Tag Archives: UI

Digital Upgrade At Your Own Risk – Brand Be Damned!

It seems that many apps and digital offerings have been updated since the beginning of the year – and an interesting trend has taken shape. What once was so wonderfully free – with few ad breaks and just slightly more privacy – has turned the corner and has become, well… less. Additionally, a huge sector of mobile users that excitedly upgraded to Android 4.3 before the end of the year have only further lamented the multitude of issues they’ve encountered since (with battery life reducing drastically being a consistent theme).  All of this leads to the question – To Upgrade or Not To Upgrade?  Unfortunately, in many instances, the consumer never gets the chance to question and the brand is damned to stumble.

Screenshot_2014-01-28-16-57-38

The gray area is meant to have content served within.

 

In the case of ESPN, they chose to re-brand their scores and news app to be more aligned with their colossal SportsCenter brand – changing it from Scorecenter to SportsCenter. That change makes sense – as does the twitter feed from their on-air personalities.  What’s more challenging is that the app is much more volatile (see above) with nothing showing much of the time.  Even more annoying is the fact that users now have to log in or register in order to automatically keep track of their favorite teams. For most, this might not be an issue, but for those trying to hold on to the last piece of privacy, that component might be a deal breaker. The fact that there’s now far more advertising with page overlays and in-feed ads only adds salt to the wound.

Diminished revenue generation is definitely an issue for all content providers, but it will be interesting to see how conversion plays out as more and more previously free apps move into the paid model. Since the new year, at least 4 of my news apps have moved behind a paywall – with only headlines available for free – rendering it useless. Hopefully, we’ll soon see the ramifications – one way or the other – on this change soon. We’ll definitely see if people have an appetite for paying in multiple places for content.

Even in the free realm, questionable choices have been made:

  • ABC force upgraded the app leaving users with a lot less content choices and a lot more ill will. Checking the ratings on the App Store and Google Play shows a very large distaste for something that was the standard bearer for innovative video presentation. With the previous usage and inability to skip through commercials, it made sense.  Who knows what will happen now.
  • Yahoo! changed their mobile product to supposedly simplify their content delivery. The only problem is that the UI leads one to believe that if they click on search, they’ll be able to search within the category (i.e.,Entertainment, Sports, Life), only to find that it takes them out of the app environment and to their general search interface.
  • Sporting News is struggling to keep from crashing as they deal with issues stemming from iOS 7 in their newest update. The fix might come with the supposed release of iOS 7.1 in March, but that brings us to the next issue.

With all of the concerns users have with upgrading already – and the worries of what they will have to learn or not have access to – is the update to iOS 7.1 or Android’s 4.4 KitKat one that people will venture into widely or quickly?  Microsoft is having it’s own issues getting consumers to upgrade Windows OS – especially as people realized how much was still left to be done with each release. Is the same lack of concern for the user experience – and the interest of meeting ambiguous deadlines worthwhile for consumers who are quick to pull the trigger and move elsewhere? A concern is that, among developers, there is an excuse permeating that everyone expects issues. How sad is that?

The debate can continue as to whether it’s human nature to always want the new bright and shiny object. But, it is pretty clear cut that when forced to the new, something good should be delivered.  If companies/brands keep forcing the issue, they might be damned to losing the loyalty of those who just want to keep interacting the way they always have.

Best Annual Map Of The Web! Now, Just Find The Time…

While we all wish we could just troll the web to check out the coolest sites, the most exhilarating use of technology, or the most elegant online animation, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Even with those hours, it would be hard to find what is really cool and not just what has the most money going toward promotion of those online elements. So, there still aren’t enough hours in the day, but we’ve come to the time where everyone has a guide – The Webby Award Nominees… Again, it will take a very long time to get through everything, but at least there’s the semblance of a map of the web and some of this past year’s strongest offerings.

CenturyMOMA

The site itself could possibly put itself up for an award. With smooth movement and simple voting mechanisms, it’s easy – though I sometimes wish it had a more elegant solution to jump in and out of details, live sites, voting and more.

As we’re constantly working to output product ourselves, there never is enough of a chance to see what else what’s out there – especially in other verticals. Without a set determination or rule of who gets to develop better experiences on the web – remember back in the day when Auto sites and porn subscriptions were at the vanguard of web development – you’re losing ground if you’re only checking out what your competitors have published. Events/sites like the Webbys remove any excuses for that research.

Remember, these are awards, so electioneering definitely plays a part.  Some offerings may not be there while others with deeper pockets and promotions teams are.  But, for the most part, everything that we’ve seen major buzz for throughout the year is in there to provide credence to these being the best of the year.

There used to be less categories for easier reviewing – but just like the web, there’s so many permutations of content that call for more categories. If you were to consider all of the entries in every category and vote on them, I imagine you would derive a lot of pride and deeper understanding of what’s out there.  I’ll just be happy if I can get through half of it.

What excites me the most are sites that convey its purpose – marketing, news, commerce – in an elegant way. For me, that means I check out the Arts and Entertainment categories first. And with that, I fell in love with MOMA’s site on the Century of the Child. I really feel that the way users can move from one part to another fluidly is the way everything should be moving, and the content is extremely fun regardless of interface.

