Posts tagged “netflix”

ChittahChattah Quickies

I gave a talk recently where I advocated for the importance of being aware of pop culture; this led to an interesting conversation (where not all parties agreed with my proposal). This set of quickies is dedicated to pop-culture-specific examples of note.

‘Les Misérables’ and Irony [NYT] – While I haven’t seen (and don’t plan to see) this movie (the stage show was enough for a lifetime), this analysis of the film’s cultural performance (and why that may explain it’s appeal to some) is pretty wonderful.

The key to what is intended by these technical choices was provided for me by Hooper himself when he remarked in an interview (also printed in USA Today) that while “we live in a postmodern age where a certain amount of irony is expected, [t]his film is made without irony.” Irony is a stance of distance that pays a compliment to both its producer and consumer. The ironist knows what other, more na?Øve, observers do not: that surfaces are deceptive, that the real story is not what presents itself, that conventional pieties are sentimental fictions.

The artist who deploys irony tests the sophistication of his audience and divides it into two parts, those in the know and those who live in a fool’s paradise. Irony creates a privileged vantage point from which you can frame and stand aloof from a world you are too savvy to take at face value. Irony is the essence of the critical attitude, of the observer’s cool gaze; every reviewer who is not just a bourgeois cheerleader (and no reviewer will admit to being that) is an ironist.

“Les Misérables” defeats irony by not allowing the distance it requires. If you’re looking right down the throats of the characters, there is no space between them and you; their perspective is your perspective; their emotions are your emotions; you can’t frame what you are literally inside of. Moreover, the effect – and it is an effect even if its intention is to trade effect for immediacy – is enhanced by the fact that the faces you are pushed up against fill the screen; there is no dimension to the side of them or behind them; it is all very big and very flat, without depth. The camera almost never pulls back, and when it does so, it is only for an instant.

Netflix to Deliver All 13 Episodes of ‘House of Cards’ on One Day [NYT] – I’m intrigued by how technology affords shifts in media consumption and then how those shifts inform the content of the media itself.

Netflix will release a drama expressly designed to be consumed in one sitting: “House of Cards,” a political thriller starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. Rather than introducing one episode a week, as distributors have done since the days of black-and-white TVs, all 13 episodes will be streamed at the same time. “Our goal is to shut down a portion of America for a whole day,” the producer Beau Willimon said with a laugh. “House of Cards,” which is the first show made specifically for Netflix, dispenses with some of the traditions that are so common on network TV, like flashbacks. There is less reason to remind viewers what happened in previous episodes, the producers say, because so many viewers will have just seen it. And if they don’t remember, Google is just a click away. The show “assumes you know what’s happening all the time, whereas television has to assume that a big chunk of the audience is always just tuning in,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer.

Muzak, Background Music to Life, to Lose Its Name [NYT] – Do we mourn when a derided brand goes away? The awful experiences that brand promised us – and perhaps much much worse – still seem to be on offer. I will shed no tear.

The Muzak name – long part of the American vernacular, if sometimes as the butt of jokes – will be retired this week as part of a reorganization by its owner, Mood Media. The company is consolidating its services under a single brand, Mood, thus eliminating the Muzak name…”We have a team of music gurus, visual specialists, sound and scent-tech experts,” Mr. Abony said. “We develop compelling, consistent experiences that connect our clients with their customers. The new brand signifies the integration of the company.”

Netflix never even thought to ask about *that*!

Reed Hastings Knows He Messed Up is a Q&A with the Netflix CEO. The piece is largely snarky pseudo-hardball questions that Hastings dodges by asking us to take the long view, but this nugget about the Qwikster debacle was provocative:

Q: I’m curious if you could have done any kind of research that could have anticipated this?
A: Our focus-group work concentrated on trying to understand consumers’ perspectives on names other than Netflix.

I’m stunned by this and all it implies.

  • Netflix doesn’t think of using research to understand the impact of a concept that would change its user experience?
  • Netflix relies on focus groups as their strategic insight methodology?
  • Netflix didn’t already have knowledge of user work flows, brand affinity, or anything else from their previous work that could have guided them?
  • Netflix tested the Qwikster name and still went with it?

