Well, its been almost 24 hours since Sports Illustrated and FanNation decided to roll out their new and improved website. We have a lot to discuss. I've already gotten my 3rd cup of coffee, so I'll wait until you all have a chance to get yourselves a cup or tea or whatever it is you drink in the morning - (No, beer is not acceptable right now, although many of us think the people at FN and SI were drinking when they designed the new look).
Let's start with some background for those who may be new or those who have no idea what I'm taking about.
FanNation was the brainchild of some former ESPNers who started a company called STI. Sports Tech Inc. The plan was, I'm sure to develop a site for fans to gather and discuss, debate and yes, lay a smackdown on or with other fans. The site was so successful that Sports Illustrated became interested and said "Oooooh, this could be our very own Fan Based website ! .. We can publish the site in our magazine and get web traffic that will bring us millions in additional advertising revenue". So they bought the site from STI. The site was to remain managed by STI pending the official takeover. While managed by STI (primarily by Josh), it was clean, well moderated and well maintained. Duplicate accounts were dealt with quickly and efficiently. Moderators were on hand to clean up truly offensive posts, offensive users and just generally hang around in case they were needed. When you emailed or fanmailed a mod or Josh, you received a speedy response. Typically within an hour or so but certainly within 24. Throwdown cheating was dealt with immediately and harshly.
Sometime around Memorial Day weekend, SI assumed command of the site and we all noticed a huge change. Not entirely happy with the vision SI had for the future of the site, and because he missed his beloved West Coast, Josh left STI to move his family back to Seattle. (You can now find Josh at http://www.therustynut.com/) . This is when all hell broke loose. TD's were no longer moderated as the group SI hired to perform these duties spent most of their time perusing private groups and moderating them - People were able to create multiple accounts and then use those accounts to win Throwdowns. TnR articles and TD's became battlefields with posts so offensive and distasteful that even I as a grown woman, became appalled at some of them, and I'm not some delicate prissy soccer mom. I can tangle with the best of them, but even I don't go as low as I saw on some of the TD's and threads. Noone stopped any of it. Why?
Shortly after Josh left, I was so digusted in the direction of a site I had come to truly enjoy, that I sat down and blogged about it. If you haven't read it, here it is. (This is where it was, for some reason, I cant pull the blog up anymore).
Within minutes of the blog being posted, SI removed it from the site. Several minutes later (about 10 or 15), the blog was put back. It generated a lot of interest and comments. Several hours later, SI responded with its own blog. Bryan Graham, an SI employee was probably walking to his cubicle with his morning coffee and Danish when he was blindsided and told "The Natives are Getting Restless - Go ! Tell them something!". Well, Bryan sat down and hurriedly wrote a blog that basically said, I was lying. That everything I said was incorrect, the moderators were there to help us, they were not moderating or removing posts either incorrectly or from private groups and that he was our new liason - taking over for Josh. We could come to him anytime and he would help resolve problems. In the interest of fair disclosure, here is Bryan's blog.
Around this time, we noticed a mass exodus to a new fan site - http://www.diehard101.com/. Many of us signed up there, and to this day are still members. It's still in beta form so most of us decided to wait and see how it unfolds. Diehard101 isn't quite as unique as FanNation, in that it doesn't have the capabilities to do throwdowns (which many enjoy), it doesn't have the same social networking capabilities that FanNation has yet - or rather had. Just about every point I made in my blog was refuted by Bryan with the promise of better things to come. Nothing however changed. Caching remained abysmal, duplicate accounts were being created by the cart-full, TD's were still battlefields and the moderators? Well they did stop spying in private groups , but that's because they disappeared altogether. As bad as it had become though, the Fan was still part of the Nation.
Fast forward to September 10th 2008. I attempted to log into FanNation at approximately 8:30 am EST. I was immediately redirected to a server somewhere in Time Warner, with a basic html page that told me, to check back shortly, the new site was being deployed. Now, many of you are shaking your heads and asking "Why on earth would they deploy a new site at 8:30 in the morning when people are awake and trying to log in?". Well believe it or not, the hours between 8 - 10 am EST are the slowest time for the site. Apparently, FN/SI doesn't own a decent mirrored test system or a staging system because they chose to roll out a production change and had to take down the primary system to do so. I'm unsure why they couldn't roll out the production to the server and then just put a redirect in place to seamlessly take us to the new site. However, not only was the roll out a fiasco, but in the middle of it, they stopped it. It baffles the mind doesn't it ?
