Friday, November 18, 2011

Sports pubs and real time fantasy football

Here's a vision of the near future.

A pub advertises 'live fantasy football this weekend: Arsenal v Manchester United'. As you can't afford to go to the match (tickets to the Emirates now start at £120) you've been looking for somewhere that offers a bit more of a live experience.

You log onto the sports pub page on Fanroom to see who's going (quite a few of your friends) and check out the reviews of the pub (four out of five - decent). You tweet the pub and tell Siri 3.0 to remind you/get you dressed/do your job for you etc.

You turn up to the pub just before the game is about to start and are told if you want to play for real cash, get your phone/tablet out and pick five players. The pub are doing it in association with Picklive and there'll be prizes for the top scorers in this pub but you're also playing against other establishments around the city and the top venue gets another cash prize, to be split amongst the players. The pub have even dedicated one of their several screens to showing both leaderboards so you can keep up.

You set up an account quickly and pay your £5 to play and the game gets underway. The actual match is a bit of a dull affair but there's about thirty of you playing along in this venue and every tackle and pass is getting cheered and 'bantered over' as the leaderboard changes shape repeatedly. Despite it being the first time you've played, you've even managed to top the table a couple of times (briefly) and it's helping make up for the woeful performance of your team.

The final whistle blows and whilst your picks have only guided you to a mid-table finish, somehow the pub has performed the best in the city and you're all in line for a £20 windfall. Cashback. The money doesn't last very long though, as soon you and all your new pub mates are spending it straight back at the bar and the rest of the evening becomes a bit of a blur. This certainly beats being stuck at home in front of Sky.

Your score goes on your Fanroom user page and you excitedly tweet to your friends: "the pub quiz has a new rival". Yep, things are exciting when we get together.

The revolution is on its way, you can already play live fantasy football on Picklive. You play against others on the web at the moment (but there's no reason you can't take it down the pub).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Redesigning our sports bar listings

Fanroom has had a bit of a design refresh (you know, not really a redesign but a bit of an update). It's been focussing on the visual layer, as so far whilst what we've had has looked solid, it's not been that refined or subtle.

The main thing to notice is across the site we've now got a dark bar under the green one in the header. This is primarily to contain the search box, which previously just sat on the right, against the white background, looking all lost and forgotten. Now attention is drawn to it by the background, the fact it is bigger and our slogan being next to it. It's handy when Where will you watch the match? doubles as a slogan and a call to action.

This has helped clear up what was previously a bit of a messy area and make the content of the page a bit clearer. You know what also makes the page content clearer? A shadow in the background. Really makes it pop, that does.

The other main thing to get a new look is the 'Nearby venues' area on the sports bar venue page, which becomes more of a module (and will soon feature the dropdown to enable you to pick any area). This header is now a bit smaller and less 'shouty' and this style applies to the 'Fan reviews' header too – as they're both sub-sections of the main content.

Other than that, the footer has had a touch up (it's all about the 1px lines rather than 3px) and everything just feels that bit more polished. More changes and improvements are constantly happening on the site with new functionality and venues being added on a weekly basis. However in terms of design, the next big thing to get looked at will be the homepage and boy, do we have some ideas for that?

Yes, yes we do.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Other sites listing sports pubs

We're not the only ones doing this, we're not even the first but we think we are doing it differently and better than everyone else (well of course we would). Here in the spirit of openness, we take you through the 'rivals' to our site and let you know the alternatives:
Pros: Well they've got the name. They've also been very thorough in writing nice descriptions, explaining exactly the screen setup in the venue and including lots of nice categories like 'team bias' and 'special promotions'. The beauty is in the detail…
Cons: …because it certainly isn't in the visuals. It's pretty ugly, looking like it was designed in the 90s with an aggressive black background. It does warn you that the landlords maintain the page content and it may be out of date, which turns out to be an understatement as a large portion of the venues listed are now closed or have changed names. Pretty sure no-one has updated this since mid 2010 at the latest. However due to the name and the perpetual cycle of reaching the top of Google, it's still number one, even though it's becoming increasingly useless.
How many venues: 230 or so
Pros: Being Sky they can obviously tell you what's upcoming on their sports channels, including which is in 3D. Other than that, erm, it's very simple.
Cons: It's not really a site is it? More a little add-on to the Sky site. All you do is enter a search, which is an OK principle in itself but you have to use your postcode - fine if you're looking for somewhere near home or a postcode you know, useless if you're looking for an area you don't know that well. Which, let's face it, is probably why you'd use such a site. Also the listings are uber-basic, they don't even let you copy/paste the address or phone number. Also shows no sign of being updated regularly.
How many venues: not sure
Pros: They list all upcoming games in all sports of sports (even if they don't make it pretty to look at). They do tell you how many screens and what channels it has.
Cons: A horribly hard-to-read list of upcoming games; a bizarre selection of clipart images to represent each sport, all different sizes and including what seems to be a lads mag model for boxing; the fact you have to go through endless screens of results, selecting your sport, the game you want, then the pub, which all look the same. Apparently there's 27 pubs in the WHOLE of London showing something as big as the Manchester United v Liverpool game – and we all know there's more plastic fans than that. Then when you reach a page it continues it's ugly listings approach and greets you with a massive paragraph of description text. It's a great big mess - seriously, who chooses beige for a sport site?
How many venues: around 50?
Pros: Now this seems more like it, a bit of design applied for the first time. It's clunky in places but they've got a nice set of icons and are listing all sorts of obscure sporting events. The venue pages are incredible thorough: showing several pictures, map, opening times, channels, a long discription, features and forthcoming games they'll be playing.
Cons: Again, however, they make you pick a game before you can search for a venue: admirable if they're truly telling you where will definitely show that match but an annoying process for repeat users. Whilst they have a nice description of the place, it's pretty much just sales blurb from the bar itself, so no 'real' knowledge (something that is lacking from all but our site...). Also the fact a bar has to sign up to feature on there means you're again not getting the full picture.
How many venues: 70 or so

