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Fixing the GDC 2010 Schedule Builder

This year I'm hoping the GDC online schedule builder can finally triumph over the mighty physical booklet they distribute at the event. To help win this fight, I built a working prototype. One more weapon in the never ending war against print.
Welcome

While I consider myself a game developer, I've spent the last 10 years doing hard web time. While inside, I learned 2 things:
1. How to organize massive amounts of hideous content
2. How to kill a man


Web technology is a mixture of religion, politics, marketing and outdated technical crap.
The only thing worse is when physical media trumps it.
The web should never suck more than print.


Last year's 'GDC 2009 Scheduler Builder' was awful, yet the physical schedule booklet was amazing. Despite improvements, 2010 appears ready to continue this tradition. This cannot stand.


My Dream GDC 2010 Scheduler Prototype - The Contender

versus

The Real GDC 2010 Scheduler - The Champ


The problems with the current scheduler are not technical. My prototype was created in ~6 hours and is dinky. Tha main problem is the schedule builder has an identity crisis. Should it be a tool to search for GDC sessions, a tool to query the GDC session database, or a tool to help attendees build their schedule? Based on the title of the tool, the latter. Based on the tool options, all of the above.



The Details

Filtering aka. Click Hide immediately

Scrolling to see my filter selections is absolutely horrendous. I think the developers know this. Given the fact the page already has the ability to hide/show the criteria, why not show all the checkboxes laid out nicely (no scrolling, hidden by default)? Additionally, why are the checkboxes not checkboxes? The pink squares are cute but 'on state' looks unchecked. If you need a tooltip saying "Click to Filter", there's a problem.


The 'Tracks Filter' lumps Summits and Sessions together, which is schizophrenic. Even the left navigation knows there are only 6 'real' distinctions (the rest are really special cases). The track options need to be separated.


Who uses the 'Formats Filter'? I'd like to meet the freak who filters by tutorials, lectures, panels, roundtables or poster sessions. Remove this filter. Add format info to session title.


After picking your main filters, you can also filter by date. Considering this is the most important filter, why is it secondary? Additionally, working with "All Days" selected slows down the results. Why default to slow?


Currently, the results rebuild everytime visitor changes a checkbox. Answering the question before the visitor has finished asking it is impolite. Has Jeopardy taught us nothing?


'Passes Filter'? Too much info, not enough return. That job belongs to this page, which does it better. Eliminate this filter and provide a link to the pass page if necessary (new window). If passes must be mentioned, only highlight sessions that require an all access pass (show losers what they're missing).


Searching

I didn't come to the scheduler builder to search for sessions. I came to build my schedule. Additionally, merging the search criteria + main filters + day subfilters = confusion. i.e. "Why are there no results for Tuesday? Whoops... forgot to remove 'underpants' from search criteria." Create another page/tool for search and link to it. This page can't do everything.


Minor Bug: Searching for "Daniel James" doesn't work. "Daniel" does. "James" does. But not "Daniel James". Imagine code is searching individual fields in the database, rather than the almagamated field results the user sees. Good luck fixing that.


Results

Links to Speaker bios open in the same window and clicking back loses all your selections. Extra puzzling considering links to Sessions open in a lovely popup.


Why are the titles SHOUTING?


Need more width & height to display results. Consider removing all navigation elements and having scheduler builder consume entire screen. Perhaps open in a new window. When I'm buiding my schedule, I'm unlikely to need immediate links everywhere else.


Love the print version and the ability to export to Excel. It almost makes me want to ignore the order of the columns. It's a schedule - put the date and time columns first.


I like "My Schedule". However, allowing both "List View" or "Calendar View" options for "My Schedule" is confusing. Create an optimized "My Schedule" view and place it alongside "List View" and "Calendar View". Remove top tabs since "All Sessions" will no longer be necessary.


Coloured icons are a nice subtle grouping. However, they are quite large and consume muchos precious screen real estate - especially for criteria. Consider making them a 10 x 10 patch of colour, or perhaps colouring the session title instead.


IE6 users (I'm forced to keep it alive for web development testing) are greeted by "Download a current browser." While I doubt anyone attending GDC is using IE6, I do wonder what functionality this tool offers that made IE6 support impossible. Apparently, the screen is such an abomination human eyes must not be tainted. Wait a second... is this one of those aforementioned religious issues?


There are so few sessions (~600), all the data could be cached locally in javascript. This would speed 'All Days' considerably. If this is done, user would control saving via a clear "Save" button.


Sorting (list view only)

The builder lets you sort by track, session, speaker date and time (in that order). What visitor is going to sort by track, session or speaker? Does any human being sort by time? Why are the sorting controls non-standard (tiny up & down arrows without any grace zone making them hard to click)? What do up and down mean exactly? Why don't they reflect sorting currently in use?


By default, the results are ordered by the name of the session. By default, the physical GDC 2010 schedule book will be ordered by day & time. Considering visitors are trying to build a schedule, and probably don't know the name of their sessions, the book is right. Better yet, remove 'List View' altogether and never speak of it again.



Conclusion

The GDC developers added the 'Calendar View' functionality while I was writing this blog. As a result, you're only reading half my original rant. I would not have started this blog if that view existed last night.


Clever.


I've got no major quarrels with the main GDC website, just the scheduler builder. For reasons I can't explain, web user interface issues really grind me gears. 10 years of HTML does strange things to a man...


If you've only read the above ramblings, please try my proposed scheduler alternative. While no longer a radical improvement (thanks calendar view), it hopefully validates my feedback. Try before you hate... then hate.


Full Disclaimer: My GDC 2010 presentation "Your Game Website Sucks" was not accepted.

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