The Sing About Science song database (formerly known as MASSIVE) has been around since 2004, but its user interface has hardly changed at all since then. That’s mostly because my maintenance of the database is more of a hobby than a job, and I have not made a real effort to collect usability feedback from people. However, my recent participation in the Paws-on Science weekend at the Pacific Science Center finally got me thinking about how the database works for users other than me.
One thing that quickly became clear on the first day of the weekend is that having links spread throughout the results page, some representing additional database searches and some representing external links to song-related files, was confusing. Yes, there was a note stating that the links in the first five columns trigger new database searches, but not everyone (hardly anyone?) was reading that note. So … the entries in the first five columns are no longer links. As a result, more people are clicking on the links in the last three columns — and are presumably getting to the external pages they want.
Another potentially confusing aspect of using the database is the fact that some musicians are known by more than one name. If you’re seeking songs by, say, Dr. Chordate, a.k.a. Jeff Moran, should you enter “Dr. Chordate”? “Doctor Chordate”? “Jeff Moran”? “Jeff ‘Dr. Chordate’ Moran”? “Jeffrey B. Moran, Ph.D.”? For a database run by a non-programmer in his free time, there’s no perfect solution. However, one change that should help somewhat is that the separate search boxes for Performer and Songwriter have been replaced by a single Performer/Songwriter box, so that a song will be found if the user’s input matches either the Performer or Songwriter field of the song. Thus, for example, entering “Dr. Chordate” as Songwriter used to turn up no songs because the songwriter is entered as Jeff Moran. But, now, a Performer/Songwriter search for “Dr. Chordate” does yield the appropriate songs because this text matches the performer listed in the database.
An additional recent change is that I’ve stopped entering titles with their initial A’s, An’s, and The’s moved to the end (e.g., “The Krebs Cycle” is now listed as “The Krebs Cycle” rather than “Krebs Cycle, The”). Although I liked the previous convention’s facilitation of alphabetization, it also increased the likelihood of an unsuccessful search (e.g., a search for “The Krebs Cycle” didn’t match “Krebs Cycle, The”).