Archive | August, 2008

10 August 2008 ~ 2 Comments

Why Can’t I Watch Tomb Raider?

Commenting on any dimension of quality of the Comcast/Motorola DVR feels lazy on my behalf.  It’s a product so riddled with usability and stability issues, I almost didn’t write this.  Nevertheless, frustration won out so here we are : )

Quick aside: One of the first things I did after “using” the DVR was pick up a universal remote.  When I say “using” I really mean “going to anger management classes after attempting to schedule a recording” but I digress.  My remote has one important button on it – “OK”.  Think of it as the “Submit” button or Enter key.

Last Sunday, I was killing time channel surfing and came across the quintessential time killing movie – Tomb Raider.

This is what should happen:

This is what actually happened:

“Oops, look like I pressed the “Info” button by mistake… although that’s pretty hard to do.  I’ll just back out and hit OK, correctly this time.”

“OK I KNOW I got it right this time, what the heck is going on?  No I don’t want info or to schedule a recording, I want to watch it!  Why isn’t it on?”

False Advertising.  The Ol’ Bait and Switch.

Tomb Raider isn’t actually on yet!  1-3 minutes before the next show starts, pressing “Guide” doesn’t show you what’s on now, it shows you what’s on next.

There are two fundamental issues here, revolving around the answers to these questions:

1. What is the Purpose of the Guide?

  • Rob – What’s on right now.
  • Comcast – Minute 1-25 (what’s on right now), minute 26-29 (what’s on next).

2. What Happens When I Press OK?

  • Rob – Switch to selected channel (can never “fail”).
  • Comcast – Watch selected show (“fails” during minutes 26-29).

Why would Comcast build in this failure mode?  Sometimes pressing OK does one thing and sometimes it does another?

Introducing Engineering Logic

To us developers, there are two states: true and false, 0 and !0, 0 and > 0, etc.

The engineers who built this device made no distinction between “a show starting 1-3 minutes from now” and “a show starting a week from now”.

In their world, the state of the guide is reduced to two possibilities:

  1. What’s on now.
  2. What’s in the future.

In our world, they represent the guide as having three states:

  1. What’s on now.
  2. What’s on 1-3 minutes from now.
  3. What’s on in the future.

It’s this second state, the “1-3 minutes from now” state that needs to be handled differently.

One Possibility

The last 3 minutes of any show are either commercials or ending credits.  Wouldn’t you really rather know what’s on next?  That seems to be the underlying assumption made when designing the guide to auto-advance like this.

That sounds reasonable, but isn’t there a better way to handle my OK press instead of showing me the INFO screen and leading me to believe I’ve made a mistake?

What if, instead of throwing up the info window, how about this?

Success!  2 minutes?  That’s enough time to use the restroom and get a bowl of pistachios to enjoy the 2001 movie of the year – Tomb Raider.

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01 August 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Confirmation. It’s Endless.

This morning on the phone with my insurance provider:

“Please enter your account number”

“123456789″  “#”

“You entered 123456789.  Is this correct?”

If it’s incorrect, I can see that it’s wrong (most phones display the numbers you’re pressing).   Alternatively, I just know that it’s wrong because my motor control has evolved for thousands of years to easily interact with things about the size of my fingertip, and I can directly observe the results of my actions.

If it really is incorrect, chances are people don’t pay attention to this message anyway, similar to the ubiquitous confirmation dialog.  In either case, you’re going to have to sort through it with customer service.

10000 calls a day into customer service, with an extra 4 seconds for confirmation, assuming you get the confirmation press right and don’t mistakenly re-enter their number “just to be sure”.  You are funding an additional 11 hours a day in the off chance that this message will succeed and the re-entry will happen online instead of via a CSR.

More $ and wasted customer time.

Now, I could be completely wrong here.  Call centers have metrics out the wahzoo and I’d be surprised if they didn’t have the numbers to back up the assertion that the additional 11 hours a day they’re spending in 800 funding is less than the cost of “wasted” CSR time.

Doesn’t seem to pass the sniff test though.

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01 August 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Speed Bumps and Road Blocks

My wife recommended adding my blog to the BlogCatalog the “Blogger social network”.  Registration was a simple process, really just a matter of some login information and my blog URL.

As with Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, BlogCatalog requires that you verify the ownership of your blog.  The easiest for me is adding a META tag, all I need to know is what tag to add.

BlogCatalog Road Block!

“In order to verify blog ownership, BlogCatalog requires you to place a BlogCatalog Widget, link or meta-tag on your blog.”

Where is the META tag that I’m supposed to add?  I can’t find a mention of the META tag on this page, nor in their help section.  The rest of this page is dedicated to adding a BlogCatalog widget to my blog, which I don’t want to do.

It’s clear that BlogCatalog wants me added to their social network of bloggers (i.e. helping them grow) but how about returning the favour by not “requiring” me to add a BlogCatalog widget?  I say “required” because although I’m sure there’s a META tag I could add, I can find no mention of it on the BlogCatalog site apart from this one-liner.

This might have been a Speed Bump, but it quickly turned into a Road Block.  Instead of merely giving me pause, I can go no further.  A day later, I received an email from BC stating that my submission was denied because I failed to prove ownership.

And thus ends my experience with BlogCatalog.

This omission is so glaring, it almost seems purposeful.  Have they specifically left out META linking information in the hopes that I’ll take the most clearly defined and explained approach – adding a widget?

In Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things, Norman discusses exactly this phenomenon.  When a quick read of the page gave me no additional information, I felt like they were hiding it from me on purpose and I chose to become frustrated.  In turn, my focus narrows and it’s even less likely I’ll be able to find the information I’m looking for due largely in part to my emotional state.

I’m a pretty laid back guy and don’t usually state things so bluntly, but here goes:  Don’t piss off your potential users.

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