Oh I say! What a lot of Wimbledon Web sites! IBM built the official Wimbledon site, but another site had already taken the (www.wimbledon.com) domain name, which meant potential visitors found the unofficial site first. A shame, really, because they missed out on a comprehensive site.
IBM has had quite an association with Wimbledon. Most of the statistics that live commentators use have probably been generated by an IBM system somewhere. Even the speed cameras are IBMs. In addition, IBM has been building showcase Web sites, showing off its hardware and skills. So it was natural for IBM to build the official Wimbledon Web site, and a pretty good job of it too.
Curiously, the main Web site was based in the US. There was a UK mirror, but a large number of links had no UK equivalent and simply linked back to the US site. This, along with peak demands, sometimes meant the site was just as hard to get onto as getting into Wimbledon itself. Even though IBM used a large RS6000 server at each location, slow connections and session timeouts shows that IBM underestimated the demand the site would generate.
The Web site itself is well designed. A couple of Java applets on the front page displayed updated links to other parts of the site. Elsewhere, RealAudio and RealVideo links provided streaming multimedia, and Shockwave was used for fun and games. A pretty standard selection of add-ons, especially since Progressive Networks has released its RealPlayer for different platforms, including Unix. The site was still usable without the extra software - just with reduced functionality.
GEORGE DOORS, WHAT ARE THE SCORES?
Of course, the main reason people hit the site was to view the latest scores. Just how was Henman doing? A couple of clicks and the bad news was displayed - three straight set loss. A further click resulted in the detailed statistics the commentators always bore you with - in extreme detail. Not just the number of aces, double faults and so on, but also how points were won and lost (not a single backhand lob or forehand lob point won in the entire game), as well as the compulsory service speeds. The amount of data here would have kept most fact addicts happy.
Showing how well the site has been organised, every page was linked to other related pages. From the statistics page, links to the online bios of the players were available, which included a photo of the player, a brief fact sheet and a table of all the games played at the championships this year. This was good reuse of the statistics IBM was collecting, and presented in an easily navigable manner.
A site with just scores would have been boring though. In addition, IBM was taking Radio Wimbledon, a radio station broadcast in Wimbledon for attendees, and rebroadcasting it on the Net by RealAudio. Since it was primarily voice, this worked quite well - except at peak times when network congestion caused a high dropout rate.
For those who didn't have time to read the morning papers, the site had stories, comments, previews and editorial. High-quality JPEG picture libraries could be displayed in different ways, with good thumbnail indexes. RealVideo interviews of the players could also be displayed, but even over an ISDN link to the Internet these were not of good quality.
During the day a newswire service kept the latest hot news online, and a Webcam service allowed you to see the players in action. Well, sort of. The Webcam was actually a once-a-minute snapshot of the court. This was being generated from the live TV pictures, and the last 16 minutes were visible.
Each court had it's own set of pictures. With Henman's serve peaking at 130mph - I don't think that would be captured very well! A RealVideo live broadcast would have been more interesting, but there might have been problems with competing against the TV networks then. I doubt the Net could have withstood the bandwidth demands anyway.
Finally, a games section. A simple Shockwave tennis game held my attention for a while. A single question quiz could be entered, with the chance of winning a prize, and an online survey with the chance to vote on a question. The question changed each day, with the previous day's survey results being displayed. For example, 72 per cent of voters thought that Becker should not have retired after losing his match.
It'll be interesting to see what IBM does for the 1998 Wimbledon site. I hope it'll learn from this and plan a lot more capacity and provide a better UK mirror. The sheer amount of data available would mean that office workers with a Net connection will bookmark the site and visit it regularly for an update. And the Real-Audio Radio Wimbledon feed would play in the background instead of a radio tuned into BBC coverage.
This site is a good example of how existing data can be reused and how to present this data in various ways. It is media rich and slow to download, but for office users with a direct connection to the Net, this is not too relevant. Home users are better watching it live on TV and hitting the site in the evening for the stats.
Launch: June 97
Design: IBM and The All England Lawn Tennis Club
Target Audience: Tennis fans
Setup: Two RS6000 servers - one in the US, one in the UK
Hits Per Day: Eight million.
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