Roku Netflix Player

Yet another set top box makes a move to bring the 10 foot Internet TV and movie experience to your living room. This time Roku, maker of the Soundbridge audio player, has teamed up with Netflix to deliver their video on demand service to a set top box designed for Netflix service only. The $100 box allows you to navigate your queue, view show/movie information, and stream videos that were previously only available for Internet streaming to Windows users previously. It’s not apparent if you can browse videos outside of your queue.

For Netflix users, the service is included free of charge if your plan allows Internet streaming. The streaming catalog still only hovers around 10,000 movies compared to the 100,000 available DVDs. This is mostly older titles, but that’s still not a bad number and you can expect the catalog to grow. I can confirm that I see about 10% of my queue with Play Now options presently. Sadly, the box doesn’t deliver HD, so expect VCR quality video.

This move brings Netflix further into the Internet-enabled set top box subcategory of the Video on Demand market with manufacturers including Apple and VUDU. Look for cable set top boxes to incorporate more of these services over time, and with that, the introduction of yet more features into already crowded 10 foot menus.

http://www.roku.com/netflixplayer/

Why Zappos Pays New Employees to Quit

The stories of Zappos' commitment to superior customer service has become nearly legendary. From regular upgrades to next day delivery at no cost to the story of a customer service reps delivery of flowers to a customer whos mother passed away. Now, in Harvard Business Online, Bill Taylor tells of Zappos' unusual customer training program. Zappos offers new employees a $1000 offer to quit after a 4 week training session. The idea behind this tactic is that by weeding out people who take the offer, they keep the ones who will be committed to the company.

Because if you’re willing to take the company up on the offer, you obviously don’t have the sense of commitment they are looking for. It’s hard to describe the level of energy in the Zappos culture—which means, by definition, it’s not for everybody. Zappos wants to learn if there’s a bad fit between what makes the organization tick and what makes individual employees tick—and it’s willing to pay to learn sooner rather than later. (About ten percent of new call-center employees take the money and run.)

...

It’s a small practice with big implications: Companies don’t engage emotionally with their customers—people do. If you want to create a memorable company, you have to fill your company with memorable people.

Now that's innovative thinking—being willing to pay to find and keep committed employees.

http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/taylor/2008/05/wy_zappos_pays_new_employees_t.html

The Rise of Contextual User Interfaces

In Alex Iskold's article, The Rise of Contextual User Interfaces, the writer and CEO of software company AdaptiveBlue talks about the rise of contextual interfaces on the desktop an in the services we use on the web.

He points out the failing of choice over context in the old paradigm of UI design. Standardization of UI elements (tabs, combo boxes, etc.) was meant as a way to keep users from having to learn how to use an interface. The argument made was apparently that users are stupid and this paradigm supported the idea that we shouldn't innovate on core UI elements because users wouldn't be able to figure out how to user our applications. But over time UI designers simply made all of the choices available in an application in the forefront, putting the burden of having to sift through all of them.

Another philosophy of the old UI approach was that the user wants to see all information all the time. Instead of building UIs that responded to the way that people actually interacted with the tool, the user interface opened up all possible choices at all times. Naturally, this is completely overwhelming and confusing to people.

The result of the users are stupid/let's show all the choices paradigm ends up being, unfortunately, that even if users are smart enough to use these interfaces, they often end up feeling stupid when they can't figure out how to use bloated UIs. Sadly, many of these UIs make software so difficult to grok that we become frustrated using them, and often simply choose not use them.

The strategy of innovating interface elements based on usage and using simpler, contextual interfaces is the antithesis of the old paradigm, and is what is offered to rescue users from the flood of choices in lazily designed interfaces.

The new interfaces are winning people over because they are based on usage patterns instead of choices. The key thing about new UIs is that they are contextual - presenting the user with minimal components and then changing in reaction to user gestures. Thanks to Apple, we have seen a liberating movement towards simplistic, contextual interfaces.

Alex tells the story of something his boss once told him, declaring that user interface are cheap. What the boss meant was, that "the UI is so essential and so important to get right that you shouldn’t just reuse code and widgets."

Iskold points to Apple's ability to continually innovate on its interface, but points out that the use of contextual interfaces has increased on the web due to the use of the richer set of interactions provided by AJAX and RIA tools such as Flash. The example that many of us have commonly use are the controls provided by flash video sites when we hover over video players (e.g. in YouTube, Vimeo, etc.). These players hide the controls for viewing embedding options, related videos, etc. until you make the conscious decision to move the mouse over the video. Use of AJAX to make expert features available via expanding/collapsing and hiding/displaying design patterns are another example of contextual controls that can be provided nearby when needed.

Some of the innovations using contextual controls even break the traditional rules for how these controls work, but in the new model, this is done to provide emphasis to function over form. In the eyes of interface designers, the belief seems to be, "when an efficiency can be provided by breaking the rules, why not do it?"

http://alexiskold.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/the-rise-of-contextual-user-interfaces/

Adtunes.com

Adtunes is a portal for finding music from TV commercials, film trailers, TV show and film soundtracks, and video games. I’ve used the forums on this site several times to track down the creators of music in TV commercials.

http://adtunes.com/

Favrd

Favrd is a web app that lists interesting things that show up on Twitter, based on the number of times an item has been declared a ‘favorite. Here’s the raison d’etre:

It works on three principles: first, that anyone who wants to can have their vote counted; second, that things people find interesting are more important than people who find things interesting; and third, that by any means necessary, web-strategy, social-media, online-marketing webcocks – unaware as they are of how toxic their presence is in the arenas they cannot shut up about – must and shall be filtered out of view.

http://textism.com/favrd/