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The New (Or: A Lesson in Outsourcing)

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The New (Or: A Lesson in Outsourcing)

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The DMN‘s GuideLive launched a new version of itself today, and we’ve been puzzling over it. Parts of it are elegant and useful. But other parts trouble me greatly — because the site appears mostly outsourced.

The part I like: searching for events is a breeze, very intuitive. And the listings appear to be comprehensive. I enter “Friday” in the “when” field, and, boom, I get lots of useful results. So far, so good.

The problem is where all those events listings come from. You’ll notice that even though the top of the page says “A product of the Dallas Morning News,” your browser tab will display an orange logo with a “Z” in it. That’s because the engine behind the site is something called Zvents. Zvents scrapes the web for stuff and funnels the information to its partners. So on Friday, for example, I was interested in the DSO’s Madama Butterfly listing, about which GuideLive says: “The 2008-2009 season finale will be one for the ages as the DSO premieres the complete opera in concert of Puccini’s incomparable Madama Butterfly.”

But hang on. That listing copy reads an awful lot like what the DSO has on its own website: “The 2008-2009 season finale will be one for the ages.” And it reads exactly like the listing on NBC’s site (even with the typo): “The 2008-2009 season finale will be one for the ages as the DSO premieres the complete opera in concert of Puccini’s incomparable Madama Butterfly.” That’s because the info was scraped off the web by Zvents and channeled to its partners. (You can find a full list of them here.)

You know what, though? I don’t much care. When it comes to events, this is a small problem. I appreciate a tersely written event listing that brings to bear a certain amount of context and expertise. But that’s a bonus. What’s more important is how comprehensive the listings are (and how easy they are to search). Volume trumps quality.

The small problem becomes a big one when you start talking about restaurant listings. On GuideLive’s main page, it offers me a link to Screen Door. Oh, I haven’t eaten there yet. I’d like to know if it’s worth my money. So I click. And I’m offered this:

“Remember Sunday dinners at Grandma’s house? The aroma of her delectable dishes wafting on an afternoon breeze made your mouth water with the anticipation of things to come. At Screen Door we bring back many time-tested mainstays from Grandma’s kitchen and add a new generation of dishes that think in fresh ways about Southern cuisine.”

That’s the writeup for the listing. You know where it came from? Directly from Screen Door’s site. Zvents scraped the information from the web and funneled it to its partners. If you’re NBC, that’s probably sufficient. If you’re the DMN, you’ve just abandoned all credibility.

I write all this while fully acknowledging that we’ve got a long way to go when it comes to translating for the web what we do in the magazine. Our search engine can be hinky. Our online listings interface needs improvement. But we’re working on it. And, by golly, until they pry our cold, dead hands off our keyboards, we’re going to do it ourselves. If we say a restaurant is worth your time and money, it’s because we’ve eaten there (several times). Not because we let someone else feed us information from the restaurant’s website.

Good day, sir!