Column 342: The (Online) Calendar Hung Itself
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Before we get started, full disclosure: I’m on the “board” of hearnebraska.org. Not that it matters — I’m not involved in the website’s day-to-day activities, and have little or no input on things like website content or fundraising events. But I don’t want you to think I’m cheerleading when I make this statement: Hearnebraska.org has emerged as the best resource for local rock show schedule information on the web. I say “among the best,” because this here newspaper’s website, thereader.com, (Full disclosure again: I write for The Reader, as you, uh, know) also has stepped up its online music schedule/calendar. Meanwhile, one website I’m completely unaffiliated with, omahype.com, continues to plug away with its comprehensive arts-focused online calendar.
The “news” here is that the ol’ tried and true go-to place for all things local musicwise — slamomaha.com — has fallen on hard times, especially when it comes to its show calendar. In its heyday a few years ago, SLAM Omaha was the first click of the evening when looking for rock show data, mainly because: 1) It was the only game in town; and 2) The calendar was updated by the bands themselves, who were looking for someplace/anyplace to promote their wares. The fact that the site’s simple design has never been updated turned out to be an advantage, because SLAM Omaha still has the cleanest, easiest-to-navigate calendar of any local entertainment website. Linked off its homepage, it merely lists dates, bands, venues and times, with brief descriptions and prices. Nothing more, nothing less.
But apparently all this new competition for online music news, as well as the rise of Facebook, has distracted bands from SLAM Omaha. Look at its calendar this week and you’ll find very few events listed, despite the plethora of nightly shows.
As part of maintaining this website, Lazy-i.com, I check all the online calendars daily, so I can list the best shows happening every evening (Lazy-i ain’t comprehensive, and was never meant to be). With that research in mind, I can declare that the new go-to resource is hearnebraska.org’s calendar, thanks to its small army of underfed, overworked interns. Unfortunately, finding the site’s calendar(s) can be … confusing. The website doesn’t have a small homepage “portlet” or section that lists the evening’s hot shows. Instead, users have to “hover ” their mouse over the “SHOWS” rollover link. Skip the wonky, incomplete “Today’s Shows” listing and go straight to quicker/easier to navigate “Calendar” listing.
Before getting to the evening’s lineups users must scroll past the month’s outdated past shows, then sort through the double listings. I’m assuming most of those hungry interns live in Lincoln, because there’s a preponderance of Lincoln shows listed, and usually one or two hidden-gem Omaha shows missing. HN’s calendar would be more useful if it segregated Omaha and Lincoln shows for those who won’t be driving to Lincoln anytime soon (and vice versa). Despite design flaws, HN’s calendar is the most up-to-date and comprehensive, thanks to its unique music-only focus.
Next in line is thereader.com, which received a much-needed site redesign this year. Like HN, The Reader also lacks a homepage portlet displaying today’s hot shows. Users must click on a “Calendar” tab. From there, they have to click on an almost invisible “Music Listings” sub-tab, after which a poorly formatted events page is displayed with date headings. The good news is that it’s a (somewhat) comprehensive list (from an Omaha perspective), including shows at smaller venues like The Hole, The Sandbox and O’Leaver’s. Unfortunately, the design is surrounded with outdated news content. Stay away from the page’s confusing sub navigation (today’s events/latest events/choose by day), unless you want to get lost.
The most attractive online calendar is Omahype.com. Omahype, boasting coverage of all things arts and entertainment with a “youth-oriented” spin, is cool and clean, with spiffy fonts and big photos and graphics. But while the Omahype team does a fine job gathering information, clicking on the “Music” tab gets you a hodgepodge of content displayed in no particular order. A music review is followed by an outdated calendar listing, followed by a download link followed by a photo essay followed by a show listing for something that doesn’t happen for a couple weeks. The information you’re looking for is there … somewhere.
Let’s not forget the great, grey Omaha World-Herald. For a newspaper with a multi-million dollar payroll, Omaha.com is one of the worst designed news websites on the www. The hard-to-navigate homepage looks like the Yellow Pages blew up all over it. Stories are interspersed with Husker-related “news,” vapid reader polls and garish click-me-now advertising. Yeah, I realize they have to generate money to cover that multi-million dollar payroll, but they shouldn’t do it at the readers’ expense. Perhaps they purposely made the website ugly to force readers to buy their newspaper? Once found, Omaha.com’s calendar lists a few big events, such as Qwest Center concerts, and ignores small-room shows, making it useless for anyone trying to keep track of the bustling indie music scene.
At the end of the day, despite all the new media, finding rock show information online is still a crapshoot. With so many websites now vying for the same sets of eyes, there’s no way all of them will survive. But until someone can come up with a clean, easy, complete listing of shows like SLAM Omaha used to have, the field remains wide open.
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Missing from the above discussion is Facebook, which though rather ubiquitous and a nice tool for bands and promoters to have in their toolbox, is far from the final answer. Especially if Facebook keeps fiddle-dicking around with its design. As you’re probably already aware, Facebook pushed out yet another “update” this morning that again shuffles how you view wall posts. If you’re like me, you don’t want a robot telling you which stories are “important” and which aren’t. You want Facebook to merely display wall posts in the chronology in which they were posted, and let us decide what’s important.
But I digress… Facebook event invitations are a good way to tell your “friends” that you’ve got a show coming up. On the other hand, people who aren’t your “friends” will never see your announcement. So if you’re only interested in communicating to your predefined social network, go for it. However, if you rely solely on Facebook to get the word out, anyone outside that network will be left in the dark. At this point I get so many Facebook event invitations that I ignore them. If I depended on Facebook to show me everything that’s going on musicwise, I would miss a wide swath of gigs.
If you hear about a show but aren’t sure of the specifics, the club’s website is usually the most accurate place for times and prices. Onepercentproductions.com is another go-to website for high-profile indie shows. Bookmark it now.
By the way, I loved SLAM Omaha. I miss its up-to-date calendar; I miss the conversations that used to take place on its Music Message Board. I wish-wish-wish it could return to what it was just a couple years ago…
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Speaking of One Percent Productions, they’re putting on another high-profile show tonight at The Waiting Room when Gomez returns with Kopecky Family Band. Gomez is on the road supporting Whatever’s On My Mind, their latest LP released on ATO Records this past June. $20, 8 p.m.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.