcast aka MP3
file is available to download) and then I have to upload the program to my
own web site so that I can provide my friends with a link to an MP3 file
of the program in question. You don't need to make life this difficult
for your listeners...
Yes, CBC's website interface is junk. Strong language, maybe. But it is
what it is. This is how I, as a listener, feel about the CBC website
interface... I would venture to say that many of your listeners who have
ever tried to download a simple podcast from your website probably feel
the same way:
There is on your web site what I would call a 'streaming' player. This is
the player that pops up in the listeners web browser when they click on
the "listen" link for a programme... This unfortunate 'streaming' player
doesn't provide random access to rewind or fast-forward the programme...
Perhaps some of you are old enough to recall the cassette tape, and before
that, the record player. Imagine if you will, that you have ordered a
copy of a CBC "Ideas" episode, and you have received it on cassette tape.
Imagine playing it on a cassette tape player. Imagine being distracted
whilst listening to the programme, hitting "stop," answering the phone, or
doing whatever, and then coming back to the programme later on. Now what
do you want to do? Do you want to hit play and resume listening where you
left off? No... You want to hit "rewind" and go back about 30 seconds or
so to re-find the context, the overall place where you left off... With a
cassette tape, this is easy to do.. the longer you hold down the rewind
button, the further back you go in the programme...
Now, try doing this in your streaming audio player on your web site. It's
sort of possible, but it's clumsy as all hell. Instead of being able to
rewind a precise amount, proportional to how long you hold down the rewind
button, you are only able to rewind a random amount, by sliding the caret
on the slider which is so sensitive that the slightest twitch of your
mouse pointer moves it several minutes too far one direction or another...
You have to repeat this process of rewinding and fastforwarding random
amounts until you get lucky and you find the point which you are seeking,
or, more likely, until you get lost and frustrated.
Congratulations. Decades after the advent of the analog tape recorder,
you've found a technology which is substantially inferior. The low cost
of this digital technology as compared to the more expensive analog
technology of the tape recorder means that you can now saddle ALL of your
listeners with this stupid interface and the unfortunate listening
experience that comes with it.
This inability to easily rewind the audio is but one example of the
inadequacy of your streaming audio player. There are other specific ways
in which your streaming audio player produces an unfortunate listening
experience. I won't bore you (and myself) with an in-depth explanation of
every way in which your streaming audio player falls short.
User interface design is both a science and an art. Think of it like
building design... There are certain basic rules... (stairs have to be
spaced evenly, one step should not be shorter than the other steps... hand
railings need to be at a certain height to be of use to most people...
doorways have to be a certain minimum width and height, etc etc...) There
are books of arcane rules about building design...
My purpose is not to write a book for you. My purpose is to merely point
out that it's quite apparent that whoever puts together your web site
needs to find a book on user interface design, and read it... That would
be a start. User interface design is both a science AND an art, but to
start with, how can you impart any sort of artistic sensibility into the
design when it's so fundamentally flawed to start with....
None of these problems with your streaming audio player would be a problem
if you simply made the episodes available to download, in a standard file
format, so that your listeners could listen to the radio programs using
their own software. There is software out there that doesn't suck, and
even if CBC doesn't avail its self of such software, many of your
listeners do have decent software at their disposition. To be able to use
their own decent quality listening software to listen to a CBC programme,
all your listeners would need is a copy of the programme in a standard
file format, such as MP3.
To your credit, it is possible to download an MP3 file of some of the
"Ideas" episodes. But only some. Invariably, it's really hard, and
sometimes impossible, to find the MP3 download for a particular episode,
especially the episode that most recently aired. You have the proprietary
stupid streaming audio player copy right here on your web site, and
meanwhile, the MP3 download copy is... completely elsewhere on the web
site, and, I might add, not easy to find. An abundance of links to
"download podcasts" turn out to be teasers that are dead ends which DO NOT
in fact allow the listener to download the desired podcast... What...
the... hell? Seriously? Words fail me at this point. To explain to you
how this is unacceptable is like a traffic cop trying to explain to a
pedestrian how failing to use the crosswalk to cross a busy street is
unacceptable. If you don't understand the concept innately, then you're
probably drunk. Or high. Or both.
Yes. I know that CBC is on iTunes, and that your radio programmes are
apparently available to download there. No, this is not a solution for
many of your listeners. Most people in the world don't have an iTunes
account. iTunes is a proprietary 'network.' iTunes is not the same as
the internet. Out here on the internet, there are various standard file
formats which afford maximum compatibility with the software and hardware
that your listeners have at their disposition, and one of those formats is
the MP3 format. Your "podcasts" are nothing more than MP3 files. This is
great. This will work just fine for all of your listeners. Now, if
somehow, someone at CBC could realize that anywhere in the interface where
there is an option to bring up a programme in that unfortunate proprietary
steaming audio player, there should also be an option to download the MP3
file of the same programme, without having to go on a wild goose chase for
said MP3 file... if someone could just realize this... and then if said
someone could just act on this realization... then listeners could
actually... listen to your programmes a hell of a lot more easily, with
absolutely minimal frustration and difficulty. Hey. What a concept, huh?
If anyone could implement this, I'd appreciate it.
I've been complaining about this for a while, but, evidently, CBC doesn't
respond to listener complaints and suggestions, or, perhaps, the process
that created the failed web site interface is the same process that
processes listener feedback. Hence the reason why I have circumvented
your listener feedback process and I've gone in search of contact
information for people who might actually get the importance of not having
substantial barriers between listeners and the programmes they want to
Best of luck,
-Elliot Smith, interface wonk