Track & Field Websites, by Randy Treadway

I've been mulling this over for a few days. My first thought is that most American 'big meets' are held on university campuses, and every major American university has a whole academic department training students to be software programmers, including web design, hosting, and html coding. There's GOT to be a lot of talent out there. Maybe professors could be asked to solicit volunteers to design and 'code' a web site (or improve on an existing site), for which they could receive extra credit and have something in their 'portfolio' with their job resume? Some of these are real super-brain types, right? Why not put them to work? Well, then the other side of brain (the reality side) counters with, 'yeah, but these web coding brains KNOW that they're in such high demand that they don't really care all that much about 'portfolios', especially if it's for a non-paid, volunteer kind of organization. Kids aren't that much into charity or service these days.

So that takes us back to another 'opportunity' which has been suggested in the past few days. Let USATF beef up the 'information services' part of their charter by (1) commissioning a survey to find out exactly what kind of web design is desired among users worldwide- taking cues from other meets all around the world. Or why limit ourselves to the current term 'web design'- why not call it data & information delivery services? Then (2) commission a software product which meets those requirements, interlinking well with all the major meet timing/results/management software. Finally, (3) make that software product available free to any meet in the country which requests it. Meets can usually arrange to 'load' such a product onto a server at their host university, but if this is unavailable, then USATF should be able to make some server space available. One more thing, (4) USATF should be able to provide (and pay for) consulting services to analyze recommend hardware infrastructure requirements and data services staffing requirements for the bigger meets, including forecasting usage needs, so that users don't have to wait 30 minutes just for a page to load because of heavy usage, like we experienced from the Atlanta Olympics. Lastly, (5) keep the software product updated to stay abreast of the latest technology, making these 'upgrades' available to meets nationwide.

[This is] not bitching, just pointing out that if we are trying to live with what was acceptable 5, 10, 20 years ago, then we are dead in the water. We are competing for the support of the American public against other sports which are definitely NOT sticking with the status quo. We must not only constantly move ahead with the 'state of the art', or something close to it, but in this day and age the 'state of the art' is advancing at an ever-increasing RATE of change. Nowadays, instead of taking 10 years each to go from "first generation" to "second generation" to "third generation," such leaps now take place in half that time, or every 1-2 years. Take a look at the 'Gamecast' applets on the ESPN web page, or similar streaming data applets on cbs.sportsline, and you'll get a lot of ideas for potential track & field applications. Where did ESPN and CBS find programmers with the smarts to design something like this, and how much did it cost to develop? Has anybody in Indianapolis researched this to find out?

So where are we headed? Data services combining video feeds and data streaming (including what we now call 'agate') are the wave of the future, and will likely be a central part of 'Internet II' in the next 5-15 years, made feasible by high bandwidth services. It is said that such services will eventually replace television as the primary source of entertainment and information for most American homes. With such technology will likely come a combination of increased advertising displays and higher subscription costs, possibly increasing gaps between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. But that's a socio-political dilemma which is outside the subject at hand (track). USATF should take a lead in moving in that direction as the technology becomes available, and not wait to be 'followers' 5 years later. You can bet that the NBA and NFL will not start 'examining' such things five years after the technology goes on the shelf. USATF is struggling, along with American meets, to figure out 'Internet I', and 'Internet II' is just around the corner.

It was already announced that the Sydney Olympics will NOT provide live streaming video via the internet, partly due to projection of where year 2000 technology will be, but mostly because it would be a violation of existing television contracts. But look for future Olympics to include such services in their negotiations to award 'rights'- future awards will not include just video coverage, but will include the full gamut of data services. (or split it into separate awards for different technology realms, rather than geographical awards that they concentrate on today [NBC gets America, Sky gets Europe, etc.] ). With a combination of satellite and internet-type services, the traditional relation of a network like NBC to North America and Sky to Europe starts to get VERY fuzzy, anyway; there will be very few geographical boundaries for information services in the future] Awards will be based on technologies, cultures and languages.

Where to start? Well, the USATF just announced a new outdoor series (mostly starting next year). That gives them about 10 months to get a top-notch state of the art data delivery system developed, tested and deployed. Designed from the ground up around the needs of track & field.

What would I like on my 'personal wish list' on a great web site?-

  • Event-by-event results, pretty much what is available today.
  • Constantly-updated agate, with the latest at the top (so that you don't have to 'scroll down' to see the latest. To avoid having to 'reload', make it a java applet.)
  • Something I've never seen on ANY track & field site - an applet with a scrolling text with live data stream, so that somebody like Ed Gordon or whoever is at the meet can type in their commentary as the meet goes on, and we see it live, spelling errors, expletives, whatever, it doesn't matter. Like a one-way chat room service. Make it two-way and we on the other side of the globe could spit live questions back to Ed to clarify what's going on. Incorporate some of that voice-to-text recognition software, and the commentator could just 'talk' (or interview somebody) and we could see it in live text.
  • Live streaming audio (like we heard from New Orleans last year). This could develop someday into streaming video, as bandwidth services expand.
  • NICE TO HAVE - until streaming video comes along, have 'freeze frame' pictures, say every five seconds, from video sources, like the Atlanta '96 web site had. Make sure every event is covered and available, so the user can choose. (or make it feasible for the user to split-screen, to monitor more than one event at the same time).
  • ABSOLUTE MUST HAVE - the software must have live jump-by-jump and throw-by-throw progress capability for the field events. (whether the meet chooses to provide such data is another matter, of course, but the feature should be built into the software) Round-by-round updates are better than most meets provide, but why not shoot for the RIGHT way to do it? Split screen should be able to constantly update field event results in both throwing or jump order and in 'leader-board' order.
  • It SHOULD be feasible to design web frames to have most of these features on sections of the same page, so visually you could see it all at the same time (agate updates and commentary scrolling in a synchronized manner while live audio give us even more info).

Maybe it's a lot to ask - but shoot for Mars and you might at least make it to the Moon, right?

This is where a USATF survey could see if these features that I've listed are consistent with the desires of other worldwide fans, statisticians, and those with an interest in 'general sports' - the ones we might be able to make into track fans. Then prioritize what is most important, what is second, what is third, etc, and start working on it. Americans are the leaders in data technology - we should be able to develop something far BETTER than any European track meet has going.

But SOMETHING needs to get going, or we'll always be horses commenting on how great the inside of the starting gate looks (or complaining about how heavy the jockey is).