Bad User Experience: Country-Specific Media Embeds

More and more, there appear to be cracks appearing in the unified facade of media on the Internet – and this is not a good thing. The example which irks me the most is when traditional media hamfistedly attempts to put content online, and then erects artificial barriers to viewing that content based on the user’s geographic location. A perfect example: the behaviour of Comedy Central’s embedded videos when viewed from Canada.

If you’re cruising through the Internet from Canada and come across an embedded Comedy Central video, this is what you see:

Available on the Internet! *except in Canada

Available on the Internet! *except in Canada

I imagine the conversation at Comedy Central went something like this:

  1. “Hey! Let’s put our content online to drive awareness of our programs!”
  2. “And you know what would be cool? What if we let people embed our content on other sites, essentially advertising our programs to new audiences for free!”
  3. “Hmm, wait a minute. We’d better make sure we don’t piss off partners in other countries that license our content – let’s prevent people in other countries from viewing that embedded content.”

I understand the logic of #3 – Comedy Central licenses its content to other media players in other countries (in Canada, it’s the Comedy Network – a near-verbatim copy of Comedy Central). Of course, those licensees want people to understand that in certain geographies, the content is available from them, not Comedy Central. The problem is that #3 completely undermines #1 and #2; as implemented, the licensee completely fails to capitalize on the distributed, border-less nature of the Internet.

Instead of gaining a follower, this behavior simple annoys the user – after all, who really says to themselves “Oh, I get it – I guess I’ll just navigate to the Comedy Network and hunt down this clip to see it“? Nobody, that’s who. Instead,  the user says to themselves: “Wow, these guys are idiots because they don’t let me see the video. Oh well, luckily there’s a whole bunch of other stuff on the Internet. I’ll just go and watch those things instead.”

All it does is annoy the very audience the company is trying to reach:

Dear Comedy Central: Stop Being Stupid

The funny part here is that there is a simple solution: simply brand the player interface depending on the user’s location. If the user is from the US, brand it as “Comedy Central”; if it’s in Canada, brand it as “The Comedy Network”. If the user clicks on the embed, take them to the right site for their country. Easy.

My advice for media companies: as you venture online, ask yourself how you can interest as many people as possible in your content, and make the country-specific licensee issues as transparent to the user as possible.

Google Reader: Anti-Social Software

I’ve been a longtime Google Reader user, and I recently decided to explore their “Shared items” capability. The idea of “Shared items” is that you can mark posts interest you come across in Google Reader, and share them with your friends; and, vice-versa, you can view items your friends have shared with you. Pick the right friends, and your social network becomes an effective news filter, minimizing the amount of RSS feeds you actually track and read.

It sounds like a great idea, until you try to use the feature. The first step in any social networking-type application is simple: add your friends. If you got no friends, the whole thing doesn’t work. It would seem reasonable, therefore, that the first and most important aspect of such an application would be to make adding friends easy. It is in this regard that Google Reader not only hops on the failcopter, but grabs control of the stick, and jams it into a steep descent. Into the side of a mountain.

To add friends in Google Reader, you have to add friends in…GTalk? It’s hardly an auspicious start to the user experience when using the web application requires the user to navigate to another web application. And of course, to use GTalk, you have to use Gmail. Fine, whatever, I already use Gmail. In fact, I’ve imported about 1000 contacts into my Gmail address book, so the rest should be simple, right?

Wrong. Here’s the UI to add a user to GTalk:

Worst. Interface. Ever.

That’s right, you have to add users manually. In addition, there’s no autocomplete capability either, which means you’ll have to type in all of your friends’ complete email addresses. Who thought this was a good idea? It’s like the application needs human suffering to provide sustenance. Does this application thrive on misery?

Seriously, Google, come on. I’ve given you my email contacts. You even have a Google Contacts API that allows third parties to use my Gmail contacts! What the heck is going on here? In fact, this UI shouldn’t even exist – it should be a list of my Gmail contacts, filtered by those that are already using GTalk, that allows me to easy select a number of contacts and make the request. Done.

The lack of integration between different web properties is not unique to Google. If you use Upcoming, you’ll note that adding a user is a painful manual process similar to the Google Reader experience.

It’s like they actually want these applications to fail. If these providers can’t even integrate their own APIs to simplify the exchange of data within their own company, what hope does the DataPortability movement have?

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