Edinburgh Festival Fringe Programme now available — with bonus website rant

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme is released today, tickets go on sale on Monday, and the edfringe.com website has been updated.

Once again I’m not blown away by the website experience and I’m going to go pick up a paper copy over the weekend. The quality control shines through when you click the banner link advertising the Sunday Times, which has a free programme this Sunday, and get taken to The Beaver County Times / Allegheny Times website.

Since I ranted about ticket and event sites, I think it’s only fair I should take the time to look over this one and see if it improves on last year. My comments are after the jump, I’ll save any thoughts about the shows themselves for a separate post once I’ve looked at the programme in detail.

First I must take back something I said in my earlier post, you can do a ‘show me everything’ search. In fact it’s the default on the ‘advanced search‘ page. That puts the results three clicks from the main page and it’s far from intuitive, but at least it’s possible.

Your search has found a total of 1941 results:
Please click on the alphabet links to view more pages of results matching your search.

At ten results a page that’s 195 pages of results, but worse, due to the way they split up the results into a block of sub-pages per letter you get less that ten results on the end pages for each letter. So there’s more results pages than that.

If you look at a typical listings page, there’s a fair bit of information there, but not nearly enough. And there’s no excuse, there’s tons of space free, even with the text size bumped up four times — which also breaks their layout. Why no list of show times? Or at least show dates? Prices? A little extra information about the show? You could generate the code for each show once and cache it, so no need to hit the database for all that information. Why use up all that space for the ‘Book Tickets’ button when it could just be a link like the rest. The ‘2 for 1’ button isn’t even a link, why not have a different background or a little 2 for 1 strip on the leftmost side to highlight it. Then use that free space on the right hand side to show the times and prices. Why have a ‘book tickets’ link at all since I’m going to need to see the further information and show times before I decide if I can, or want, to go.

The alphabetical way they’ve split up the results should, in theory, work a lot better than the “last ten/next ten” or “page 1 2 3 4 5” etc links. If you’re after something in particular you can skip to the right page instead of guessing how far through the page list it falls. Except they’ve screwed it up, here’s the list of sub-pages for the letter ‘L’ on a broad search:

L-Lar | Las-Lau | Lau-Les | Let-Lif | Lif-Lit | Lit-Liv | Liz-Lor | Lor-Lov | Lov-Lu |

See the problem ? If I’m looking for, say, Lord of the Flies then I still have to guess if it’s on ‘Liz-Lor’ or ‘Lor-Lov’ because their result algorithm isn’t smart enough to shuffle results with the same three starting letters onto the same page.

Searching for shows by name isn’t much better, a dodgy search engine and the page-per-letter results combine to make life difficult. As an example I picked one of the shows in the little square advert on the left, Topping & Butch, but it’ll work for anything that doesn’t have a short one-word name. Searching for “topping” gives you this page, here the results actually matched the show/group I’m after but they dumped me on the ‘B’ page although I’m sure “Topping & Butch” is a better match than “Brainstopping“. Maybe they just don’t try and dump you on the first page alphabetically. Eh, no. Searching for “butch” gives you this page which is on ‘T’ despite “Andrew Lawrence – How To Butcher Your Loved Ones” being as good a match (by their previous logic) under the letter ‘A’. I’m not actually sure I can work how it makes the call, and I’m not sure I want to.

Things get worse if you make the mistake of starting with a more specific search term, “topping butch” and “topping and butch” both result in no matches. Searching for “topping & butch” matches the shows I want. Finally searching for “topping & butch: filth” (the full name of their show) gives you this page and one of my pet peeves. Don’t display a search results page with only one result, if I was that specific the chances are I want that page. Take me straight to the page, add a banner that says “There was only one result — here it is”.

So it still suffers from an inability to browse easily and search is less than ideal what other functionality is there? If you’re logged into the site you get a wishlist and a schedule. The wishlist is just a way of marking shows to remember them later, a schedule allows you to tag actual showings and have them stored for later booking. Both useful features, but with some drawbacks. Clicking on the ‘add to my wishlist’ link for a show gives you a pointless page:

Bill Hicks: Slight Return has been added to your wish list.

* back to search
* view your wish list

The ‘back to search’ link doesn’t even take you back to the page you were on, it takes you back to the first page forcing you to make three clicks (back to search, letter, sub-page) to get back where you were. When you do get back there there’s no indication that a show is already on your wishlist. Why not change the results pages to show when a show’s on your wishlist (“This show is on your wishlist. Click here to see your wishlist”) then you can just reload the results page when you click to add a show and you’ll be able to see it’s been added.

Worse is yet to come. When you go to the ‘my fringe’ page there’s a nice little wishlist box on the right with your wishlist in it, but the terms aren’t linked. It’s just a normal text, you have to click through to another page to be able to click through to the show pages.

The schedule feature isn’t live yet but does seem to have fixed last years major problem in that you can schedule shows you haven’t booked, hopefully it’ll let you mark a show as booked even if you don’t buy tickets through the site and then it might be quite useful. I’m thinking an ‘export to iCal/Google Calander/RSS’ is too much to hope for from that.

On top of all of this the site is already sluggish, and will die on Monday when the tickets go on sale — it always does. I can understand the amount of traffic the site must get but that’s one of the challenges of web development — they could reduce the hits on their server if they didn’t force people through so many pages to get where they want.

If it gets too slow you can always try and use the awful ‘text only‘ version, I’m guessing the contract specified that they must provide one so they did the minimum work possible to comply.

So, no good points? Well, there are a few, I like the site design better than last year, some things seem to have been fixed up a bit and certainly they haven’t broken anything new. It doesn’t seem to be bugged in FireFox (and there’s lots of places that are), it doesn’t rely on anything hideous like Flash. There seems to be a reviews system in place which I don’t remember, perhaps we’ll even see recommendations when the booking goes live. Sadly there are many more bad points, and I’ve skipped some of my more petty issues with the site.

The thing that bugs me is that the site is functional overall, you can use it for what it’s designed for, hell they won a prize last year. This means it becomes a kind of ‘flagship’ site and other people see it and emulate it because they think that’s how prize winning sites look and work. In reality it’s working despite it’s unfriendliness because it’s the only real option and there were points last year where I gave up and resorted to contacting venues directly. People from all over the world use that website to look for and book fringe shows and I think the people behind edfringe are missing the chance to excel and show what can really be done with the technology. Oh well, there’s always next year.

Rant over (for now).

One Response to “Edinburgh Festival Fringe Programme now available — with bonus website rant”

  1. UnorthodoxY » Blog Archive » Why edfringe.com sucks ... Says:

    […] may recall that last year I ranted about the dismal state of the Edinburgh Fringe website. Pretty much everything I said then still […]