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


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

  • Seems to be a case of “design now, pay later”

  • nipsey russell

    I use AMG more than any other site on the web (except yahoo) and see this as a sign of the apocalypse! AMG just went from one of the most incredible sites out there to a steaming pile of carp. I’m assuming that the browser incompatability will work itself out, but this new multi-tab system is total garbage. “We realized when we designed the tab system that we would make some folks unhappy, but we felt the trade off was worth it. If we stuck to the one page approach it would limit our ability to add additional information. ” – BS! I would have a hard time buying this if they added one extra click to the process of browsing the info, but they have gone off teh charts! now you have to click on a new tab for discography….click on a new tab for LPs…a new tab for LPs…EPs…compilations….then, once you finally select the album you are looking for…you may need to open a new page to “read more” to finish reading the ONE PARAGRAPH description of the album…then if you want to see the album credits…guess what….right!
    I implore everyone to flood AMG with negative feedback as much as possible!

  • Sergeant

    mmm, it’s not even scalable…

  • Kyle Neath

    Funny, it’s almost like they directly responded to my complaint via their contact form :)

    Nice to know they’re not totally ignoring us. When I found out about the redesign I immediately contacted them telling them that that message (now removed) was offensive to me and that when they are compared to such large sites as listed above, they should be the leading edge of web design, not 15 years past.

    I think this is a case of the web standards community speaking back and seeing results! I wouldn’t be entirely too suprised if they relaunch a standards compliant design in a few months…

  • Anonymous

    Anyone out there got visual difficulties and a good lawyer? (I assume from what I read here that the accessibility will be appalling?)

  • Anonymous

    If I might add a comparatively petty complaint, before when one selcted an album a whole row of albums was displayed on the page as “sounds like” albums. I enjoyed this as I encountered much new music this way simply by finding the title or cover art intersting I would click on it and see, now this is removed…

  • Anonymous

    On the tabs: considering the page load times typical on AMG, the number of clicks necessary to get the info you’re looking for can mean that little menu on your browser’s back button comes in handy — and we all know that as a designer, making someone do that is a no no.

    It’s a contract I actually interviewed for last year (shh don’t tell them I said so), so my disappointment was twofold when I finally saw the unveiled design.

    It’s a very old search app apparently, and considering how long it took the dinosaur old design to be phased out, this seems like a case study in reluctance to change, and that goes for UI technology as well. If you aren’t willing to make the jump forward with commitment, you’re going to be leaving a foot behind you.

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