Pros: Great name, in fact we only found out about this as we were going to use this name. They're the only ones to really try and create a sporting theme, which is admirable. The venue page designs follow in having lots of info and icons.
Cons: The visual design is very clunky though and a bit aggressive, including an annoying yellow card that follows you as you scroll. There's a complete lack of venues, which renders it a bit pointless. They aren't very SEO optimised so you won't find them on any search engines, meaning again, flawed.
How many venues: about 60 (though this includes test venues and some duplication so... confusing)

In conclusion: our site for showing sports bars is clearly the best, what with it being built around actual user-reviews and having over 400 locations and counting. But you probably could have guessed we'd say that. So if you think there's something we've missed about the others do get in touch...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

New page for contributing sports bars

We've redesigned our 'contribute' page on our site that lists sports bars in London – other people might call it 'add a venue' or 'upload' or something but we like to be different. We also like to think of our users contributing to the online community.

Originally we had quite a long form that required lots of information from the user and reflected our internal structure too much. After realising that we have to do a bit of work on every venue anyway (getting an accurate lat/lon, sourcing a photo etc) and we were often checking the validity of places ourselves, we figured things could be a lot simpler for the user. After all, you don't want to be looking for the phone number of a bar when you were just trying to give us a recommendation.

Along with simplifying the amount of information required, we also changed one of the fields. We originally had one called 'description' which was kind of a hangover from when we were going to have some descriptive text about each venue before we decided to focus exclusively on user reviews. Much better to turn this into a field for a review of the venue... as it makes sense to capture a review from someone at the same time because if they're adding it, they're likely to have been there.

So it's just the five steps now and here's more or less what the new design looks like:

You can only see it if you're logged into the site but we'd certainly love feedback on how well it's working, so do sign up (unless you're a bot, in which case don't). It takes literally 30 seconds...

Originally posted on Tumblr on 30th September 2011.

Finding the best places to watch sport

There's a school of thought that we've come across, that pubs aren't the best places to watch sport. To many people, they conjure images of boozed up, angry, shouty, small-minded, football fans providing a stream of ignorant commentary to accompany the action. And in case you haven't noticed, most of our venues are pubs or bars.

But to us who started this website, this really hasn't been the experience we've come across in our time as pub-going sports fans. Sure, it's happened but those occasions have been far in the minority. Some of our favourite memories involve either enjoying the relaxing experience a beer, a comfortable sofa and a massive plasma screen can bring or the frenetic, all-in-this-together, loud atmosphere that you'd otherwise only get at a match.

Particularly in London, the word pub doesn't necessarily mean full of alcoholics, just like the term 'football fan' doesn't have to mean hooligan. Being a multi-cultural city with many different sport-loving groups within it and many places that you wouldn't expect, showing games, the experiences deviate far from the expected.

We want to highlight that variety and celebrate it. When we set this up, we thought it was about listing everywhere that shows live sport. But maybe we're more about letting people know the best places to do so and highlighting those lesser-known gems.

Already, most of our top 10 are cracking places to watch sport (that we can vouch for) and places where you won't find aggro and you may not have even realised have satellite sport channels. We know there's more out there (and we'll be rolling it out further afield very soon) so let us know you favourite places to experience live sport in London.

Originally posted on Tumblr on 12th September 2011.

Sorting sports pubs by popularity

Being in Beta mode means that we're constantly spotting bugs with our site and constantly sorting out fixes as we update the content. On of the main ones that we've just got working properly is sorting by popularity on our sports pub listings pages.

Now you might look at this and think it's still broken: there's places with four stars (or speech bubbles if you're being accurate) above places with five. And those with three above those with four. Et cetera.

But you'd be looking at the fan rating, not 'popularity'. A subtle difference but popularity takes in the number of people that have reviewed a place as well. It's a combined score if you like. This is in order to prevent the results being skewed when we only have a few reviews for a venue.

We want to avoid having lots of places with only one five star review at the top. Because under that system you could very easily have people 'gaming' the system (can you imagine!). Instead we want places to have had lots of fan reviews and ratings – the more ratings, the more accurate a picture we're getting.

This is wisdom of the masses, wiki-ing, crowdsourcing etc. Call it what you will but it's what our site is all about. And hopefully our listings pages make more sense.

Originally posted on Tumblr on 5th September 2011.

Fanroom Beta is launched

So Fanroom is live and in Beta. It's been a long summer of work and Japanese food but we've got something useable up and running. Go gentle with us.

Here's where we're at: we've listed as many pubs in London as we can. Why London? a) Because it's where we're based. b) Because being a big city where the need to find out which pubs play sport is more pressing/useful (in a small town for example, you could easily remember which pubs show sport) c) If we can get it to work here, it should work for other cities too.

We've currently got 234 pubs listed. We reckon that's about half of all sports bars in the city. It's also more than any other sites out there that do the same thing. Oh yes, there are competitors but they're limited by charging venues to be on there. Ours is a database built by fans (us), with reviews from fans (you) and for fans (all those other fans).

It's all about the reviews and ratings, coming together to be as useful for everyone as possible. If you want a simple way to remember it, we're like Trip Advisor for sports pubs. Got that? Awesome.

Originally posted on Tumblr on 19th August 2011.