TV-Tome was pretty much the site for information on American/British TV series. Actor information, episode information, broadcast times, and so on.
Unfortunately it seems that they didn’t do such a good job on the financial front, and the site kept showing more and more ads, to no avail. Around last week it went away, and now redirects to TV.com (What is it with site operating companies feeling the need to have the “.com” as a part of their names? I thought everyone already realized this was a bad idea, no?), which seems to have all the TV-Tome content.
TV.com is a part of the ever growing CNet conglomerate. I never visited TV.com before, so I don’t know what they did with it before TV Tome died. Right now it seems to be aligned along very similar lines. The most obvious difference is the high amount of screen area taken for community activities, like comments, forums, and ratings.
Saving the content and functionality that TV Tome provided is good, and CNet is in no danger of going broke in the near future. That said, they felt the need for a redesign, which is perfectly understandable, and some of the things they did were not so good.
The new design itself is probably supposed to feel slick and modern. Which it does, but that’s very different from the more warm and friendly design that TV-Tome had, and the drastic change is a bit alienating. Just my own initial impression here, and YMMV.
The fact that they seem to have totally missed the concept of putting content in the page, and design in the CSS, doesn’t help much either, if you know a little about web design. They have plenty of elements whose class/ID do not represent function but style, such as class=”f-bold f-medium f-white”. And take a look at a just a few bits, from long lists in the same vein, inside their CSS files:
Makes you want to cry when this is in a big site, from a big company that specializes in computer related stuff, isn’t it?
Anyway, I’m not really concerned about the colour scheme, that’s just eye candy, and as long as they don’t do something horrible like put tons of huge pictures, or turn the site into Flash, I’m good with it. Having the information easily accessible is more important.
And they missed a few on that front as well. Two problems are with the episode list feature. Formerly this was a single page containing the order and titles of all the episodes in all the seasons of a series. An excellent thing if you were looking for an episode by name, or wanted to quickly locate several episodes in the series’ timeline. Now the list is broken by seasons. Each season is in a seperate page. And that drastically reduces the functionality of episode list. Unless this was a way to ensure people will go to epguides.com instead, I have no idea why they did that.
In addition, the episode list which was previously directly accessible through a link on the main show page, now requires two steps to get to. I’d say this makes it less comfortable to use, but since it’s no longer useful, maybe that doesn’t matter
Another bad design idea was on the episode guide page. This is a page that lists information (guest actors and their characters, plus a plot summery) on all episodes in a season. Seperating these into individual seasons does make sense, it’s plenty of information, and is also the way it was before. But now there is a maximum amount of episodes which are shown in a single page. So now a full American season may be split over two pages. This is again highly annoying, and makes it much less simpler to do things like search for a guest actor across a season (yes, following to a second page is not just a minor annoyance, because it effectively doubles the time it takes, and requires searching inside a page twice). Plus, the page links on the top, for a series with 1-2 seasons, look similar enough to how you’d expect a season link to look, and I personally saw someone going to the second page of the first season, thinking it was the second season. Not fun, and very easy to mistakenly do in the current design.
Another problem is with the main show page. The new one is built to show all sorts of information at a glance, but it comes at the expense of not showing a complete anything. The previous design had at least included the full show summary. Now seeing a summary for an unfamiliar show requires one extra click. I know that this is a trade-off, people who already know the show do want the page as an index, and do not need the summary. Yet practically every single viewer who is not yet familiar with the show will want to see the summary, to know what the show is about. And this way requires more work, or gets people to decide based on less information.
The uniformity of the design of the main show page is also a problem . The first few sections are textual ones, and look exactly the same, but the kind of sections change from series to series. The uniformity is alright if you can get used to it, knowing that summary will always be followed, for example, by previous episode (their name for recently aired episode, I think). But it’s like that on some shows, while other shows have first episode followed by last episode, and yet other shows something else. This forces you to read the headers in order to know what’s there. Not terrible, but poor design. The visual cues should be clearer than that.
That said, I do like that the main page directly link to actor pages, and to recent news article relating to the show. I’m not sure how the headlines are selected, though, since I did see plenty of relevant news articles out there which were not on the list. I also don’t like that they open the articles in a frame inside the TV.com site, and not providing actual links.
The search results page is clearer, and the new version provides a short exerpts from show summaries, which can help when confronted with a list of several similarly named shows. On the other hand, an upper limit of 10 results per page is very limiting. And now the results for shows and persons are intermingled, which makes no sense, since usually a searcher only wants one of those. Luckily it’s easy to filter for only one kind, but for most seaches it does mean a little extra work, which a simple grouping of the results would have spared. The results also seem tweaked to show the more popular/likely hits on top, which is good, and very useful for common searches. Yet for cases with many results, the ability to choose alphabetical sorting would help tremendously.
TV-Tome, and now TV.com, also allow users to add and edit content. This makes a lot of sense, since there are plenty of people who care about series that they watch. But the new design puts “edit” button everywhere, which are only relevant for registered, and logged in, users. Pressing the button takes you to a registration page, which do not contain a special area for logging in as an existing user. This is alright, since a login form is placed near the top of every page, but if I were a registered user this would have annoyed me. As someone who isn’t a registered user, I think it would be a lot better to simply not show the edit buttons to anyone who isn’t logged in. That’s not critical, though, since currently the buttons blend well with the background colour, and are not very conspicous. Hiding them would also prevent the pages from being simple static pages, so will probably incur a lot of work for the web team.
Another advantage of the old design was that the TV-Tome URIs often had a simple structure, consisting of the show name, and page name. It was sometime easier to navigate by entering the address directly, or changing the one of the existing page, instead of searching and clicking links. The new design contain things like numerical IDs in the URIs, which removes this possibility.
As an interesting note, the redirects from old TV Tome pages sometimes work well enough to deliver the matching page on TV.com, and sometimes just go to the home page. This applies to pages of the exact same kind and same structure, so I don’t know what’s the rule.
As a second interesting note, and a bit of sheer speculation, a new TV.com Mycroft search plugin for FireFox became available recently, just at the switch was taking place. Since getting something to show up on Mycroft can take a long long time, this was either a very lucky coincidence, someone planning ahead, or someone maybe using money or connections. For the speculation part, the search plugin is made by a web design company, Matt Austin, which does not strike me as a regular FireFox enthusiast user. Are they related to CNet, and maybe did the design for them?