Sunday, November 8, 2009

How not to design a website

So, I chat on the internets. And I understand this is a geeky and nerdy thing to do, especially when you balance it out by me saying that it's primarily roleplaying online. Whatever, fuck you. I do what I want.

The site I most commonly use has just merged with another and created a new site. Okay, that's nice, a larger member base and such means a more successful site, right? Wrong. They basically created a new site from nothing and replaced the previous sites with a pre-alpha build, the sort of thing a muppet wouldn't ponder doing.

Portal of Dreams is supposed to be a collaborative effort in creating the sort of site that everyone would want to visit for their chatting needs. OK, not that there's a huge market out there, but there is one, so sure, create the dominant site. You first of all hit a welcome page, and then the whochat. Portal of Dreams has tried a different whochat where each "section" has its own screen, and it shows a display of the current users.

But it doesn't fucking work. Everything says 0 visitors, so you have to open the individual whochats anyway (clicky for bigger):

I tried this on all five browsers I have (IE, Chrome, FF, Safari, and Opera), and it didn't work with any of them. So, there's one feature one might expect to work (where people are actually chatting), and it's just not going. I mean, let's be honest - this may not be a feature that yet works. But, if that's the case, why set it up so it looks like it should. That's what you do in an alpha build.

Visually, this first page looks okay. I don't think it looks great, but they kept it simple, stupid. The text along the top is a little...too phony looking, and the various links are pretty simple, but that's fine. Where it fails is where it displays the six constituent whochats - they don't look like "portals" or "doors", there's not even a cheap flash or javascript to make them look fancy. They're screenshots on a page without borders or anything. Add in the fact that the damn screenshots themselves are buttugly...well. I'll get to that later.

Alright, let's click on one (my fav. section, Medieval and History), and see what happens:

Okay, so let's take a look. The background is a nice gradient, which is OK. The banner up at the top looks a little comicy, but at least it seems to fit the theme. The buttons are there, and they have a decent look to them. The border at the bottom, however, appears to hit a shade too early, and the copyright text is over it, and blends. In addition, the orange colour chosen for the subrooms blends with the red gradient, and makes them progressively more difficult to read.

The biggest thing I am noticing here is that there's no way to return to the front page. So, if I want to go to another section, I have to click the go back button in my browser. This is poor website design, especially if you're like me - I tend to open these things in tabs, so the go back button doesn't work. They don't even link back to the original page at the bottom, where it says the page is Copyright Portal of Dreams. So that's a huge fail when it comes to convenience, and one that will be repeated in every section whochat on the site.

Overall, though, while I wouldn't call it appealing, it's mostly functional. I give it a solid B. And it gets worse from here. Check out this clusterfuck:

What the fuck is that skull thing? It's a shitty cg-style devil's head that wouldn't look out of place in a 1992 adventure film. The colour scheme here is drab and pretty much ugly. The navigation buttons on the left have a completely different and totally not-fitting font, and the letters look to disconnect from the buttons, which just look slapped in over the background graphics without thought to how they should integrate with the page (unlike on the medieval/historical page). You can hardly read the heading, the letters are so tiny and muted.

While I'm complaining about the buttons, it should be noted that the contact link on this page is broken. I tried it, again, in all 5 browsers, and none of them worked. So yeah, broken links are a huge no-no, and given that there's only like 36 links on the fucking site, it's inexcusable that one of them shouldn't work.

We also come to the first major inconsistency on the website. On the entry page, the overall whochat, and the medieval page, all the "All rights reserved" text have been links to the copyright statement for the website, which is good copyright practise. On this page, the link is not there. Not a major thing, something that could easily be missed in an alpha release, but really it goes to show that whoever designed the various pages was inconsistent, a theme I am going to hit on later.

The centre text is very difficult to read. The primary function of the whochat is to show you what users are in what rooms, letting you know if a friend is present, or if there's someone you want to avoid. They're the first place new chatters look to, and they are oft drawn to sites that have a large amount of users. But wherever that stupid devil's head is, I can't read the name of the room without squinting. In addition, the spacing between logged-in users is very small, giving it a crowded and poorly arranged appearance.

Finally, check out the background. You'll notice that the background is set in an appx. 800x600 section, and that the colour gradient of the extended background is different to the centre section. They don't match, making the background and the centre arrangement look out of step. The end result is the whole page is ugly. Final grade: D.

