After Steve Outing gushed over MSNBC’s Academy Award multimedia feature ("it’s a healthy dose of video clips combined with online interactivity and audience participation. ...This is one slick piece of multimedia content), we decided to check it out.
This is what we got.
Ouch. There’s no explanation of how to fix it (nor does it hyperlink to a solution). What browsers are compatible? Is the problem our browser, or is it a special plug-in that we need? But MSNBC delivers no such help. So much for contingency design. This is disappointing design from a top tier media site. For the record, we were using Safari 1.2 on Mac OS Panther.
Still curious, we checked it out on Mac IE 5.2.3 and it worked just fine. Steve’s right. It’s pretty cool (96k, JPG), with a healthy dose of user participation. It has an interesting interactive system to rank the nominees in each category. Plus, each category has place for you to provide comments. There’s even a feedback form on the launch page.
Wait, maybe we got ahead of ourselves. We went back and relaunched it in Internet Explorer and we got this bizarre error message about the presentation being over. That’s for sure. We give MSNBC kudos for doing something different. But they could do a better job at planning for user failure.
For help with this issue, check out this upcoming book:
Defensive Design for the Web: How to improve error messages, help, forms, and other crisis points by the smart folks over at 37signals.
Update: Steve posted a followup stating that representatives at MSNBC said “that they try to make the multimedia feature work in most browsers, but acknowledge that it doesn’t work in all.” Duh. He also paraphrased that in “a tight-deadline project like this, it is just not possible to push the envelope to the max in terms of executing new multimedia tricks while at the same time ensuring compatibility to all browsers.” Again, duh. All multimedia features that take advantage of even modestly advanced technology will have a certain percentage of failure among the general user base. Ergo, designing for failure is as important as designing for compatibility.
Maybe MSNBC will someday assign a correspondent to report about how the Internet (and particularly the Web) is based upon the use of standard coding, not coding designed only for certain browser applications.