Sunday, April 27, 2008

No Excuses

Having grown up in broadcast television, there is one thing I learnt above everything else. There are no excuses.

If you're live, on air, to 6 million people you cannot cock up. However, the flip side of this is, if you do your job perfectly, no one notices.

One of the things that saddens me about internet TV is how cavalier the approach by ostensibly professional organisations is.

This evening, two hours after broadcast, ITV's Headcases isn't available - in fact no video seems to be playable; the BBC continues to throw out programming so blurred that someone should be arrested for wasting licence payers' money (although this is improving as content is migrated to the iPlayer).

What is it about the internet that turns grown up organisations that have spent tens of millions of pounds on their services into amateur night ?

Perhaps it's because broadcast TV always had engineering at its heart, whereas internet TV has developers, who care much more about functionality than the quality of the user experience. or perhaps the execs just care about getting away with it, rather than building the experiences that their viewers deserve.

The TV stations used to have - indeed, still do have people called Duty Officers whose job it is to log complaints. I had a couple of flatmates that used to undertake this thankless task and they either quickly turned to drink, or if they were sensible, left (in fact, I seem to recall that they did both). Getting through to the Duty Officer is one thing, complaining online is another. I dread to think of the time being spent by our major broadcasters in the UK in addressing emails asking why they are so bad at their jobs. And I encourage you to add to these complaints if the service online isn't up to the standard that you're used to on your TV set.

Remember, there are no excuses.

1 comment:

Peter Mounce said...

There's a reason software development is called "development" and not "engineering" - it's all bespoke, and it's not well-understood by the majority of people (including many developers themselves). There is usually a communications chasm between developer and person-who-wants-development-done.

People have been building houses for thousands of years; it's a problem that's pretty fundamentally solved, and now being incrementally improved at a fairly slow rate dependent on materials science.

Similarly, people have been making, and watching, TV in one form or another for around a century.

Software, on the other hand, has areas of maths devoted to describing how complicated it is, and has only been being done on any large scale (read: one project affecting millions of people) in the last couple of decades. Internet TV is less than a decade old, and certainly not mature.

One of the other fundamental problems is getting the developers in touch with the people actually using the service they're creating. Something that isn't rocket science ("hmm, 'are you having a good time watching our TV set, mr viewer?'), yet somehow the developers' time is considered too valuable to waste on such a clearly beneficial activity, so they are insulated via support systems, support people, and managers... So instead they spend their time building functionality that has been asked for by the people who are paying for it, who typically _also_ haven't asked the viewers (who are the reason for their having money to spend in the first place, hopefully!) whether they're having a good time.

Bit of a fun way to run a rail-road, if you ask me.