diamond geezer

 Friday, March 28, 2014

A lot of websites are upgrading at the moment.

TfL's website updated on Monday, and yesterday they decided to announce the fact to the general public. Here are three tweets from @TfLOfficial.
» Our new website, which is now live, has lots of improved features to make planning your journeys easier than ever http://www.tfl.gov.uk
» Our new website has launched, making it easier than ever to plan journeys on the move http://ow.ly/v2KJk
» Our new Nearby feature lets you see on a map all transport options in your area, including live departure information http://ow.ly/v2Fhf
TfL also issued a press release to trumpet what they've achieved.
New TfL website puts customers in control, making it easier than ever to plan journeys on the move
Transport for London's (TfL) new and improved website is now 'live' for all Londoners and visitors, making it easier than ever to plan journeys on the move and make the most of all London has to offer.
The new site is optimised for use on mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop and puts customers in control by providing more personalised, live travel information, including a new 'Nearby' function which shows all local travel options and real-time service information.
Alas they could only publish this press release on the old version of the TfL website, because the media section of the new website isn't ready yet. Ah, the irony of it.

Meanwhile Flickr flicked a big switch on Tuesday and forced everybody to view photo pages in a new default design. Over the last year or so they've played around with all sorts of formats, generally increasing in complexity, to the consternation of users. This final layout displays the photo as large as possible on a jet black background with a volley of accompanying information crammed into a column down the right hand side. Here's an example of what they've done - a photo of Stoke Newington Common, knitted.

Management naturally think the redesign is great.
"With the photo page redesign we set out to provide you with an incredibly fast photo browsing experience, highlight the photo and the accompanying story, bring you all the functionality in one place, and do it all with beautiful design.
We hope you enjoy the new photo experience as much as we loved building it. We'd like to thank everyone in the community who helped us with making this page better. Through your help, photos in comments, HTML embedding in addition to the new Web Embeds, and many other features become reality. As always we are listening to you and we encourage you to give us your feedback."
Users are however unconvinced. Indeed most are livid, and are telling Flickr so in a 23 page Help Forum thread that's now passed 2000 angry comments. Being dragged screaming into a new layout they don't want is one issue. Another is the large number of previous features that appear to have fallen by the wayside, either permanently or because nobody's quite worked out how to reprogram them yet.

One such vanished feature is the ability to see where photographs were taken on a map. I've spent hours if not days over the last nine years adding location data to over 6000 photos, but as of this week all that effort appears to have been wasted. Dumbed-down Flickr offers only a place name, hidden well down the screen, but nothing clickable to view a location. Thanks Flickr, thanks a bundle.

And then there's Google Maps. They've launched a wholesale overhaul of their mapping interface, abandoning white-space borders for a wholly edge-to-edge design. Functions now have icons rather than words, so it's no longer obvious precisely which button where does what. And the whole interface has become so slow that I can barely use the site on either my laptop or mobile, waiting forever for a zoom or scroll while something processor-hungry flails hopelessly in the background.
"Over the coming weeks, the new Google Maps will make its way onto desktops around the world. Many of you have been previewing it since its debut last May, and thanks to your helpful feedback we’re ready to make the new Maps even more widely available. It’s now even easier to plan your next trip, check live traffic conditions, discover what’s happening around town, and learn about a new area—with Pegman’s help if needed."
Why do big companies insist on doing this sort of thing? They have a site that works, pretty much, but could be improved. Someone has a vision for change which turns into a wholesale upgrade of existing functionality. The design team then implement something they think is better, but remove stuff you've grown to need. And then the whole thing is launched with glaring holes, some of which eventually get patched up while other features fade forever.

Are there suddenly more upgrades of big websites at the moment, with companies blind to the fact that the public hate their so-called improvements? Are organisations suddenly more willing to launch flawed beta sites without waiting for finalised functionality? Or is this just social media amplifying a minority of disgruntled users when in reality the majority of the upgrade works fine?

Whatever, it's not been a good month.

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