dinsdag 19 oktober 2010

Improving the Discogs upload form: suggestions from DesignCamp

1. Introduction

Prior to the yearly Design by Fire conference this year a DesignCamp was organized in Utrecht (the Netherlands) with workshops for interaction designers. The design camp is based on the idea of a barcamp: active participants only instead of passively listening to a speaker.

One of the workshops, hosted by Xander Roozen and Bas Evers from Dutch design company Informaat, featured Discogs.com.

Discogs’ front-end and functionality have seen a spectacular development since its start in 2000. It seems, however, that the back-end (particularly the upload form) hasn’t kept up to pace with this stormy expansion.

The workshop featured a total of three design assignments: two relating to a specific field in the upload form, the third aimed at making it fun to collaborate. Five interaction designers participated. We want to share the results with Discogs.

2a. Artist and ANV: the issue

The artist name variation is a brilliant idea to link all releases of a particular artist together, no matter how the artist’s name was spelt on the individual release. You can visit a Rolling Stones page with everything they have released, no matter if the cover said The Rolling Stones, Rolling Stones, Stones, Rollingstones or Los Rolling Stones. When you upload a new release you have to be aware of the ANV’s existence: you have to indicate ‘Stones’ is a variation on master artist The Rolling Stones.

When a particular artist name occurs more than once in the database, you have to know which one to pick. Fergie is a hard house DJ, while Fergie (2) is the famous singer of the Black Eyed Peas. Since the artist field uses a string match, you have to remember to enter ‘Fergie (2)’ when uploading something by the female Fergie. In practice you have to search the database before you start uploading.

2b. Artist and ANV: solutions

We asked the interaction designers how Discogs could assist someone uploading a release to pick the right artist. The designers came up with the following ideas:
  • One of the most suggested features was to implement some form of auto complete (just like the Discogs search). Different variants were discussed but most designers agreed on adding one or more markers to make artists better distinguishable (e.g. artist image, country or place of orgin, most popular release, etc.).

  • A different approach that came up was to give uploaders the option to upload directly from the master artist page. That would make it possible to bypass the artist selection completely.

3a. Genre and style: the issue

Every release falls within one of 15 genres (electronic, pop). Within each genre, a number of styles are distinguished (acid house, synthpop). You can filter by genre in the marketplace or browse Discogs by genre on the homepage, so it’s worth keeping the data accurate. This is difficult because of the diversity in genres and styles and its personal character.

3b. Genre and style: solutions

We asked the interaction designers how Discogs could help someone uploading a release decide its genre and style. The designers came up with this:
  • Genre and certainly style can be very subjective. What the uploader feels belongs in style x does not necessarily mean other users feel the same. One way of solving this problem would be to use the Discogs community to label uploads, making the genre and style a group decision. This would make the resulting labels more reliable.

  • Because of the subjective nature of labeling a different solution (bypassing labeling altogether) would give the uploader the ability to select one or more ‘similar’ releases from the Discogs database. Once again the Discogs community could be used to vote on the linked releases (increase reliability) or suggest better links. If enough releases are linked Discogs could begin suggesting similar releases in the upload form (based on the artist for instance).

  • A different kind of labeling was also discussed using a ‘genre scale’. By displaying a set of sliders, for instance one ranging from electronic on the left to acoustic on the right, users can slide to a position they feel best suits the release.

4a. Fun to participate: the issue

You have to know what Discogs expects from you before you can start uploading. It’s easy to lose data you have entered. It’s unclear from the upload form what the advantages are of sticking to Discogs’ rules. These and other reasons create a hurdle when you want to collaborate. We’ve heard several stories of people who quit after a few frustrating attempts to add information to Discogs.

4b. Fun to participate: solutions

We asked the interaction designers how Discogs could make it more attractive to participate. Some ideas the designers came up with:

  • Improving the upload form

    • Discogs could improve the look and feel of the upload form. For instance by dividing the form into a set of logical steps which would make the process more manageable.

    • Discogs could provide feedback after each step in the upload process. This way the user could be given feedback as early as possible if they make a mistake and make the upload process less frustrating.

    • Discogs could make it easier to re-use data from existing releases. For instance make it possible to duplicate a release. This way users only need to edit information instead of filling out a complete form (useful for different national album releases).

  • Engaging the Discogs community

    • Discogs could introduce rewards of some kind ('gamification'). For instance users could gain honorary titles (fan, super fan, etc.) for uploading and/or editing a certain amount of releases for an artist. Similar to the Foursquare ‘mayor’ title.

    • “Adopt an artist”: Discogs could make a fan responsible for an accurate and fun master artist page.

  • Other ideas

    • There are possibilities to combine Discogs’ database with others (for instance Gracenote).

5. Conclusion

After brain storming and sketching for about one-and-a-half hours, seven dedicated people have been able to come up with some innovative solutions for three specific problems with the Discogs upload form. These ideas should help make it easier and more fun to add something to the Discogs database.

All participants are curious to hear from Discogs how they feel about our initiative and its outcome. We are enthusiastic users of the community who want to make our own lives a little bit easier.

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