Under The Microscope

Usability Nightmare: The My.SXSW iPhone App

South by Southwest, or SXSW, is a set of festivals and conferences for film, music, and technology (‘interactive’) held in Austin, Texas. While the music portion is likely the most famous, SXSW Interactive (SXSWi) is also quite large, and gaining steam. Perhaps most famously, Twitter first gained traction on the web during SxSW 2007. Thousands of designers, developers, and technologists come to SXSWi.

This year, there’s an iPhone application for SXSW called my.SXSW.

The app's homescreen

To put it delicately, the app has some issues.

Schedule Filtering

When you first open the app, you’ll likely want to look at the schedule so you can mark off what you plan to attend. If you know the name of a session, you can just enter it into the search field. For instance, you may wish to see “Marketing Strategies for Social Wait Now I’m Lost”. You don’t remember the exact name though, so you type in ‘strategies’:

Horrible Search

“Oh jeez”, you realize, “it’s a first-word filter?” Indeed it is. That’s not search, and it’s not very useful.

Radio Button

While looking at an event such as “Online Advertising: Losing the Race to the Bottom”, you can indicate you’re planning to attend, so it will be added to your own customized schedule. But…how?

The 'No' Radio Button
The initial screen, before you’ve added the session

You might stare at this for a good 30 seconds, because you thought it was still loading. Nope! That single radio button? That’s what you need to tap.

The 'Yes' Radio Button
The screen after you’ve tapped ‘No’

Are you going? If yes, tap ‘No’.

Time Zones

Ok, you finally found your sessions and added them to your schedule, but when are they? You know you’re getting in Friday afternoon around 4, and the first session you want to see, Battledecks 2010, is right around then. Hey, there it is, and it doesn’t start until 4:30 – perfect, you can just make that!

Time Zones

Well, no, not really. You see, when you opened the application, you were in Boston and the Eastern time zone. SXSW, however, is in Austin and the Central time zone, an hour behind. So, once you get to Austin, you’ll learn that the session was actually at 3:30 PM local time.

Yes, the application shifted the times for your current time zone. This is likely an artifact of never testing outside of Central time. Nevertheless, it’s still incredibly wrong and actively harmful.


“Hey,” you think, “I had to make some crazy account with ‘Dub’ just to use this app. I should see if I can tell folks I won’t be able to make Battledecks. I’ll just go to that messaging area”:

No Messaging


I first saw this before the show, so I thought the issue was that I hadn’t yet checked in. After I picked up my badge, I tried again, and no dice. Apparently, messaging simply doesn’t work, period.


One lesson here is that a simple but well-done web app like SitBy.us can be vastly superior to a full-fledged but terrible iPhone application. SitBy.Us provides everything you need, and nothing you don’t, and it even works with your Twitter account, instead of requiring yet another account. I can only hope SitBy.Us is used at many more conferences in the future.

Another lesson is that if you’re going to make an application for thousands of designers and developers, it probably shouldn’t suck.

There are many more issues, from the fact that it can’t seem to keep a profile picture to the schedule not auto-scrolling down or hiding past events to the updates downloading every launch, but you’ve seen enough. Let’s just log out.


Of for the love o-Well, at least they understood just how emphatic the “Yes” button needs to be.

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