Seems like an eternity ago doesn’t it?
Seven years isn’t actually that long of a time compared to interstate redesign, interstellar travel, or the amount of time it takes my kids to get ready for school. But when it comes to digital services and websites like this one, seven years can be an eternity.
New readers of this site may or may not know that 2015 was the year the current iteration of Playlist was launched. Former owners Alan Berks and Leah Cooper had spent almost two years developing this version of the site. Putting the digital sell by date right around 2013, or for those playing at home, this current model is just shy of a decade. For some digital context Facebook’s timeline still looked like Craigslist, and Google still had the “I’m feeling lucky” button.
But back to Playlist. With a MASSIVE amount of support from this community Alan and Leah were able to hire a contractor to build out their vision of what Playlist should look like and how it should operate. And so we got the current site with a LOT of upgrades from the version people knew at the time.
Cut to 2021.
By last summer I was pretty confident we would not have to shut Playlist down permanently. An extended hiatus throughout the worst of the pandemic allowed us to keep the site up and get ready for when, inevitably, theatre would make its return to the stage. And it is because this community continues to find value in Playlist that we were able to be there for you all. Your utilization of the classified ads to promote opportunities has ensured that we can continue. Let me just stress that last point there: YOUR USE of Playlist ensures Playlist sticks around.
However, the plans I had for Playlist looked to be shelved long term as we would need a significant cash investment for the next rebuild. I didn’t think that the community should be responsible for helping this business fund a second revamp of the site and so crowd funding wasn't an option. Additionally, while a contractor was the right choice for much of Playlist’s existence the next version really wanted a full development shop.
And lo and behold this past fall a solution presented itself. Playlist was eligible to receive an Economic Impact Disaster Loan that could cover the cost of hiring just such a shop to spearhead the reimagining and upgrading of Playlist.
I’m excited to share that we are in talks to work with Ten7 for our new version of Playlist - currently slated for release this fall.
While I won’t share everything we are planning - a great reveal makes for good storytelling - I do want to focus in on our priorities for the new site.
Ease of use
Not much of Playlist is intuitive for a new user. Many of you have been using Playlist for years, and you use it often. However, as things open up in the endgame of COVID we are seeing many first time users of Playlist. Additionally, folks who haven’t used the site in years contact me with questions about some of the basic features. To this end one of the key upgrades to Playlist will be to make it more user friendly (shopping cart anyone?). Which leads to…
One of the best ways to teach is to show. The goal here is to have video tutorials in the right places so everyone can quickly get their talent profile updated, post a classified, or list a show. This kind of built in tutorial system ensures Playlist stays lean on costs (no need to hire a tech support team) and provides people with immediate information on using some of the core features of the website.
Find-ability / Search-ability
Right now if you search for someone, for a show, or something on Playlist you'll get your result only if you spell it correctly. Our next version of Playlist should have a more robust search feature. WE are also hoping to have relative search instead of one single search bar. That way when you search for shows on the calendar your results will include only performances and not other content. The same will go for talent, classifieds, etc.
Preservation of historical archives
Playlist has thousands of pages. THOUSANDS. Little has been deleted from the site. 17 years of shows, talent profiles, classified, etc remains connected to the site and active on the internet. Most of that will be deleted as there is little value to it. No point in searching for shows that closed seven years ago.
The magazine on the other hand.
The magazine at Playlist is a time capsule of a portion of the performing arts scene of MN since 2008. Pick a year and a month and you can see a combination of reviews, thought-pieces, interviews, and more. There is a treasure trove of history here at Playlist. This will be preserved. Every article will be moved over and indexed on the new site so users new and old can peruse this historical gem.
Automatically featured content
Feel free to skip this part if you aren’t interested in Playlist’s functionality behind the curtain.
Version one of Playlist (2008ish - 2015) contained a landing page that automatically pulled content from the various ‘sections’ of Playlist (talent, classifieds, calendar, magazine) as well as contained some features like a twitter feed, etc. All this content was randomized giving the user an experience of an eclectic, robust, and vibrant community when they came to the landing page.
In 2015 with the launch of the new site, that all changed. Version two of Playlist was a much cleaner, robust design, with a massive amount of backend connectivity between elements. Case in point the “performing next” badge that appears on a talent profile when they have been associated with an active calendar listing. Getting that badge to show up on the right profile, with the correct show they were appearing in, listing the next upcoming performance of that show, and then having it disappear when the show closes, is just one of the deep logic sequences that runs in the background that most users don’t think about - because it just works. However, what changed was that much of the visual automation of content in locations around the site was now a manual process. There are so many spots on Playlist that current require me to go in and select from a list of content to have it appear in a side bar, the home page, or a landing page for one of the main sections. It is a time consuming process that can easily be missed when time is limited to manage Playlist.*
Third party ticket sales (maybe?)
One way I’ve long dreamed of Playlist supporting the community is to leverage the reach of the platform to connect audiences to the small and mid-sized companies that utilize the site. You see this happen every year with the Minnesota Fringe Festival. The festival is a platform that can amplify a message greater than any of the individual participating producers. In that same vein, if Playlist had a way to support ticket sales (similar to a company like Goldstar) we could provide a new way for companies to get connected to audiences. A system like this would require Playlist to make an investment in broader, more comprehensive, general marketing in order to create awareness to general audiences.
We want to know if this would be of value to the community. Here’s how you can help. Take our five minute survey on ticketing by April 25th. We’ll compile the results and if the desire is there it is something we’ll work towards following the main rebuild of the site.
Minnesota Playlist has come a long way since 2008. But our core focus as a digital town commons hasn’t changed. Our rebuild reflects a commitment to the community to have a site that is easy to navigate, easy to use, and highlights the incredible and diverse work of this community.
Questions, comments, concerns, cheap shots? Send them my way.
*A heads up for those new to Minnesota Playlist, or just those who didn’t know. Playlist has five part-time employees. Four of them are journalists. The other (Damon Runnals) manages all the aspects of Playlist (tech support, communications, marketing, and updating the site). One of the reasons that Playlist doesn’t have advertising all over it, and doesn’t have to be a national, faceless, data driven business is the design of the site has always been community created content. The more that we can continue to focus on automation of the site, the more we can keep a smart staffing model (more journalists, less IT people and managers), and in turn keep our prices for things like Classifieds and Talent Profiles reasonable.