This is baffling, so baffling that it must not be true. There’s plenty of thought-leader UX types in house at Netflix, this is not a company that doesn’t think about design, experience, or the customer. Now where Hastings sits in that process is another question. Not to mention this quote is condensed from a longer interview and there may be some crucial content lost. But still. Stunned.

We make change. It’s what we do.

Here’s a snippet from What Was Facebook’s Best Redesign, Anyway? [Technologizer]

I had fun looking back at the fruitless nature of Facebook redesign backlash. No one is surprised anymore when a redesigned Facebook home page-such as the one that rolled out today-causes an outrage.

But that made me wonder: what design, exactly, do people want? Was there ever a single home page layout to which Facebook users, given the choice, would happily revert? In other words, have we cooked up in our minds some ideal vision of an “old Facebook” that never really existed?

I’d like to declare this as a National Week of Umbrage. Between Netflix and Facebook, it’s been a strange few days. And still, we have our share of “It’s just a [blank], get over it!” and (as in that post) “What do people WANT?” Sadly, most of it misses the point. While there are definitely features that suck (wait, I’ve got to manage two queues? wait, you’ve reordered stories from the friends I just recategorized according to what scheme again?) and of course features that are improved, this is really about how you manage change. This isn’t, ultimately, about features. Facebook is the social OS for many many people. Netflix is the entertainment OS for many many people. We invest countless hours in using the thing, including setting it up just the way we want. That’s our choice, in fact, it’s almost an imperative. I can organize my fridge and my sock drawer in a way that I find appealing, satisfying, efficient, or whatever. And no, I don’t have to be on the autism spectrum to do that and to find reward from doing that.

When things change, without warning, without rationale, without a clear sense of how things are different – and better – for me, without an easy way to adjust to the changes, then we’ve got a problem. Google Docs redesigned something or other the other day. Today I previewed the changes. They are vaguely dramatic, aesthetically. But my workflow hasn’t changed, and I will adjust. I didn’t find myself unable to find my docs, or having to do more work instead. I’d hardly hold up Google as some ideal user-centered culture, but they seem, in general, to roll out redesigns, and even business changes, without a lot of teeth-gnashing on our part.

The intimate relationships we have with these services are indeed emotional ones. When change is foisted surprisingly on you, it’s unsettling.

Change is inevitable, necessary, good. But I’d love to see some less-hamfisted rollouts, and I’d love to see these companies understand – at the very fiber of their being – how much we are connected to their products and how their brutish ways make us feel. It’s not the medium, it’s the lack of message.

Don’t Bother, Braun

Today, I am proud to carry on the lively tradition of eviscerating… I mean, learning valuable lessons from other folk’s attempts at research. I will be examining a Braun-fielded poll that appeared on my Facebook page. (Recent notable additions to the oeuvre include Jared Spool’s 19 Lessons from United Airlines on How To Build a Crappy Survey and Steve’s imagined reaction to a Netflix survey, Effective Concept Testing: Getting the Answers You Want to Hear!)

OK, here it is:

I have a few questions.

1) Who? The pollsters don’t seem to care that I am neither a fan nor a consumer of Braun shavers specifically, or of electric shavers in general. They’ve got the audience all wrong. To respond would merely be to sabotoge their data-set in response to the absurdity. Which of course I wouldn’t dream of doing!

2) What is the purpose of this (Part I)? What is the marketing or social media team going to do with this information? What is the business question behind this? Knowing, as they must, that the data will be terribly corrupted, they can’t possibly believe that they’re actually getting useful information. So maybe it’s just one of these crazy social media ploys that appears to be important research but is really a bit of marketing designed at the level of a made-you-look joke?

3) What is the purpose of this (Part II)? If they just want me to look, then what did they want me to think upon having seen this survey/ad/poll? Is is supposed to intrigue me into thinking, “GOSH now I do wonder how new and different Braun shavers actually are! Let me look into that and then get back to them on this relevant question.” (If so, where’s the link?) Or is it, “Wow – Braun makes electric shavers!” Or is it merely an unconscious, Pavlovian Braaaaauuuuunn they’re trying to get? “Oh yeah, Braun is a brand. I need a shave.” Or do they really just want me to answer their ridiculous question?

4) Can it make sense, please? Don’t ask me to compare Braun, a brand responsible for a wide variety of consumer products, to the more specific but still questionable category of “other electric shavers.” I can’t compare things that are not comparable.

