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[UX Critique] RapGenius

RapGenius is a lyrics database, primarily for hip hop and rap, that lets users annotate the lyrics so we can be illuminated to the brilliance and poetry of some artists.  (Unfortunately, only a few rappers are truly lyrical artists, most are truly awful.)  Also, RapGenius just scored $15 million from Andreessen Horowitz, so they're definitely moving on up in the world.  I'm sure they're thinking about moving their text annotation to other areas besides lyrics.  It could be insanely useful (E.g. deciphering legalese or interpreting election ballots).

First of all, I like RapGenius.  I use it whenever I look up lyrics.  Even if I don't need to know meanings or interpretations, it's now become my first choice, and I'll take the extra few seconds to pick it out of the Google search results list or go directly to the site.  The annotations provide extra value that other sites do not.

The first thing you notice is that black background.  Now we can get in a lengthy discussion about dark text on light background vs. light text on dark background.  But the reality is that most people only spend a few minutes on the site at any one time.  It isn't a Bloomberg Terminal, after all.  I think it really just boils down to the fact that black looks pretty cool.  Nearly every rapper uses a black background or dark theme.  

RapGenius uses an instant search to pull up the top songs related to your partial query.  It works well, not revolutionary, but it's becoming expected feature, so it's definitely nice touch.

The main draw of RapGenius is the annotations.  It's great.  The content is crowd-sourced, so it's hit or miss as to how useful can be, but the execution is good.  You just click on the lyric you want and a popup loads to the side.  It loads fast and keys you in on the the allusions, analogies, metaphors, and wordplay.  There is an option to offer a suggestion, and options to like/dislike and share to various social networks.  

If I were to change it, I would prefer to have the the annotations on the page itself.  It's nice to be able to see multiple annotations at once.  Something similar to Cliff's Complete might work.  One challenge to this is that RapGenius allows annotations to include pictures.  This could get messy with spacing, though.  A 3-pane style like Outlook or Apple Mail might work.  Left and widest pane for lyrics, middle for annotations, and right for dynamically serving large content such as pictures.  

Another reason for this suggestion is that there are two major issues with the annotation popups.

One is that they sometimes cover up lyrics.  This can be annoying.

The other is that there is no consistency in the popups.  This is due to the variable content, but different sized windows and various popup locations on screen does not make for a consistent experience.  The larger popups can be cutoff, since they are not properly located on screen to fit the full window.

I would like to see RapGenius redesign the site to move the content in the right sidebar to the left, and use the right side whitespace as a designated location for the annotation popups.  This would make the site seem less cluttered, and provide more consistency.

A nice touch that RapGenius offers is that they pull the song to the lyrics page, so you can listen to it as you read the lyrics.  As far as I can tell, they pull from Spotify, Youtube (audio only), and SoundCloud.  

I find the Spotify integration annoying, because I don't use the service very much anymore, and I rarely have the application open.  I don't want to have to open it and wait for it to load to listen to the song.  It's much faster to go to Youtube, Grooveshark, etc. to find it.  Plus (more of a Spotify problem) sometimes when I click the Spotify song link, it just opens Spotify, but doesn't play the song or even direct to the song page.

The Youtube widget is a little better.  Very simple, no frills.  However, there is a poor UX choice in that there is a play/pause bar that sits at the bottom of the page and what seems like a video box toward the top of the page.  You can play with either, but you can only pause with the play/pause bar.  This can be extremely frustrating if you need to pause quickly, but only see the video box.  Luckily this can easily be fixed by either adding pause functionality, or only using the play/pause bar.  

There is also SoundCloud for those songs that aren't on Spotify or Youtube.  Works well, just as any SoundCloud widget does.

So RapGenius does a lot to give lyrics searchers a new experience.  The annotations are great and being able to play the song on-page is also nice.  These features are not executed as well as they could, leading to an inconsistent and occasionally frustrating user experience.  These can be fixed quite easily in a redesign.  

cp kelleyComment