The T's new Web site: Good, bad and ugly

tight fit

The MBTA's new Web site highlights the route of its new ultra-micro-mini bus service, able to fit in even the narrowest of alleys.

The MBTA unwrapped its new Web site today. First impression: This is the B line of Web sites - it takes forever to do anything. But that might just be opening-day problems that will get fixed as the T's Web engineers fine-tune the thing. One might hope, anyway.

Very cool: Google maps integration. I'm loving it.
Not cool: Tiny default type all over the site.

Cool: The trip planner is right on the home page now.
Not cool: It's called Rider Tools, with "Trip planner" underneath. Confusing, since it's the only "rider tool."

Meh: MyMBTA. Cool you can basically bookmark frequently used things on the site. Not cool that you have to go to the Web site to see service alerts - guys, you made me give you my e-mail address when I signed up, send me the alerts in e-mail, mmkay?

Kinda dumb: The "skip to content" link at the very top of the page. All it does is skip you down the page a half screen. If the stuff in that half screen is so skippable, it's probably not worth having up in the first place. Unless you're going to start selling banner ads. (Update: As noted in the comments, this is actually a good thing, for visually impaired folks, but I stand by my comment about "content" that doesn't really belong in such a prominent space). Also, what's up with the 15 FRIDAY DECEMBER 2006 dates? We're still in the U.S., right?

Also not cool: Schedules and Maps is right at the very top, where it should be. Then there's a large box on the top right that basically does the same thing, only takes up a lot of space. Guys: Move the trip planner even higher up, move the ad to the right and ditch the link to the Fitchburg Line.

Now, the T assumes you're using a "modern" browser, which does not, apparently, include Opera. Spatch goes through the site and finds a whole lot to hate. Complete with screen captures to illustrate its Opera suckatude.

The MBTA Web site in 1996 - via Wayback Machine:

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      Comments

      Opera works fine for me

      I'm not having any of Spatch's problems with Opera. Neither of us understands why. We're both using the same version, 9.02.

      ummmm

      By on

      do you REALLY want an email everytime there is a service update? on the T? the last thing i want is 30 emails a day telling me that the blue line is bussing from maverick to aqauarium, and that the escalators are out of service at harvard

      Not every last alert

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      But if, hypothetically, the Orange Line were shut down at 4 p.m., I'd want to know about that (I say "hypothetically" because, of course, that would never happen and because, well, my office is in Southborough, so I'm not actually going to worry about the Orange Line most days). If they've gone to all the bother to let you customize the alerts that appear on your MyMBTA.com, outputting that in e-mail is the next logical step.

      may be a OS thing

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      Didn't peg you for the XP type, Ron, so perhaps it's a matter of OS that's doing it here. If I had any other Opera-installable machines kicking around here, I'd try it.

      I don't mind having to start up IE to use the site (gmail initially didn't play well with Opera, either.) I was worried about how the site would work accessibility-wise, but I got a comment from a blind friend of eeka's who uses a screen reader. The verdict was that while it'd be ideal to use a text-only version like the last site had, the new site is "about as accessible as most webpages are, to tell the truth, and slightly better."

      That makes me feel better about the whole thing, but I'm still chagrined by the strange cross-platform inconsistencies.

      did you try Firefox?

      At 9 am, the site worked pretty well for me in Safari (2.0.4), Opera (9.02), and Firefox (1.5.0.8). However, now it's not working with any of them.

      Just for a lark, i tried it with IE (5.2.3), and it was pretty awful-looking. But then, that browser was discontinued at least two years ago.

      Lynx

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      Looking at it now. One of the first things I see is that "Skip to content" link. So I click on it and get to the ad! So pretty useless, at least on the home page. Also slow as molasses even in all text, so all those newfangled features must be really slowing the site down (probably coupled with regular users clicking all over the place to find the stuff they're used to).

      site slowness

      By on

      I'm willing to bet the site is slow today because everybody's checking it out. I'm sure that once the initial gawkahs subside, the load times will decrease.

      Haven't checked the site in Firefox because I do not use Firefox. The site is lookin good in IE, but most of the javascript:void(0) links aren't loading anything up right now. Again, rubbaneckahs at work, I'm sure.

      Opera rocks...

      I have been using Opera since version 9.0 and currently using 9.10 build 8679... This browser is much faster and displays every website I have ever viewed properly and without any problems...

