PodShow: UI Disaster & Blended Focus

30 Jan

PodShow seems like a really good idea.  Develop a powerful content delivery network where people can produce their own shows and upload them to a central site for distribution.  If your show is really good and gets a following, PodShow will pick it up, have you sign their (controversial) contract and you’ll be recognized as a signed show producer of PodShow.  From there, you’ll make money on an advertising revenue share and be a featured show on their site, gaining you exposure and critical acclaim.
This all sounds pretty great, right?  Wait, there’s more: it’s all free to users–both creators of content and consumers of content.  
So when PodShow released their Beta site, I thought, “wow this is a great start.”  I’d been listening to Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code for probably a year or so prior to PodShow’s launch.  As Adam is very charismatic, I was really excited about PodShow’s future.  
Since then, PodShow has been criticized for a lot of things.  Mostly people’s  condemnation surround the comparison of PodShow to the old-school record-company business model of signed artists and their allegedly imperious contract.  Perhaps those in the blogosphere and pod-sphere are simply resentful of the nearly $25-million in venture funding PodShow has amassed since launch.  Those oft read (and heard) subjects are not what this article is about.  I find PodShow’s user interface (UI) to be an absolute disaster.  As stated earlier, when PodShow launched at Beta I thought it was a good start, but certainly the UI would be purged of its then (and current) idiocy and become a place where I could hang my digital hat.  This is not the case–then nor now.  
PodShow’s interface suffers from “way-to-much-going-on-and-no-way-to-find-what-you-really-want” syndrome.  This wtmgoanwtfwyrw syndrome affects many Web sites in the world, but usually not those adorned with lots of venture capital and a full-time staff of tech wizards.   I’ve heard Mr. Curry, who I am actually quite fond of (no homo), speak of upgrades, changes, new features and interface improvements over the last year or so.  I’ve messed with some of the features–the features I could find that is–and like a lot of what PodShow offers.  However, the UI is so incredibly faulty, that I find myself often frustrated to the point of closing my browser window.  Usually, I last about 10 minutes!
So what’s wrong with the UI?  It’s so screwed up, it’s nearly too complicated to articulate, but I will give it a shot…