The showcase of products by category also illuminates how some things stay similar to how they’ve always been (check the two Disney films with almost identical navigation to what is usually seen for Disney titles and the beautiful BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD site that has long downloads for beautiful pictures but very little content.) The cool thing is finding the specific nuances that tweak typical offerings in just the right way.

Ultimately, the voting part takes away from what I like the most about the annual announcement of the nominees – the exploration.  Spending time to figure out what is best when there are so many differences even within same category nominees seems to diminish what we can truly get out of this. There is just so much to see in sites, advertising, video and more.

With that being said, I’m stopping this entry that went longer than I hoped for so that I can jump back to my map of the web and continue exploring – there’s not much time…

Facebook Is Rearranging the Bar in the Move to Timeline

Can you imagine if your favorite local store, restaurant or bar were to go through an overhaul each year?  They might have the same items, but decide to change the entire layout of the place. Or, they maintain the design and change from a breakfast-all-day place to sandwiches only.  Perhaps they decide that they will make people enter from a different location each time. Better yet, when you step up to the bar, you have to do a different set of hand gestures each time before ordering your second drink. Now, compound that with the idea that as each change comes, you become treated less as a regular and start to question whether you should go there in the first place.  If such changes would surely hurt businesses in the real world, why are they becoming such a big part of our digital world? The largest example of the phenomenon is  in Facebook effectively changing the seating arrangement, the menu and the ordering procedure through the coming weeks with their Timeline product.

Facebook’s shift to Timeline is a major one that will be mandatory.  We’ve been waiting for it since the F8 conference a few months ago and now its hitting accounts.  Some people have it and like it, while others have no sign of it in their account.  Even the way they are rolling it out is different that their practices in the past as they usually just seemingly “press a button” every few weeks to push site changes live immediately.  One has to imagine that they are doing a progressive rollout for a reason – could it be to help people prepare?

At this point, it is almost becoming more daunting to users the longer it takes to hit accounts.  There’s huge issues raised about privacy and how the timeline features could affect users in both personal and professional matters. Having not received the update, I can’t even follow these directions for changing the Privacy Settings yet.

Even with the ability to change settings, there is a lot of concern voiced by users. The security firm Sophos polled over 4000 users to get their thoughts and the response is overwhelmingly cautious with 51% saying they are worried about Timeline, 32% even questioning why they are still on Facebook and less than 8% stating they like it. 

The concerns run the gamut from worries about identity thieves more easily finding information to the fact that even we don’t remember everything we’ve put on Facebook.  I know that I have been concerned about privacy since the get-go, but I am equally sure that I am likely to see some things I probably would not like to have had up there.  Imagine what users who posted regularly as college students and now find themselves all grown up will see.

Add to this, the fact that users will have only seven days to change all of their settings once their sites are switched over – whenever that may be – and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of customer loss.  If I’m no longer a regular visitor to my Facebook page recently, you better believe that I’m checking it out every day now to see if the switch has been flipped.  Hell, it might actually up their user activity numbers in the coming weeks – which would look nice for their mythically pending IPO.

This is not to say that change should not occur, but consistency is key.  With the advances in technology, the ability to constantly upgrade and change is exciting and enticing, but is it always best? We’ve found in traditional businesses, change takes a lot of preparation.  More digital companies need to take that to heart.

One instance of a brick and mortar changing in a way that is similar to Facebook is hopefully not a sign of what’s to come for Facebook… A local family restaurant, Nichols, has been in Marina Del Rey, CA for decades.  The menu contained everything you could want from a glorified greasy spoon diner and they were always filled. Last Spring, they closed for a couple of months to get a facelift – which made sense as the fittings were dated. There was a lot of excitement about the re-opening.  As far as the customers knew, the only thing changing was the decor and the addition of “J.” before Nichols.  When the place finally re-opened in December, the menu had completely changed, shortened and none of the old staff were there. Sadly, there is never a line to get in and you drive by to see the place empty.  My only hope is that they figure things out and maybe add back a lot of the family friendly food that was on the old menu.

It’s not a bad thing to change, but it has to be done smartly.  It is one thing to change a store or a restaurant that might have a total of 10,000 customers, but to change the confines of a community of over 800MM is another deal entirely.  Even if the site or app reaches a much smaller community, the UI is not something that can be tweaked easily and often – regardless of the company’s technical prowess.

I don’t believe that Facebook is doing anything wrong by making this drastic change, per-se.  It’s just that the online equivalent of one of our favorite high-street shops is changing itself considerably when there was already a questioning client base.  It may end up being a source of lessons for other companies both traditional and digital when they look to make a whole change just because they can.

Best Buy Having Loyalty Issues

A lesson can be learned from Best Buy – and not necessarily a good one.

Best Buy’s Loyalty Program, Reward Zone, has been around for a number of years.  The point values have changed a bit and customers are no longer asked to pay an annual fee to participate, but much of it – earn points to receive coupons worth dollars off of a purchase – has remained the same.

