This blog is about music, my love for it, what is destroying it and what is making it better.

Monday, September 25, 2006 The good, the bad and the ugly

We all listen to music, watch movies and read books but, how do we pick our entertainment? One way is by looking at what the critics have to say. Although critics are often maligned for their opinions, they are one place the audience can look for advice about what movie to see or what CD to buy. On the internet, one place to find critics opinions is on This site was nominated for a Webby Award in more than one category. Metacritic deserves this honor because it shows excellence in content, structure, design, functionality and interactivity as defined by the webby awards criteria. In this entry we will focus on the music section primarily.

The content of the site is very useful in making decision about what entertainment to consume. According to the site, “Metacritic compiles reviews from respected critics and publications for film, video/dvd, books, music, television and games.” Each album is given a ‘Metascore’ which is a weighted number out of a hundred based on the critic’s reviews. More respected critics are given more weight. The weighted system of scoring ensures that less respected critics cannot sway the score too much in either direction. For instance, the band RazorLight received a metascore of 62 even though it recieved severally more low scores then high scores. One reviewer from even went as far as to say that, "Razorlight is nearly everything wrong with Rock and Roll today". The site does not give a score unless a certain amount of critics have reviewed the album which ensures a level of quality to the scores. This is similar to other rating sites such as The Metascore makes it quick and easy to make a judgment on a album and is one of the reasons the site deserved to be nominated.

The abundance of rated albums on Metacritic is only one reason it deserved to be nominated for a webby award. Other content on the site, such as the annual and all-time best list in the music section and the forum, warranted a nomination. Every year a list is compiled of the best reviewed albums from all genres. This feature gives a snapshot of the year in music like few other sites can. The all-time best and worst
list highlight the best music since the year 2000 when the site started making best of lists.
The discussion section of Metacritic is another part of the site that deserves recognition. The over 4000 members of the forum add content and commentary on the main feature of the site, the reviews. Forums are great places to get more information on all of the products the site reviews. The difference between this forum and many other forums on the web is that this has content for people to talk about. Many forums on the web stand alone without any content to back them up. Metacritics content is begging to be talked about.

Forums help fill in information gaps but, Metacritic has failed to provide its users with fundamental content. Such content would include basic information on the artists, movies, games, T.V. shows and books that the site reviews. The incompleteness of information is a major failing of Metacritic. Usually, only one or two sentences give the audience any context or information about an album. In the music section, there are sometimes links to an artists official or fan site but, not always. The only other information the site provides is label, number of discs, release date and genre. The Webby awards criteria states that good content is, “not just text, but music, sound, animation, or video -- anything that communicates a sites body of knowledge.” Metacritic is primarily text, with the only other content being pictures of the albums. One way to improve Metacritic would be to give small samples of the music being reviewed. Telling the audience the genre of the music gives only a general idea of what the music is. Metacritic has so much potential to be a one stop site for information about a myriad of products but, sadly it falls short on content. It should look at other similar sites such as which offer readers previews and articles about the movies they review.

The structure and navigation of Metacritic is easy and intuitive. The sections of the site are structured into columns reminiscent of a newspaper. Every section has a spotlight review with a picture of the product. Underneath, the spotlight reviews are many recent reviews that can be clicked on. This makes it very easy to see what recently reviewed products you would like to read about. For even more recently reviewed products, one can click on the individual type of media. In each sections page, there are more reviewed products with accompanying pictures. On the left side of the music section there are special features such as upcoming release calendar and best of lists. There are also the metascores of many of the recent albums in a list format. This makes it easy to see at a glance what an album received. One key structural element of the site is that you can get to any individual media section from any page on the site. Every page has a toolbar with links to the other sections. The toolbar made navigating the site extremely simple and easy. The site gets you where you want to be quickly and intuitively.

The advertising and size of the page took away from how well the site was structured. On the top every page on the site, there is a horizontal advertisement which pushes the content of the site down. On the main page this advertisement has detrimental effects on the structure. In order to see what is being reviewed you have to scroll down. This is not that big of a deal but, when I go to a site I
do not want to have to see an advertisement before I get what I came there for. The structure basically forces you to see the advertisement. The site has many other advertisements which, I have no problem with. The creator of Metacritic have to make revenue but, should not do so at the expense of the structure of the site. Placing ads at the top of pages is a common trend on the web but, it does not always affect the structure of the site. Many sites such as and have similar ads but it does not subract from the sites structure. Another problem with the structure is that the site does not make full use of the size of the page. In both Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer, the site uses ¾ of the horizontal space. The extra side space could be used for an advertisement to replace the horizontal one on the top of the site which would solve both problems.