That's just the tip of the iceberg. There's more but it's technical and why confuse some people? Once we were able to log back in, you could almost hear the collective gasps from across FanNation.
The design is horrendous and amateur. The layout and content is atrocious and ghastly. The Fan has been completely taken out of the Nation and replaced by blogs from SI writers and obscure media and web outlets. The entire site appears to have been created by a 12 year old experimenting with Microsoft's Front Page - (and not even the most recent version). It looks like we are back in the days of Windows 3.1 - everything is boxed up and mismatched. Fonts and their sizes run amok all over the site. The white background glares at you so harshly that you need sunglasses or risk burning your retinas. I've seen supermodels with bleached teeth that weren't that bright. The Homepage is just, well, I can't even think of what to write about that other than "Oh My God".
Feedback from the user community so far has been terrible. And unanswered by Bryan or SI. Who is the management team who looked at this site in development and approved it? Did someone actually really and truly sit down in Development and say "This is FANtastic!". No way. If they did, they need to update their resume - and soon.
Where is FANnation? The end user experience has been eliminated. The site is no longer user friendly, no longer simple to use and certainly no longer enjoyable. Let's touch on a few things wrong with the design alone.
- Community Page - Where once this was a useful tool to see who was where, what was being said, most recent blogs etc, has now been removed. Its not there anymore. The column layout was clean, easy to understand and read. It's gone.
- FanMail - Obviously functionality was not a priority. No longer can you see if you have Fanmail without actually going to FanMail. You still cannot delete group mail that you don't want. The layout is sloppy and the formatting is amateur. I've seen message boards on rinky dink sites with better formatting and cleaner lines.
- Blogs. Someone explain why we need to see an entire list of blogs from people or sites we are perfectly capable of finding on our own ? I know exactly where Sports Illustrated's website is. If I want to read Perloff, I'll go there. I want to see the FANS blogs. I enjoy reading blogs written by fans on this site who have ten times the knowledge of some of the SI writers. This is called FANNATION ! Why oh WHY do we need to see blogs from obscure sites across the globe that if they were that interesting, we would know where they are to begin with?
- Throw Downs - What a pathetic excuse for improvement. Where exactly did you improve the TD page?
- Private Groups are now listed on the Fan Blog page. They are not private and non members can now read and comment on many of them.
- Truth and Rumors. Where is the convenience and improvement ? The old design had a list of the T&R's for the major sports at the right of your screen. Now that's gone and you need to click through several pages to get to where you want to be (pay attention to that people, I'm coming back to it. Its important).
- Quoting a post. - Excellent idea and one of the few suggestions that SI listened to. However, it places the quote at the bottom of your response. That's counter intuitive and completely wrong.
- Message Boards in Groups. Where are they? Why were they taken out? They are an intregal part of Groups and served a most important role in those groups.
- Font, Colors and layout. Boxy, unprofessional and proletarian. 10.
- User Profile and Group Home Pages. Have you looked at it ? It's terrible. The page looks crowded and shoddy. Text over writes other text. Words all run together.
That's just the APPEARANCE part of the site. There are many many more, but Im running out of time, space and patience. Let's briefly touch the technical aspects. The caching is horrific. The refresh rate is appalling. There are many links that still take the user back to that staging server at Time Warner with that sad little HTML deployment page. Type in http://www.fannation.com/ and you get redirected to http://stadium.timeinc.net/fannation.html. I could go on and on and I would write more but I grow tired of having my words fall on deaf ears and I grow weary of the same old song and dance. Are all of these sensless click throughs just a way to artifically inflate page counts?
I would be interested to know exactly what suggestions the endusers made that SI listened to? It seems to me that none of the issues brought up in my blog or Dookie's blog were addressed. SI did nothing but take the Fan out of the Nation, and replace it with SI Staff members useless blogs that noone wanted to read in the first place. The site went from a sports social network site to an endless jumble of mindless ramblings from writers who shouldn't be paid for the drivel they put out. I would rather read Steelercooz's blog anyday over any of the nonsense I see out there now. SI has effectively silenced some of the most talented and opinionated fans who it has always been a pleasure to read their musings and replaced it with what?
I recall in my blog that I specifically said that SI was going to roll out a new site that would be more about SI and less about the Fan. You said I was lying.
Seems I wasn't wrong after all. Was I ? Who's the liar now SI ?