Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fighting the Festival Website

I alluded in my opening Sydney Film Festival 2009 posting to problems with the 2009 website. I won't turn this into a whinge-fest - but in the interests of - I hope they get it better next year - here are the problems with the website I have found - purely through attempting to use it, not through any active fault-finding exercise !

There are two main areas of frustration - film browsing and ticket purchasing - both fairly essential activities on a film festival website.

Browsing films is slow slow slow; the most common activity I use the website for is to see what films are showing on a given night at the State Theatre. This isn't possible; but using the calendar navigator you can at least select all the films on a given day. Unfortunately, the website makers have decided to limit the display to 5 per page, further more there is no next/previous option to navigate between the pages, nor is the current page identified. Instead there are just the numbers 1-5/6/7 at the bottom of the page. If you are looking for a specific film (and there is no search by title option, believe it or not) you have to guess on which of the 5 or so pages it might fall; and this task is further complicated by the fact that alphabetisation used puts all the 'The ...' films together contrary to almost all accepted practice.

On a slow connection, and with the poor performance of the festival site's servers, what could be just a minor irritant suddenly makes planning a night's viewing a very slow process; it can take 10 or more minutes just to see the titles of the films on show, much more if you want to read the details of an individual film as well.

For next year, an easy option would be to provide a 'Single Page' view option, on top of existing functionality. Even better, enable search by title (rather than navigation by first letter of title), modify the sort functionality to ignore 'The' (actually A-Z search has done this, unlike the calendar search) and give a sub-search option on the calendar navigation of day-time/evening and venue.

Print your own tickets is all the trend these days and the festival have jumped on the bandwagon - which given the queues at the box-office is an essential step in the right direction. Unfortunately there are a few irritating issues that make this harder to use than it should be. The most annoying 'feature' is the seat reservation process that forces you to chose where you want to sit - up to nine options (Stalls/Mezzanine/Dress Circle and Front/Middle/Back). This is great for unpopular films but as a film approaches selling out it can require 20 plus clicks to navigate to a spare seat. There is no cursor/feedback after clicking on 'find seat' either, nor any indication that the 'no tickets available' response relates to the most recent search or a previous one.

Similarly when trying to purchase chosen tickets, there is no acknowledgement of click (such as change in cursor/hourglass). If you're uncertain whether a click has taken or not (after waiting for more than a minute for any sort of feedback), you end up adding extra tickets to your cart. Want to remove them ? Sure, but you have to cancel the whole transaction (not just remove the extra 2 tickets accidentally added) and go through the above process again. Thus did I spend more than an hour (really) attempting to buy a pair of tickets to 2 popular films - thankfully on a boring work phone conference at the same time.

In comparison the login screen is a relatively minor annoyance - a pop up that won't remember your password, and is too small to display a normal length email address (the only login possible). It took me three attempts at the box office to link my 20-ticket flexi- pass to my online account - at one stage my password was set blank (and emailed to me as such in confirmation) but the login window wouldn't allow a blank password to even be submitted. With no phone support for website problems or ticketing the only way to fix this is to join the queue at the State.

Finally (thankfully you say) - although I have 3 redeemable tickets left and am trying to get my last 4 tickets the system will only let me redeem 1 of them, forcing me to use the credit card for the others ($17 each instead of ~ $10) and leaving me with 2 unusable tickets - unless I join the queue again again - or attempt to on sell them somehow.

I do hope someone reads this and takes in feedback for next year. I know there's a human behind the design of the website - which is why I've to focus on the functionality issues rather than cutting criticism for its own sake. I also know that I forked out more than $230 for my tickets (that I could have spent on music, mainstream film or football) and don't really expect it to be such a painful and time consuming task to redeem them.

I would also suggest that next year a help-desk style phone support is provided (even better, online phone sales - even with a surcharge a la Qantas) especially when going live with a new and untested web system. For anyone trying to buy tickets during the festival, the only alternative when the website doesn't work is turning up an hour early and hoping the queue clears in time.

I promise it's the last you'll hear from me about the ticketing !! Next post some films I loved ...

1 comment:

Debbie Ann said...

I COMPLETELY agree with you and found it SO frustrating - I was on the verge of not going at all. Why is it so hard to see a list of films? Why is it so hard to get the flexipass available for redeeming. the whole thing was a giant mess. Sitting in the Sydney library I could not print my tickets.And on day one I signed up to get a program and nothing ever appeared. Lame.

anyway, you are not alone, and I swear they did no user testing of that website and someone got paid for that mess.