      I recommend Opera over browsers such as IE7 and Firefox...

      "skip to content"

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      The "skip to content" is actually an accessibility feature for screen readers. Each drop-down menu is a bulleted list...the link allows a screen reader to skip all that.

      Doh!

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      Yeah, I should've realized that. I still stand by my comment about possibly useless "content" between the top of the page and the stuff somebody might actually want to use.

      yeah, but...

      Yes, it's probably for accessibility, but skip links can be done so that they're invisible to non-screen-reader browsers. And if they are visible, they certainly should do something other than just scroll all the way to the right (which is what happens to me in FFox).

      And if accessibility is really a concern, it's only inconsistently implemented even on the homepage. Screen readers are only part of accessibility: you also should consider people with varying levels of eyesight and motor control who use regular browsers. Those low-contrast, hard-to-manipulate menus are not good. The tiny type everywhere is bad.

      Yes, it's probably for

      By on

      Yes, it's probably for accessibility, but skip links can be done so that they're invisible to non-screen-reader browsers.

      Unless, of course, you want to impress upon everyone that "we're accessible, by cracky! See?"

      ;-)

      I also agree with the rest of what you said.

      Yes, they should rename it B Line!

      By on

      Based on my personal experience with Web redesigns, I'm hoping this is just opening-morning "jitters" and that they'll quickly bring the thing back up to speed. You plan and plan and then you go live and you discover a bunch of things giving you grief that never popped up in testing.

      B Line Fun!

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      It's all those students hopping on an outbound train to ride free for one stop so they don't have to walk.

      Ok, this is a clunky metaphor.

      Anyone else getting all

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      Anyone else getting all these Google API errors?

      Google API errors

      Yeah, I got one of those errors too. What exactly is Google asking me to do? Their popup message is not very clear.

      Capacity planning

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      Probably designed by the same people who failed to realize that lots of people would want to buy monthly passes the day before the new month.

      kidding right?

      By on

      When you say "Also, what's up with the 15 FRIDAY DECEMBER 2006 dates? We're still in the U.S., right?"

      Last time I checked it is Friday December 15, 2006...

      It seems to me that they used the date formatted like that because its easier to read the day which i would assume is the more important matter.

      As for the Opera issue, didn't the people who replied to that message not get the same errors.

      While yes it is a "modern" browser, you need to look at the fact that Opera is only .6% of the internet population. Opera is also known for being buggy.

      "known for being buggy." oh noses!

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      Firefox is known for memory leaks. IE is known for being easily exploitable. What's your point?

      Seriously, let's not get into Browser Wars here. Pounding sand would be more constructive.

      Firefox is not "known" for

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      Firefox is not "known" for memory leaks you shithead.

      He puts the 'Mac' in 'Smackdown'

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      (Saved you the trouble of typing that pun, Adam!)

      I bet it's in subtle retaliation for Adam making fun of his byline pic. ;)

      Yeah, and his mama dresses him funny

      By on

      Yep, I'd NEVER heard of the Wayback Machine before I read about it in the Orange Sweatered One's blog :-)

      But to get the discussion back on track (OK, shoot me), Daniel also got a comment from the T about how the site is so slow because of all the volume. I'm betting that while some of that is Web dorks like me checking it out just because, a lot of it is regular users having to adjust to the new look.

      yay

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      He was very helpful in addressing my cross-platform compatibility issues and my current browser problems; for that I am grateful.

      Also, I am lying through my teeth.

      Oh, MBTA, I give up!

      I wanted to test out the trip planner, but it was so slow that I wound up just giving up. :-( At first I thought the site was down because it took so long to load. Makes me feel like I was visiting a website on dial-up.

      Usability expert checks in

      By on

      Matthew Oliphant, who does usability stuff for a living, likes the new design:

      ... Big, big, big improvements. First off, it just looks so much better. Granted it has its share of gradients, diagonal lines, and drop shadows but I think it does look good. Next, and most importantly, one of the primary tasks in using the site is right on the home page: the trip planning form. ...

      expert schmexpert

      Just wanted to say that I do agree with some of the issues you raise in your post. I am hoping, as I said in my post, that the majority of the issues stem from a first day of dealing with live data and traffic.

      I plan on checking back next week to see if some of the issues have been resolved.