Author Archive

Does Netflix Like Throwing Money Away?

November 10th, 2012

So I’m a little confused by this one. Netflix has apparently purchased the Google AdWord for the term ‘netflix’. This advertising strategy seems strange to me for two reasons:

1. is ALWAYS going to show up first when someone googles the term ‘netflix’. I mean, the 2nd-place result is currently a blog article from — a site that has no chance of being more relevant for this search term. Why bother defending your position in search results if your position is iron-clad. Apple doesn’t buy the the AdWord for the term ‘apple’ and Hulu doesn’t buy ‘hulu’ because there is literally no reason to. It doesn’t make sense.

2. Netflix has to pay Google every time a user clicks the ad. Let me repeat this important fact: Netflix has to pay Google every time a user clicks the ad.

Considering how many users use the search box to navigate the Internet (as opposed to typing in the full URL of the site they want to visit), Netflix must end up paying Google thousands upon thousands of dollars every year just to deliver this almost entirely redundant search entry. Is it really worth it to get that alternate title and description in there?


In a related story, Netflix also hands over money to Bing for a similarly stupid service. However, it appears Hulu has joined them there in the redundant stupidity.

* Slaps forehead… clicks on the ad just to punish Netflix for being dumb. *



Advertising, Design, Digital

iPhone5 Saves Facebook’s Mobile Strategy

September 20th, 2012

The iPhone 5′s extra 176 pixels of vertical screen space just inadvertently saved Facebook. The social giant was having trouble thinking of ways to integrate ads into the cramped screen real-estate of the iPhone. As you can see from the illustration below, however, they need worry no longer.

My recommendation: buy FB!

Digital, Gadgets

Why Facebook Changed Your Email

June 26th, 2012

Facebook automatically updated the default email of most of its users today without warning. Even if you didn’t create a Facebook email account, a randomly assigned email address is now your new default email in their system.

So what gives? Facebook knows that no one likes it when the company alters user data. Facebook also knows that no one, and certainly no one’s friends, is likely to adopt a random new email for their personal use at this point. So why would they risk consumer ire by pushing what seems like an inconsequential email system?

Well, it turns out that this new email address could be of major consequence to Facebook’s future value even if you and your friends never actively use it for any interpersonal communication. Even if you never tell a soul that your new email is jimmy.joe.555@facebook, the truth is that you will give out this email over and over again: every time you use Facebook Connect to sign into a third party site.

The nagging fear bubbling deep in the gut of every Facebook exec is that, however unlikely it may seem at this point, the use of Facebook as the default social graph for most of the web might just be a temporary fad. Any day now, another social contender — maybe one of the usual suspects or maybe some startup lurking on the horizon — could waltz in and replace Facebook as the social dance partner of a thousand websites and apps. Facebook Connect may be ubiquitous today, but as long as the sites using it are able to collect your real email address from Facebook, they could ditch Facebook and easily retain you as a customer. Meanwhile, on Facebook’s end, the river of information about your web usage would begin to slow to a trickle. Game over for Facebook.

That’s where this little email gambit comes into play. For most Facebook users, it would never even come to mind to go into the settings panel and start cleaning up. So, as long as Facebook is able to quietly replace their default email, a funny little Facebook address is all that will be exchanged when these same users sign up for Instagram, Pinterest, or Words With Friends using their Facebook credentials. The email that no one wanted suddenly makes Facebook itself an indispensable link in the chain of contact.

While this seems sneaky and perhaps a bit dismissive of the accepted definitions of respect for the user, you could also see it as a positive; Third party sites will no longer get access to your private email address. This could mean less spam coming in to your primary inbox. That’s a good thing, right?

The gamble for Facebook is that if third parties are no longer able to communicate with their customers without Facebook getting in the way, they may be far more hesitant to offer Facebook Connect as a user credential system. The gamble for users is if they use Facebook to sign up for a bunch of other services, they might feel shackled to their Facebook account even if they fall in love with another social network.

Anyways, the net net is that this move brings into question, once again, the nature of Facebook as a product. The more it turns itself into a privately owned web utility, the more dangerous its ubiquity becomes. All of the moves Facebook is making are great utility moves, but let’s not forget that Facebook is now a publicly traded company with obligations not just to users, but also to shareholders. The further Facebook goes down the ubiquitous utility path, the more they will need to eventually be regulated.

Note: If you wish to change this setting back to your real email, just follow these instructions.


Apple to Offer Ultra Subscription?

June 1st, 2012

In contrast to the popular mantra of ‘Make it Smaller‘ that has appeared lately in specialty, community-run, and anti-conglomerate grocery stores, banks, and retailers, tech companies have been trumpeting the benefits of the large. For example, Apple’s huge app selection and Facebook’s established network are touted as the primary arguments against going with a competitor. Well, if the biggest tech companies have their way, I would expect an even more extensive merger of power and services in the near future.