5) “New and Different?” Really? New and different are not necessarily positives, especially as those attributes relate to whirring blades that come into contact with your body parts. Is this the most important consumer response that the marketing team is really hoping to understand, if, in fact, they are hoping to understand anything at all?

6) Wait… anonymous or not? The question mark there, which (I know, I know) is a what-does-this-mean question mark probably linking to a privacy policy still reads like a sleazy wink. Fingers crossed! Your response may or may not be kept anonymous.

Even though I’ve no doubt that this is an insignifiant throw-away in the overall universe of Braun marketing, it definitely made an impression. If you’re going to bother to ask people questions, know who you’re asking and make it seem, even just a little bit, like the whole exercise matters to you.

We’ve learned quite a bit from other people’s surveys many times before:
Bad Survey Design. Please Stop!
Son of Survey
Son of Survey Madness
Thank You For Voting
The Space Between Yes and No
Does Calling it a Report Card Make it Not a Survey?
Survey Revenge

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Removing "Add to DVD Queue" from Streaming Devices [Netflix] – [This is quite the PR challenge – reframe the removal of features as something that's of benefit to the customers. There are hundreds of comments from unhappy users indicating how this change will impact their particular use cases.] An update for members who add DVDs to their Queue from the device they use to watch instantly. We’re removing the “Add to DVD Queue” option from streaming devices. We’re doing this so we can concentrate on offering you the titles that are available to watch instantly. Further, providing the option to add a DVD to your Queue from a streaming device complicates the instant watching experience and ties up resources that are better used to improve the overall streaming functionality. This change does not impact the Netflix Web site, where most members manage their DVD Queues.
  • [from wstarosta] How children perceive vintage technology [Core77] – [A humorous example of the role that semantics plays in our perception of what something is and how it works.] Design is all about context. When that contextual information is removed, products can be very confusing. As designers we often see this when people are introduced to a new technology that is manifested in a design that breaks so strongly with tradition that they don't know how to use it. We often try to build in affordances that allow them to relate their current technology to their new technology. Think of how the play button from your Walkman went straight to you Discman, then to your iPod, and as a digital button on interfaces.

Effective Concept Testing: Getting the Answers You Want to Hear!

We were intrigued to see that Netflix is soliciting customer feedback about a new product concept. It’s great to see them incorporating users into the development process, but we figure if they are going to be asking these sorts of questions, they might want to take the next logical step. Check out our re-enactment:

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Zach Gage’s Antagonistic Books – A set of two books and instructions for how to build them. ANTAGONISTIC BOOKS turns the emotions and actions surrounding the banning of books into physical objects that undermine the user.

    Danger reenacts what has historically been done to dangerous literature, self-immolating when opened.

    Curiosity represents the notion that many book-banners feel, that the true danger of literature is that once you've opened a book you have been forever changed and can never go back. Emulating this notion, Curiosity can never be closed. Once opened, it is locked in an open position forever.

    (via Waxy)

  • Netflix agrees to delay in renting out Warner movies [latimes.com] – "This deal uniquely works for Netflix because our subscribers are desensitized to street dates and more interested in being matched to the perfect movie," said Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, who handles studio relationships. "Some subscribers will so passionately want to see it in the first 28 days they may go out and buy it, just as some people want to see 'Avatar' so badly they pay to watch it in 3-D." [Snort! Guffaw!]
  • Book Industry Study Group – BISG is the leading U.S. book trade association for supply chain standards, research, and best practices. For over 30 years, BISG has been working on behalf of its diverse membership of publishers, retailers, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, librarians and others involved in both print and digital publishing to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry supply chain for both physical and digital products.

    In seeking support from and representing every sector of the book industry, BISG affirms its belief in the interdependence of all industry segments. BISG understands that success in business is often easier to achieve through joint effort and that common problems are best solved together.