Here's why I'm testing in multiple browsers:

That's the front page for the Lifestyles section, in Opera, Safari, and Firefox. It's hard to see here, but look at the buttons. Each one displays a little differently. Opera looks the best, I think - it looks like the transparency works alright. Firefox takes on a more muted appearance around the buttons, and if that's the design, then it works (but I think the Opera experience is closer to what's intended). Safari looks bad. You can see the cuts along the corners in it, and where hasty erasing was done. It's not quite as clear in that screenshot, but go download Safari. You'll see what I mean.

For reference, Chrome looks the same as Opera and IE looks like Firefox.

In addition, each button is its own image, and the transparency effect is an illusion made on each button. That's fine, but the problem is that while the first 2 buttons line up, they don't line up after that, till there's a 2-3 mm. difference in the last button. I don't get why you'd even try if that's the result.

Okay, on to the whochat:

Actually, this isn't bad. The text is easily read, the spacing is good, the little links down at the bottom all work. My biggest critique is twofold: when you open the section from the overall front page, unlike the other two I have reviewed, this brings you to the selection screen I saw earlier. I mean, I don't think it's that necessary to add a second click when one will do. People have already had a chance to access the forums and their memberpages from the original whochat, and if you're room editing, it's the same amount of clicks as previous (whochat then room editor, instead of welcome page, then room editor). Other sections do this too, giving you the idea that nobody really thought it out. Anyway, it's an overall of an A-, and it would have been an A+ if it wasn't for the inconsistency and the fact that swirling plasma streams have nothing to do with "lifestyles".

One more of these whochats:

Egads! This is the Themes section, and it is a giant turd. Look at the banner - those are several images melded together, including at least three copyrighted images (Agent 47, the Joker, and Spiderman). The quality of the various pictures is dubious, the transition amateurish, and what the hell did they do to 47's aspect ratio? And I get the yellow title, but don't write "Circa-2009". There's no hyphen needed. Christ, learn some fucking punctuation.

Then you get a black bar with the various links in it. Okay, that works, but then the background directly below it has a blueish tint, and the thing above doesn't have a black tint either. It just looks like it was stuck right in the middle for no fucking reason other than they couldn't find a better place to put it.

And what the dick is that background! It looks like it was directed by JJ Abrams! You know, you might be trying to say "Sci-fi", but really, it's not necessary, especially since it breaks with the banner at the top, which is colourful, at least, and then you have this essentially monochrome background. Now, originally they had a room over the giant lens-flare in the centre, and people had to complain for them to move it. Not that it's much better now. Try to read "Enchantica". You can't really.

Again, the rooms extend beyond the background image, into this shitty grey fill colour that doesn't match with any of the content of the page. It's not as ugly overall as the Vamp page was, but it's more of an unmeasured clusterfuck than any of the other pages. Overall grade: D-.

I'm not going to show you much more. The chatrooms themselves aren't bad, and are some of the more advanced ones I've seen, so that's good. The memberpages don't have log out options, which is stupid. A lot of the previous code is just being changed now (when I started this review, all the room editors had reference to Alter Realm, the previous page, but has since been updated to say Portal of Dreams). It's a copy and paste hackjob, and it's utterly infuriating.

I am going to bitch about the board, though. It's one of the most infuriating things I've ever read. And it's fucking ugly - lots of reds in it. Like the rest of the site, the individual pages just straight-up don't have unified colour schemes when comparing the other sections, making everything a mess to pull up. You'd never know they're part of the same site to look at them. The board is terrible, too. A lot of functions I take for granted (like skip to newest unread post) either don't exist or are difficult to find. I don't know what the indicator icons mean, and when I mouseover them, nothing happens. It's infuriating and a crap piece of software. Isn't SMF free?

Really, is this the product you expect me to pay for? I put hard-earned money into the previous site, which was not particularly great, but at least it didn't have graphic mishmashes, broken links, and terrible page coding, and it was simple enough to work on the five major browsers. And they came back with this piece of crap. Sure, they're fixing a lot of the issues, but if I was testing this site, I wouldn't have let it past anything. It feels like an alpha build at best, it's inconsistent and frequently ugly as a ten car pileup.

Way to fuck it up, guys. Final grade: D+.


Andre Vienne said...

Clearly, they are mourning the death of Geocities.

Veritas said...

The previous products weren't really fancy, but they were simple and got the job done. This just looks horrid.

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