Apple could be very close to being able to control virtually every aspect of your digital experience. You’ll drop your phone and cable provider. You’ll ditch Netflix and Spotify. Instead, you’ll pay Apple one monthly fee to get it all, and it’ll be delivered exclusively to your growing library of Apple devices. Setting aside the inevitability of a mountain of antitrust lawsuits, this is the direction Apple could very well take, and here’s how they’ll pull it off…

The Pieces

1. Apple already owns virtually every piece in the puzzle in the creation of their devices – from the silicon to the hardware to the operating system to many key software titles. Cutting out the army of partners needed to create most other digital devices allows Apple to offer high-quality and fully customised products at prices that are hard to match.

2. In addition to pushing their own SIM card designs, there have been reports that Apple may be looking to offer its own mobile phone/data service exclusive to their devices. If this is true, consumers would be able to ditch AT&T, Verizon, and the like, and pay Apple directly to supply mobile service. With the additional money gained from these highly profitable subscriptions, they could even afford to offer their devices free to users that sign up.

3. The FCC has been considering the redefinition of what types of companies get to call themselves ‘multichannel video programming distributors’, or MVPDs. This legal definition, currently applied to cable companies such as Comcast or TimeWarner, gives a distributor the right to carry certain TV channels and responsibility to carry others. Effectively, an expansion of the definition to include online distributors would mean that Apple could stream many more TV shows to consumers without having to negotiate rights with the channels individually. Since these negotiations are one of the biggest practical barriers for Internet television services, the MVPD designation would make it much easier for Apple to mirror the offerings of today’s big television providers.

4. Apple purchased streaming music service Lala several years ago, and has lately seen their iTunes Store lose customers to increasingly popular subscription services like Spotify, Rdio, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. I find it hard to believe the current a-la-carte iTunes service will remain the only path to music, movies, and books in Apple’s ecosystem. Apple needs to put those giant data centers they keep building to good use, and a subscription streaming media service would certainly fit the bill.

5. Apple has been slowly building their own exclusive pathway not just to the Internet, but to a growing Internet of Things. They’ve been doing it one portal at a time, with their offering of an Apple-approved and iOS-exclusive collection of apps. Instead of supporting a much more open web-app environment — one that would have been accessible by other devices — Apple has championed their own proprietary development platform. Because of how Apple devices feature these apps, many companies have chosen to create iOS apps as the portal to their services instead of creating web apps. This has effectively created a second, more exclusive internet — one only accessible through Apple devices. This has been surprisingly non-offensive to the same people that champion net neutrality and routinely complain about service providers throttling certain websites or putting a cap on data usage.

The Holy Grail of Subscription Services

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture Apple stringing these services together and tying them into one monthly subscription fee; The data and voice service, TV shows, streaming movie and music, book lending, and access to an exclusive library of apps, all part of a single monthly subscription. This universal subscription would tether a user to an iCloud full of all the media they could ever want, and it would be accessible from any Apple device they own. This type of unified digital experience would be the realization of a dream and a sort of nightmare at the same time. The potential for gatekeeper abuse would be staggering, but it would oh-so-conveniently packaged and easy to use. Can it really be wrong to be so right?

What do you think? Would you subscribe to an Apple Universal Subscription? How much would you pay to consolidate all these services into one shiny package? Would you be able to resist if you got the hardware for free as part of the deal?

Design, Digital, Gadgets

AT&T Tried to Make Me Buy an iPhone : UPDATE

April 1st, 2012

As someone who can appreciate a good user experience when I see one, I’ve long been a fan of the Windows Phone operating system.

Microsoft’s 7-Series mobile software has been critically praised by everyone from Gizmodo to the New York Times, and I tend to agree with these reviews. There are so many fantastic UX ideas expressed in Windows Phone that help make for an incredibly personal and social experience. For example, I like how the OS puts people, not apps, at the center of communication. While a conversation with a friend may technically employ text message, Google Chat, Facebook, and Skype, all these platform threads are pulled together as a cohesive narrative on one screen. It’s so simple! This hub-based approach to social computing makes the totally discreet desktop metaphor found on iOS and Android seem downright outdated.



Microsoft doesn’t actually make their own phones, though. As good as the software is, the hardware that Windows Phone has been paired with has always been… underwhelming. Cheap black plastic, crappy cameras, and awkward forms abound.

Enter Nokia, the Finnish phone company with a history of great mobile phone design. They’ve always made quality hardware, but they never managed to nail the software experience layer that gives charm and powerful functionality to today’s smartphones. When Nokia and Microsoft partnered last year to begin work on a true flagship phone for WP7, I decided to hold off on upgrading my iPhone to wait until this make-or-break phone would be released. After more than a year, the moment I was waiting for finally arrived with the North American release of the Nokia Lumia 900 on AT&T.