  • How to create new reading experiences profitably [booksahead.com] – Books have served well as containers for moving textual and visual information between places and across generations. [digita] books need to be conceived with an eye on the interactions that text/content will inspire. Those interactions happen between the author and work, the reader and the work, the author and reader, among readers and between the work and various services, none of which exist today in e-books, that connect works to one another and readers in the community of one book with those in other book-worlds….Publishing is only one of many industries battling the complex strategic challenge of just-in-time composition of information or products for delivery to an empowered individual customer. This isn’t to say that it is any harder, nor any easier, to be a publisher today compared to say, a consumer electronics manufacturer or auto maker, only that the discipline to recognize what creates wonderful engaging experience is growing more important by the day.
  • New York, 2009 [Flickr] – My photos from my recent trip to New York City. Art, street art, strange signs, people watching, and other observations. Check it out!

Mythological optimizations as satisfying as real ones?

netflixui.jpg

When Netflix movies arrive, the barcode on the DVD envelope peeks through a window on the back of the outer envelope. When I put the DVD back in and seal it up before returning it, should I make sure the barcode is still lined up? There’s no indication this is necessary, nor is it very easy to do since there are eight different ways (four edges and front/back) to orient the DVD).

At this point in Netflix’s history there has been a lot written about their sorting process and envelope design; the whole Netflix experience smacks of optimization (plenty of feedback by email or RSS, consistently rapid shipping in either direction, and of course, the throttling scandal). So it makes some sort of sense that they are scanning incoming packages and those that are scannable will be returned (and the next movie sent out) fastest.

According to general consensus and the official word, this is false. It makes no difference; it’s only scanned when it’s sent out, not when it comes back in.

This gap between perception and reality can create real challenges for companies that deliver technology solutions, hoping that the user’s mental model matches to the engineers or designer’s mental model. We worked with a software vendor who had a loyal customer base using a time-intensive transactional system. We heard many stories from these customers about how the system “really” worked. Some had conducted experiments to document their beliefs. Even as our client brought in increasingly senior technologists to explain the way their product worked, people found ways to justify their own model. The technology decisions in the product were arbitrary (some thresholds for the number of milliseconds, or the number of transactions, etc. were refined to some point over time, from 25 to 15 to 10). The fact that the system was being tweaked created mistrust and lent credence to the customer’s theories about what was really going on behind the scenes. Transparency isn’t sufficient; there were other business decisions our client was making that were not seen as being in the best interest of their customers and so that really colored how they viewed the partial information about the technological workings.

Arthur C. Clarke famously said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Put another way, we often develop complex and irrational mental models about technology. The joke that “a clean car goes faster” demonstrates how we attach emotional attributes to some product or system, despite an intellectual awareness that it isn’t true.

I just sealed up my Netflix envelope; it took some will power to not fiddle with the barcode. Sure, there’s the written word that says it won’t make a difference. But, it just might, maybe, right?

Netflix process

The New Yorker has a nifty-yet-brief piece of observational research on part of the Netflix process; incoming envelopes unloaded and outgoing ones loaded.

forty employees (“associates,” in Netflix parlance) are ready for work. The majority are women who were born in Africa and in Asia. At 6:30 A.M., they sit down in ergonomic chairs and begin the process known as “rental return.” An associate tears open an envelope that contains a sleeve enclosing a disk, tosses the empty envelope into a recycling bin, removes the DVD from its sleeve, checks the title on the DVD (when “Black Dog” arrives in a sleeve for “The Triangle,” the mismatched sleeve is discarded and “Black Dog” is re-sleeved), checks the condition of the sleeve (those with coffee stains or other evidence of having been used as coasters will also be replaced), checks the condition of the DVD (for scratches and cracks), and extracts customer notes (“THROW THIS DAMN DISK AWAY. IT DOES NOT WORK AFTER EPISODE 2, CHAPTER 4!”). Fingers flying and heads swivelling, the women each open between four hundred and fifty and eleven hundred and fifty returned rentals an hour.

Wired News: Netflix Critics Slam ‘Throttling’

This is creepy

Netflix typically sends about 13 movies per month to Villanueva’s home in Warren, Michigan — down from the 18 to 22 DVDs he once received before the company’s automated system identified him as a heavy renter and began delaying his shipments to protect its profits.

The same Netflix formula also shoves Villanueva to the back of the line for the most-wanted DVDs, so the service can send those popular flicks to new subscribers and infrequent renters.

The little-known practice, called ‘throttling’ by critics, means Netflix customers who pay the same price for the same service are often treated differently, depending on their rental patterns.

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