What a site looks like is an important factor when evaluating it’s worthiness as a nominee for a webby award. The award criteria states that, “Good visual design is high quality, appropriate, and relevant for the audience and the message it is supporting.” is a very high quality site. All the lines and text are clear. None of the text or pictures look out of place. The yellow and blue color theme compliments the rest of the site. As a whole, it looks very professional. The design also is appropriate and relevant to the audience and message it is supporting. The website gives its audience reviews of products. Reviews are not supposed to be flashy or eye-popping and the site reflects that by being simple. The simplicity is appropriate because it does not over shadow or distract from the reviews. The lack of distraction from the sites design also helps make the site easy to navigate.

Metacritic is a very functional website. The sites search and advanced search features work extremely well. For instance, I searched for a band called The Futureheads. Not only did I get results for the two albums they have released but, I also got two other related results. One result was for the band Field Music, some of the members of which are also members of The Futureheads. The other related result was for a band called Maximo Park, which The Futureheads have been compared with. The advanced search feature lets you narrow your search even further by score, release date or genre. The webby awards judging criteria states that technology should be so well integrated into a site that it appears invisible. The problem that has is that as far as I can tell, it uses little technology. The technology that it uses does run smoothly with the site. The site has never given me any loading problems on Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. It loads extremely quickly on both. One reason the functionality on this site is so smooth is that they have so few functions. This works as both a pro and con for the sites audience. Much of the audience will be content with the lack of functions because all they want is reviews. Other members of the audience who want more than just reviews will be disappointed.

According to the webby award judging critiera, “Good interactivity is more than a rollover or choosing what to click on next; it allows you, as a user, to give and receive. It insists that you participate, not spectate.” There are many ways that allows its users a chance to interact. One of the major ways is by having a discussion forum. The forum allows you to comment on the reviews of the site, the best of lists and many other topics. The site actively tries to get you involved in the forum by including a section of the most recent posts on the bottom left of the main page. THis really helped me get involved because it was inviting and easy. Metacritic also allows users to comment directly on the review page and give it a score out of 10. When I wanted to speak out about an album, I didn't have to navigate the forum because it was right there on the page of the album. The average score is displayed next to the Metascore on each albums page. For instance, the Metascore for the album, “Return to Cookie Mountain” was 87 out of a 100 while the user score was a much lower 78. Another way people interact is through the discussion forum. People talk about all kinds of topics in the music forums such as there opinions on the best albums of the year and what artists is there favorite. For example, in a discussion about the best drummer of all time one user wrote, “One name my friends: Neil Peart of Rush, There is no substitute.” The point of this is that at Metacritic, the audience gets to critic just as much as the professional critics do. Another way the site allows you to interact with it is through the mobile notification system. I have never used these feature but they allow you to view content from your mobile phone or PDA. I believe it also allows you to comment on the forums.

Metacritic is a great site because it can open people’s eyes up to new music. The main criticism I have for the critic site deals with the nature of criticism. Some criticism is very helpful in making a decision on whether to buy an album. At the same time, criticism can lead people not to buy an album that they may have really liked. The weight you put on a critics opinion effects what you listen to. I for instance put a lot of weight on critic’s opinions. For instance, a review of the band Razorlights debut read, “Razorlight is nearly everything wrong with rock and roll today.” Although this was just one of many reviews, some of which were very favorable, I could not buy this album because of the extremeness of this review. My problem is that critics limit what I listen to tremendously. This limits the scope of music I listen to and does not allow me to listen to new things. People, who look at the site but, do not really change what they listen to based on the reviews, make the sites purpose null. The site helps people make decisions but, if you do not care about the opinions and are just curious what people are saying then the sites purpose is not fulfilled. In conclusion, the purpose Metacritic fulfils has its positives and negatives.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many forums on the web stand alone without any content to back them up. Metacritics content is begging to be talked about.Consumerism Inc.

5:27 AM


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