  • Lingo, Main Nav Bar and Channels: PodShow has created their own, unintuitive lingo to describe features on their site.  There’s shows, channels, collections, people, videos, music and upload in the main navigation bar.  “Shows” is their podcast directory.  It features the latest featured video podcast on top and some categories below.  This is not too bad.  Then you dig in.  Click on a show in the categories section and it takes you to the latest episode and just starts playing the show. Shouldn’t it take you to a show page and tell you a bit about it first?  I digress–the next category on the top bar is videos.  The aforementioned “channels” seems to highlight videos, as well, so I’m not sure why we have a videos section.  Again, you get more categories, albeit laid out differently than the channels page.  More on the operation of this section later in this article.  Next up is “music.”  Perhaps I’m not in the core demographic, but this page looks like someone puked on it with colorful, digital spew.  Then there’s “people.”  This is a page with little name-tags on it where users (35 per page) are displayed.  This is PodShow’s idea of social networking.  I’m not sure what it’s for.  Finally, we have “upload.”  From here I can only surmise that PodShow is trying to be like a YouTube, because the first option is “Videos! Upload your video clips onto theSHOW!” (sic)  They like exclamation points at PodShow, apparently.  What’s “theSHOW?”  If you’re logged in, you can access features of the site.  One of them is “my collection,” which houses the collection of shows you like.  Wait, it houses your collection shows and your channels, too.  Hmm…I can share my channels, but can’t share my collection?  Oh, I see, there’s “my shows,” too–that must be where I place, um, show’s that I like to, um, um?  What’s also interesting about this is that it starts with the section “More Shows,” so you get to see stuff you don’t care about before the sections of confusion that you’re trying to manage, located below.  From what I can tell, My Shows, My Channels and My Collection do almost the same thing.  My Channels has the added feature of being able to play all of your favorite podcast shows sequentially (the latest episode, I assume), name the channel something and even share it with your buddies.  From there you can even subscribe to your channel with iTunes (or your player of choice) and automatically load it onto your media player.  The bottom line here is that the lingo alone is confusing.  To the casual user, there’s no sense in how to use the site effectively–way too much redundancy.  
  • Channels: we’ve touched on this above, but it gets worse.  If you click on “channels” in the main navbar, you are greeted with PodShow’s Channel Guide.  This section has shows organized by categories on the left side of the site.  Unfortunately, the rectangular buttons that hold the categories in place are not wide enough to display the category titles.  As a result, you’re left with “Comedy Video Ro…” for Comedy Video Roundup.  Obviously we know what it is, but this is lazy UI creation.  These guys can’t even fit their own content into their framework.  The use of channels both in the design and definition may be the most dreadful area of this site.  
  • Master Control:  this section should be renamed “master disaster.”  So you’re a content producer and you’d like to upload some stuff utilizing PodShow’s lightning fast delivery network at the phenomenal price of zero.   You’re all logged in and you click on Upload.  It takes you to “Create a Show,” so you start filling in the blanks.  Turns out what you are doing here is creating a new show–not uploading a new episode.  After two or three attempts to upload your show, over time, you may accidentally have a few different versions of your show’s container page on their site.  So if you’ve already set up a show, you need to click on “Master Control.”  This section allows you to edit your profile, complete your blog (what if I already have one–do I need to complete this one too?), check out “my people,” (PodShow’s quasi-social network), then view my images and videos (which I can do in the ‘my images’ and ‘my videos’ sections–why are they listed here too?), check out my comments, change my account settings and invite friends (so they can get lost, too).  Many of the functions within Master Control (MC) will take you out of the MC section completely, so you lose your navigation point.  If you’ve created a show already, somewhere on this page it will show you your shows, with the show’s icon.  When you click on the corresponding show, a new toolbar appears under the existing toolbar, where you can enter show control, adjust the show profile, change images, videos, and more–basically a redundancy of what you can do as a user, but your show is now the user.  Adding a new episode is a sad, clunky experience.  The interface come with this seemingly cool editor that allows you to type info about your show and embed photos, video, and Flash code.  I’m not sure what browser it is optimized for, but I’ve had huge issues with getting this to work how I want it.  And why do I need this anyway?  If I’m using my own blog, or even the included PodShow blog, couldn’t I add all this information there?  They also provide a “flash uploader,” said to be in beta.  Every time I click on it, nothing happens.  Many functions in Show Control cause a page reload that often changes the navigation–not very elegant navigation UI.  
  • Music Network:  PodShow has this really cool music service, which they’ve sort of coined “the un-label.”  I think this is an area they ought to spin off into its own service, but perhaps it’s branded to closely to PodShow now.  Fortunately for the record labels and music stores like Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 store, indie music on PodShow is nearly impossible to find.  Oh, you can find plenty of music, but to find what or who you are looking for is simply daunting.  I’m talking specific music–the site’s ok for discovering random music.  You’ll spend hours and hours sifting through apparent album art, which is exactly what you’re greeted with when you click the on your genre of choice in the Music section.   During this writing I was greeted with 35 of 607 square icons, most of which contain no titles–some even contained a graphic explaining to me “image not available.”  Turns out these are not album art–they are the artist’s icon.  If I mouse-over each album art graphic, I get the artist and a brief, one line description.  When you click on an artist’s icon, you get “Artist Detail,” which displays a bit about the artist at the top of the page.  Right below the brief artist info, there’s an obtrusive “Similar Artists” group of eight artist-icons.  You haven’t even heard the artist you’re inquiring about, and PodShow is already trying to present eight others you may enjoy.  The music player is located below the similar artist section.  I find PodShow’s music player to be very nicely designed, with nicely shaded grey on grey features.  What’s more, then player is embed-able, making it easy to share your new favorite artist on your site.  This music player is a very nice bit of clean design, seemingly out of place on PodShow’s bevy of icons dotted throughout their pages.  
  • Mashboard:  if only the music player guys designed the “Mashboard.”  The Mashboard is what PodShow has named their Web-based media player.   This player will play channels of video or audio podcasts (shows), or just one show–newest episode to oldest.  This may be one of the worst media players on the Web.  Sure it has a simple layout, but the functionality is very poor. For instance, if you’re playing the first show in the list and you want to play the third show down, your inclination would be to click on the show you want to hear.   Nope.  When you click on the third show, in this example, the player’s details window changes to show you the show notes of that episode, but it does not play the show.  To play show number three, you have to click the little arrows at the top or bottom of the player window (um, I thought these were page-down scrolls), until you highlight the show you want to hear or watch.  Wait!  Those arrows are page down scrolls!  Oh, I see, there’s a little “play it” button in the details window.  If you click that, the show highlighted plays.  Un-intuitiveness at its finest.  Aside from that, the time indicator on the show does not slide, therefore you cannot smoothly skip forward to any part of the show.  If you happen to want to return to a show you began listening to, but navigated away from, you have to press the slow and arduous fast forward button.  This Mashboard should be shredded and re-written.  For a new media company to make this their primary media-playing interface is absolutely absurd. 

There’s more I could complain about, but I think it’s obvious to most users who probably don’t spend a lot of time at podshow.com.  The people that do spend time there, really must enjoy the community and are perhaps blind to the massive amounts of text, icons, flashing images and unintuitive UI functionality.  Perhaps this is what the blogosphere and pod-sphere are truly complaining about?  I am not sure.  What I am sure of is I could certainly imagineer a better UI than what currently resides on podshow.com.   With over 11 years of managing Web projects, I may have a trained eye, but I think the average user when presented with iTunes or Amazon, then presented PodShow, would quickly tell you which site they appreciated more.  Certainly they could find what they are looking for on the former sites.  
To summarize, I believe PodShow is a company with good leadership, good backend and IT, good people, good talent, but lacking in focus.  The main Web site caters to too many areas and is sort of all mashed up into one.  In my opinion, PodShow needs to decide to either be a social network, an unsigned music host/directory or a podcasting platform.  Based on its name, I would think the latter would be appropriate.  I also believe the other aspects of what they are trying to accomplish can be integrated, but it should be done with related sites that are appropriately branded with a UI tailored to that site’s purpose.  If PodShow could capture this, they could truly be the dangerous company they advertise to be in all relative fields.