Saturday, February 24, 2007

After 10 years*, Telstra's afl.com.au is in.... beta?

This week sees the return of Australian rules football for a new season and the return of afl.com.au to its seasonal position somewhere near the top of the most-visited Web sites in Australia. The renewal of Telstra's exclusive Internet deal with the AFL in the off-season, this time for A$60 million over five years after a bidding war from five or six competitors, has been marked by a new version of the flagship Web site. This one was designed by C4 Communications, whose C4Sport division seems like a part of Telstra in all but name, having also been used by Telstra for the NRL.com.au site for rugby league and its BigPond Sport site.

The problem is that the afl.com.au site, and the NRL one for that matter, are bywords for mediocrity among fans of both codes. Today there were three different threads on the biggest AFL forum, BigFooty, started by fans complaining about the new site. Of particular note was the complaints about bugs with the live game statistics page, which like so much of the rest of the site, is rendered completely in Flash and suffers from execrably poor readability and usability. The new system marks the first time that a flat HTML version of the stat pages has not been made available in conjunction with the bloated Flash monstrosity. Worse, the stat database went down for a time during the first quarter of the evening's games, and then there's this problem:

Is it awesome for overseas visitors. I don't know where it is getting the current time from, I've tried setting my system clock, but no matter what I do it still believes that the Port vs Crows game is going to kick off in over 6 hours (the match is over)...

I can't see live scores, or the result on the website - all I can see is a stupid clock counting down to when the game starts.

For anybody from another timezone who is smarter than me - and has figured out a way around this - please let me know



Ok. So from the other thread - if you set your timezone to Melbourne it all works fine. Not really a great solution really...

I don't think Telstra or C4 should get a pass on basic errors like that just because they put the word "beta" on the front page. They are spending oodles of money on the site, they should look further than their office cubicles to see how users interact with their code in the real world.

Let's be honest, the C4 designs are a pile of shit. From an SEO standpoint they're a travesty, with all that Flash hiding much of the great content. Jakob Nielsen and the usability crowd would have conniptions with all the tiny aliased text and tiny scrollbar-infested boxes. The W3C Validator has a field day. If you look at the front page now there are two separate boxes listing scores, which is a ridiculous waste of space considering that the news content has been pushed way below the fold. The front page file is 150 kilobytes. It's like an exercise in everything wrong with corporate Web site design.

The gold standard for sports sites is still mlb.com, which still uses Flash for its Gameday coverage (e.g. the last World Series game) but sticks to Javascript at most to present its text content. Compared to the MLB, Telstra and C4 look like two-year-old finger-painters.



* (Maybe afl.com.au is older than that, but the Wayback Machine's earliest memory of afl.com.au was from 1996.)


UPDATE: Sandra Davey, head of BigPond Sport, has started a thread on BigFooty about the AFL.com.au beta. Sandra is already getting smacked from pillar to post by disgruntled users. The fun has only just begun!

6 Comments:

Anonymous Phillip Molly Malone said...

The game coverage looked not too bad (although I missed it live and was looking at it after the fact).

I think they need better content.
If you want a different look at the AFL, look at http://fig.aflcasts.com where you get lots of AFL news, can add stories you find and then vote up the stories that are important (i.e. the Hawks stories).

Molly

11:29 am, February 24, 2007  
Anonymous Phillip Molly Malone said...

I think your analysis of the Bigfooty thread is a little off. I think she is getting some good feedback.
JMTC
Molly

10:58 am, February 28, 2007  
Blogger Paul Montgomery said...

She is making a few changes but wtf, she's so experienced at this sort of thing, why is this the first time that the BigPond team has sought feedback from users? And why do they have to be told these basic things, shouldn't they know not to make those mistakes in the first place? Why did it take them 10 years to consult with their audience for the first time?

4:41 pm, February 28, 2007  
Anonymous Phillip Molly Malone said...

Isn't it a new outsourced company? Thats the felling that I was getting.
Could be wrong.
Molly

5:49 pm, February 28, 2007  
Blogger Paul Montgomery said...

The design was from C4, yes, but obviously BigPond is still in charge if Sandra is the one doing the community management.

This comment from the thread sums it up: "If they knew what they were doing in the area of their supposed expertise they'd have a professional product first time without the need to create something by democracy."

5:57 pm, February 28, 2007  
Anonymous mct said...

Interesting, is it not, that Sandra abrubtly ceased posting on Feb 28th?

Right about the time some of the discussion started to get a bit serious in analysing one of her more technical postings...

Prediction :- despite Sandra's comment that the site had been stress tested over and above last year's maximum visitors, it will crash and burn under regular season load.

4:41 pm, March 07, 2007  

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