I went to the AT&T website on Friday and saw that the Nokia Lumia 900 was being promoted on the homepage. However, since I’m already an AT&T customer, I had to go through an upgrade path to replace my old iPhone with the new Nokia. When I pressed the Upgrade button, instead of seeing the brand new Lumia 900 — the phone that AT&T is supposedly giving the most launch support to in their history as a company (including the original iPhone launch) — I saw three upgrade options: iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, and the iPhone 4 (Refurb). What?!?

I’ve designed countless pages for websites just like this one, but this page had me puzzled. Since I currently have an iPhone, I’m willing to concede that putting the iPhone 4S as the primary upgrade path makes sense from a continuity standpoint. I’m even willing to concede that maybe the older iPhone 4 makes sense as a cheaper alternative to this primary upgrade path. However, even I was confused as to how I might proceed to choose a phone that WASN’T an iPhone.

Well… Do you see that box at the bottom of the screen that looks like a banner ad — the same type of banner ad that users have been trained to ignore? Well, guess what? Instead of opting for clarity with a basic link to ‘Choose Other Phones’ or, better yet, to simply display the other available phones below the fold, the designers at AT&T deliberately chose to try to dead-end users on this page. Believe me, UX designers try to avoid banner ads like the plague — we all know that users ignore them. Hell, we don’t even like to put useful information in a spot where users expect banner ads to be. It’s that bad.

So, when a designer uses the language of a banner ad to house an otherwise meaningful communication, the message intended for the user on this page couldn’t be clearer: these three iPhones are the only upgrade choices you’ve got.

Since I wasn’t about to be bullied into an iPhone 4S after I’d waited all this time, I nervously clicked on the banner ad — going against every fiber of my being — hoping that perhaps this was indeed the path to more phone upgrade options. It turns out it was. With a sigh of relief, I finished purchasing the Nokia Lumia 900.

However, this little piece of UI trickery bothered me enough to write this article. It just seems so… shitty. When carriers do sketchy things like this, it’s no wonder that it’s so hard to turn the tide of momentum against a particular mobile OS. A good user experience or a great piece of hardware might not be enough to break through the noise of politics and social pressure surrounding the iPhone. Even though I prefer the ethos and experience of the Windows Phone OS, I know I tried to think of a million reasons not to switch.

The subtle and omnipresent pressure to align with Apple is really intense within the design community, and increasingly within pop culture at large. While Apple tends to make beautifully detailed products, and I will probably stick with the MacBook Air as my productivity device of choice for the foreseeable future, I grow wary of the Cult of Mac when it starts to do more harm than good.

A perennial problem with revolution is that revolutionaries are cute in the jungle before they’ve won, but quickly become decrepit and sadistic once in power.  Aspirational Che was sexy but empowered Castro was cruel… This is a familiar dilemma, and it is often said that the only response is constant revolution. - Jaron Lanier

I, for one, am looking forward to the exposure to a different digital flavor — a wholly unique mobile OS. Like that feeling of open possibility I get when I travel to a foreign country, I think it’ll be a breath of fresh air. There’s nothing that weakens the spirit of creativity more needlessly than a perceived lack of choice.



After my hard-hitting reportage on the subject this morning, AT&T has capitulated (slightly) and has changed the design of their upgrade page. It now includes a link to see all available phones down at the bottom of the screen. Perhaps someone at Microsoft or Nokia put the pressure on. Anyways, I hope they eventually create an even more user-friendly solution — one that can, of course, feature a phone or two, but that treats the other phones AT LEAST as second-tier contenders. In this day and age, users expect to be treated with respect, even when they’re on an e-commerce site.

Advertising, Design, Digital, Gadgets , , , ,

Privacy Tips from the White House

February 24th, 2012

The White House, not waiting for Congress to agree on anything ‘official’, has released their plans for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

While it seems many privacy pundits are pushing for a ‘one button’ solution that would allow consumers to wholesale opt out of personal data tracking in ANY digital experience (be it website, app, browser, or device), I believe that strategy would end up crippling a lot of innovation and have devastating effects even on existing services. Would consumers really understand why Facebook stopped working after they pressed this ‘privacy’ button? Is ON or OFF the only choice we should give consumers when it comes to data use?

In any case, the rather eloquent digital privacy tenets set out by the White House seem much more reasonable and compassionate, and may even serve as apt guidelines as we construct our own designs. I expect ‘Respect for Context’ will become increasingly hard to manage the more connected and complex our platforms become…

  • Transparency:  Consumers have a right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.
  • Respect for Context:  Consumers have a right to expect that organizations will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
  • Security:  Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
  • Access and Accuracy:  Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate.
  • Focused Collection:  Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
  • Accountability:  Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.


Design, Digital , ,