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By Simon Willison

AllMusicGuide: A Web Standards case study

By Simon Willison

Yesterday saw the launch of a new design for All Music Guide, the music world’s answer to the Internet Movie Database. AMG has been around since 1995 and has grown to be by far the largest and most useful music resource on the web. It’s a classic example of good content trumping poor design: you will find few people who loved the old design, but it was good enough to provide access to the content, which for most people is good enough period.

I’m calling this entry a case study, because AMG’s new design is a case study in how not to handle a redesign in 2004. Until a few hours ago, the site carried a prominent “This site optimised for Internet Explorer 5.5+ for Windows” message when viewed in alternative browsers (they appear to have removed it now, but the browsers I’ve tested it in still show prominent visual glitches). One of the greatest complaints with the old site was that most of the links required JavaScript to function – a problem so great that a friend of mine wrote a bookmarklet to unsuckify them! Amazingly, these links still feature on the new site.

In fact, the most prominent new “feature” is a flashy navigation widget in the header, implemented in Flash. Navigation links sit in a pretty 3D treee structure and rotate when touched by the mouse. At first glance, it looks like it might be something ultra cool like Music Plasma. Then you realise that it’s the same six links every time, and in fact it’s the exact kind of navigation you would expect to find on some pretentious “cool” site circa 1998. Anyone remember Boo.com?

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To their credit, AMG responded to the flood of negative feedback from the relaunch by putting up a page excusing some of the site’s issues (it’s 404ing now – you can read the full text here instead). Here’s my favourite part:

Optimizing a site of allmusic

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