Any time a Reward Zone member makes a purchase in the store, they are asked to confirm their address to make sure it is current.  I have bought a considerable amount of items in their stores over the years and have confirmed my address plenty of times since moving in October ’09.

The comedy of errors began last Monday when I went to buy THE THRONE Best Buy Exclusive Special Edition by Jay Z and Kanye West.  All of the sudden, my old address was showing up.  When I told them it was incorrect, I was told they couldn’t change it in the store AND I wouldn’t get any points for the transaction because I had told them the address was incorrect.  Knowing that it was a larger database issue that seems like it reverted back to an old version – affecting many more people than me – I said something to them.  There’s no need to go into the details of what happened in the store as I knew they really have no control of it on that level, but the lack of concern and the repeating mantra about my going online to change the address back was almost humorous.

I got back to the office and tried to get into the system and found that the whole system was down, not allowing me to use my credentials to get in and just giving a myriad of issues.

When I finally remembered, today, to get back around to making sure my address was correct, I found that you have to register for both bestbuy.com and also their Reward Zone site separately.  There is an option to merge the two together, but that means having both systems set up – and working.  When I tried it the first time, it told me the system could not complete the connection of the two accounts at this time.  I tried again and was finally able to do so.

Certainly, what I did was probably more than the usual consumer would go through.  Frankly, as a consumer, I had no care for doing that work and figured I would be fine continuing without it.  But, I wanted to see what was going on from a business perspective as many of my clients look for ways to expand their loyalty program.  Sadly, this Best Buy experience was not a good one and provided some insight into what not to do.

If you cannot promise value and return, loyalty programs cost more than they are worth.  If you can’t make it simple for your customer, than it really is not just a value of worth, but a matter of customer retention.  There is always the concern of technological hiccups – and that is fine if you have an escalation process to fix it quickly – but there are systematic issues within the Best Buy experience that add obstacles to simplicity and ease of use (requiring different account creation for both sites)  that make it much easier for competitors to swoop in to convert your customers; loyalty program or not.

Exploding Internet Traffic Will Lead to Opportunities – Not Just Gridlock

When looking at the figures bandied about in the Cisco Systems forecast below about the projected increased demand in traffic, it is easy to just look at it in terms of what information is being sent out to viewers/consumers.  What may be lost is the opportunity for considerable growth in what is sent back out from the end user.  First let’s take a look at this simple summary from Wayne Karrfalt of Cynopsis Digital:

There’s not much denying that streaming premium video is contributing to a huge increase in traffic being generated online. (Netflix is now blamed for nearly a quarter of it in the U.S.) A new forecast from Cisco Systems predicts that traffic will just about double by 2015 to reach 200 exabytes; that’s 39 times what it was in 2005. The impact of web-enabled TVs is palpable – by 2015, TVs will account for over 15% of global consumer internet traffic (up from 3% in 2010), and 28% of internet video traffic (up from 7% in 2010). More users and the proliferation of tablets, mobile phones, connected appliances and other smart machines are also driving up the demand for connectivity. By 2015, there will be nearly 15 billion network connections via devices and more than two connections for each person on earth. Globally, mobile data traffic will increase 26 times between 2010 and 2015.

The item that may be glossed over is not just the increased connectivity for TVs in the home, but the public’s adoption of what that connectivity brings.  The summary above seems to encapsulate the concerns about the growing traffic constraint on sometime limited pipelines, but if you look at the fact that the expanded traffic is directly proportional to viewers’ acceptance and use of streamed content on their home “big screens”.  That increased connectivity is truly a huge window that is opening for two way communication during viewing.

Right now, connected TVs are in their rudimentary phase with apps available that seem to keep all content siloed – you can’t have apps open while watching shows and many have bad UI.  If content is streamed, it might still be a passive experience, but it is certainly more involving than just flipping through channels.  While the report does speak to increased video consumption using mobile, tablets and other connected devices, many of those are inherently two-way communication tools, but TV has been lagging – though products have been available to enable interaction since before Mobile phones were fitting into consumers’ pockets.

Might this growth that Cisco is projecting lead to even greater interactivity for all content that is viewed on the plasma without a second device?  I think that the developers (and perhaps, more precisely, the brand managers) need to create relevant interplay opportunities – both technically and narratively – to make this happen.  A few entities are working at it, such as Google and ITV or set-top box manufacturers, but the studios and content creators are a little slow to the table to find the successful ways to harness the true power of interactivity or even just social connectivity. Can you imagine seeing real-time thumbs up or thumbs down on the screen during a performance on American Idol or seeing everyone’s thoughts on a badly called play during a football game while it is still under official review? In many instances, the technology is already there, but the entities who can pull the trigger to put them in place either don’t get it, are too timid to launch it, or don’t have the ability to set in place a long-term strategy for actually serving its needs. Ultimately, the development goes where the money is – sadly not the other way around – but if Cisco’s projections hold true, there will certainly be the numbers to support the development of the content as well as the platform as a whole.

Almost forgot, this doesn’t even include social gaming on TVs like the just reported upcoming release of Angry Birds for web-enabled TV with Tokyo…

I eagerly await the time when those who are ahead of the curve now will be the norm for everyone in five to ten years – if not less.