Reviewing Data Display Websites and Programs: Harmony Central

             It’s been a little while since my last entry about reviewing data display websites (Football Outsiders was the topic last time). I thought that I would jump back into the game with a review of a website that has great content and information but major issues with look-and-feel and with getting access to said information. That website is Harmony Central, which is a personally favorite of mine for its content, but has often frustrated me with its UI. Harmony Central is a clearing house for users to submit reviews for various pieces of musical equipment and also links to music industry news. Pictured below is a screengrab of the main page.



           On the main page there is a small and fairly tasteful ad-bar across the top, followed by some navigational links. After the header, the page is divided into three main sections, the left pane contains navigational links, the middle pane (the largest one) contains recent news articles and the right pane contains highlighted recent reviews in all of the different gear sections. Overall it is a fairly solid main page, it is relatively free from ads and the user has easy access to the two best parts of the site, the news articles and the gear reviews. Underneath the highlighted reviews in each section there is a “<more>” link that will show you all the new reviews in that section since the last update (usually daily). That little “<more>” link probably ends up being the most clicked link in all of Harmony Central, as it’s the best way to get all the latest gear updates. While they do provide an RSS feed for the news items, they really need to add a feed to get all the daily updates in one fell swoop.


            However, once we navigate away from the main page thing start to go south in a hurry. Pictured below is an example of a product review page. At the top you see an aggregated score for the instrument in question (in this case the new Taylor T5 guitar). Below that you can see all the information that people chose to enter with their reviews. While any one review can be flaky, you can get a pretty good idea of a products value by looking at a large selection of reviews. But the problem is not with the review page itself, but with navigating to the correct review page. 



             So as I mentioned above, Harmony-Central has a fairly good main page and product pages, the issue is in connecting the two. For starters, the search feature is just terrible. In the age where you can wring a ~$300 stock price out of a good search algorithm, not having a good site search is a big no-no. Also, navigating to a specific product through the navigational menus is a real hassle. I would expect the “Guitars” link to take me to a listing of manufacturers, but instead it takes me to a rather bizarre link page. To get to the actual manufacturers list, I need to find these unintuitive combo boxes (shown below) that are located halfway down the second link page.


            In conclusion, Harmony Central is a site with scads of good information, but it’s a site that I recommend in spite of its flawed design. Compared to the best of the user submitted review sites this site could use a serious redesign. My quick recommendations would be to add RSS feeds for updated product reviews, a better search engine and an easier way to navigate to specific product pages. And while I am an advocate of function over form, Harmony Central could use a little graphical spruce up to make it look a little more modern. I like the simple layout, but the frames on this site scream “1998” more then anything else.