The first thing I notice about the site is the logo: it’s big and bright, followed by the words “internet radio show.” I think that’s techno-jargon for “podcast.” The color scheme on the front page tends towards red, so I immediately feel a strong energy coming from the site. It’s warm and inviting. Scanning the rest of the header, I see the words “original, funny, free.” This could be a great find.
I notice the big “Listen now” button. Right above it, I see a bar that says “season 4″ and then a search button. Odd. I wonder why the search is pre-filled in with this query. I click inside the box, but the words do not disappear. Hmm. I wonder if I’m supposed to search for this, before starting my own query? — a number of questions come to mind.
Let there be music!
Okay, so how could I resist clicking “Listen Now?” After clicking, a new window appears, with The Absolute Peach’s logo. Some audio beings playing. Neat. I scan forward about a minute, to skip past the intro and get to the podcast. No dice. It appears that I’ve either reached the wrong podcast or that the intro is really quite long. I scan again, this time moving the scrubber to 4:12. Bingo, I hear people talking.
The audio is a little low quality, but I imagine that has to do more with the method of delivery than a conscious decision to degrade the audio. Scanning down the list of alternative “songs” (or in this case, podcasts) I see that they are more or less arranged in reverse-chronological order: the most recent ones are at the top. At least, that’s what I’m led to believe. There is only an implied order, no explicit one.
The visual buffer-indicator in the top right is moving rapidly. As an every-day user of the web, I’m used to seeing these kinds of indicators on quickly loading sites. I’m very curious as to what the player is loading, aside from the track I’m currently playing. Nothing is clear about what it’s doing.
Back to our regularly scheduled…
After closing the player, I return to the website. I’m scanning down the home page, looking for clues to guide my next action. I’m particularly interested in how this podcast is structured: is it around real life events? is it a sitcom? is this podcast political? I don’t know.
I read on: “The Absolute Peach” is a free comedy podcast based in England and hosten by BenYoung and Joe Gallagher. Oh, neat. Next, I see the twitter logo, and I’m sure of what will come: follow us on twitter! I continue scanning the page.
I see a “post” (is this a blog?) about the show. It looks like it gives a brief synopsis of the show. Hmm, find out “how to win ourselves a toddler.” Maybe I do want to subscribe to this podcast.
Next to this update, I see Recent Shows and Subscribe. Both of these are very pertinent to the show, so I appreciate their inclusion on the front page. Below this there’s a rather large header mentioning the site forums and then (what appears to be) an advertisement for something called TAPAS. Everything here seems fairly obvious. The choice to use big headers for information so close to the bottom of the page is a bit confusing, but otherwise, it all makes sense.
Learning about the show
Okay, I’m ready to rock. I move back up the page and find the navigation. I find it odd that the navigation bar doesn’t tell me where I am. I know I’m on the front page, but the site doesn’t tell me that. I mouse over the “about” link and give it a click.
What’s crazy is that this page looks very very similar to the front page. This is just poor form. I see the same blurb about the show, the same twitter information, recent shows, etc. I don’t mind too much repetition on site pages, but this is pushing the limits. When I do finally scan over all of the repeated content, it takes me just a bit too long to parse out where the new content begins— because it looks so similar to the front page!
After reading the two paragraphs about The Absolute Peach, I’m satiated. But from here, the page goes on to share fan feedback about the show. My first thought, however, is that the content here is a little short. While I did get a brief introduction, I wonder why the copy I’ve found here wasn’t included in the site’s footer, for example. I wonder if there’s more information to be had.
Upon further inspection, I notice something I completely missed on first glance. There are links in the copy. But what’s most unfortunate is that they are exactly the same color as the regular text! Even on my color-calibrated monitor, I find it very difficult to parse. I believe I’m not alone is say that finding the links on the pages is a much more difficult task than it should be. Not only does the site avoid the familiar underlined-text convention, but the font is exactly the same color. It’s clearly one of the weakest elements on the page.
And then, and then
From there, the site is pretty low-impact. The typography on the page does a well-enough job of guiding my through the “Shows,” “Subscribe,” and “TAPAs” pages. My only gripe here is that the TAPAs section doesn’t provide real-life examples of what kinds of content I would be receiving in exchange for my donation to the show.
Unfortunately, that’s where the smooth-ride ends. Don’t believe me? Just try clicking on any of the other areas of the site.
Let’s start with the Forum. This section of the site feels detached—foreign, even. This is a common problem with forum scripts. They can be a real pain to style, but without them, they feel identical to every other forum out there. Added to this, they force site-owners to break many of the conventions used throughout their site. For example, where is the navigation? Where is the site’s logo? Without these grounding elements, I’m left to aimlessly wander this section of the site until I become bored or lose interest.
I will spare you the pain of going through the myspace, store, and wiki sections, as they suffer from a similar problem—one which I cannot really comment upon; because a critique of the usability of these areas of the site is only as good as a critique of the theme applied to them. Which is to say: I cannot vouch for or against the scripts and/or sites that power these areas of theabsolutepeach.com.
Overall, theabsolutepeach.com will deliver for it’s long-term fan base. While newcomers to the show will probably have a bit of trouble learning about the podcast and becoming involved, long-time listeners have many options to choose from: forums, a store, a myspace profile, and even exclusive content.
I would suggest that the owners of the site, Ben and Joe, take a look at the site from a “new user” perspective. While it’s easy enough to listen to the podcast, and probably to subscribe, the site itself is not easy to navigate. Consider consolidating the navigation, reducing “white space” in the overall layout, and paying more attention to your typography; headers and links should be clear and apparent.
The devil is in the details and there is certainly additional areas for your site to deliver upon.
- Be Explicit — The flash-based podcast player has a lot of implied functionality that may be a bit disorienting to first-time listeners. You may consider adding subscribe functionality to the popup player.
- Don’t build broken bridges — When sections of your site look vastly different from your traditional style, you should caution users. Either provide an explicit banner across the top of the “different” section or have it launch in a new window. That way, users unfamiliar to your site won’t feel duped.
- Lower the Cognitive Load — Don’t provide extraneous information to users who will not use it. Many pieces of information that have a valid purpose on the front page are repeated throughout the site, front and center. When a user is looking for information about your program, for example, do they really need to know about TAPAs?
- Follow Conventions — When browsing the site, things were not where I expected them to be: the navigation didn’t tell me what page I was on, the search bar had a query filled in, the links weren’t explicit, etc. Make sure that your site doesn’t become unusable to a first-time user.