Especially when "simple" is synonymous with "useful".

Alternative title for this post: Let Users Preview Changes!

If you haven't been following the uproar, Yahoo! TV recently released a new design without offering up a beta test or preview (like we did with Yahoo! Mail) and the on-line reactions have been resoundingly negative, as far as I can tell.

Here's a sampling:

On TechCrunch:

Yahoo took a beating by users angry over the new Yahoo TV product in the comments to their own blog post announcing it. Even a former head of Yahoo Entertainment, Erik Schwartz, chimed in with his own bashing and suggesting that Yahoo has lost its way.

On 0xDECAFBAD, Les says:

Okay, Iím sick of it now, like many others. I was dazzled by the AJAX pagination technique at first, because I think itís an interesting advance in AJAX in general. But, Iíve been a user of the Yahoo! TV Grid - er Listings - for years now. Itís useless to me now, even after I re-discovered its location after my bookmark broke. I hate to be harsh, but Iíd outsourced a part of my brain the Yahoo! TV Grid, and suddenly that part of my brain is damaged.

On Derek's Rantings and Musings, Derek says:

But, like all things Yahoo that don't completely suck, they're not content if they're not ruining it, so some product designers got their hands on it, and now if you go there, you will get "Yahoo!TV Beta". Unlike with Yahoo!Mail and others, though, there's no way to say "Let me continue to use the non-suck-ass interface as long as possible please."

On Yahoo's Corporate Blog, many in the comments are ripping it apart too...

Debra says:

This is simple stuff. Donít make it so complicated, or Iíll wade through all the junk on www.tvguide.com.

Eric says:

I canít believe that you are now forcing an inconvenient signin to view localized listings! What a cheap, worthless stunt! You had a near-optimal experience lined up before, where apparently cookies kept track of where a user was and what their TV service was.
Youíve blown it now, idiots. Continue to force a signon for this and Yahoo! will lose not only my eyeballs on the listings page (there are several free and convenient alternatives, you know) but you will also see me reset my home page away from where itís been for 5 years. I havenít liked the way youíve progressively cluttered the Yahoo! home page, but Iíve put up with it.

Chrevnir says:

I had to search to find this place to provide feedback, it took me 20 minutes of hard searching to find any place where I could share my horror at the travesty done to the TV listings. Please provide a link on the page when you make such draconian changes with no warning. It would lessen the blood pressure of your customers greatly.

And it goes on for quite a while, including comments from folks involved in building (or destroying?) the product.

In other words, this may be the best example so far of the Yahoo! corporate blog actually working. It's facilitating a two-way discussion about something that's very important to our users in nearly real-time.

It's a good thing we allow comments there. :-)

Back to the redesign...

This all leaves me wondering a bit. Like you, I'm trying to figure out how this could have happened. Why was there no trial period so that die-hard tv.yahoo.com users could voice their opinions before being forced to use the "improved" interface? Why did we manage to toss both "simple" and "useful" aside and substitute "flashy" for them?

I don't know the answers to any of those questions. Heck, I had sort of forgotten that tv.yahoo.com existed, because I don't watch TV. But when I did, I used it all the time. And I definitely remember it being the sort of "get in, get your info, get out fast" sites that you end up being very loyal to.

A small part of me wonders if this will be fixed sooner now that so much of the complaining is right in public on the corporate blog. I'm even starting to wonder if it's possible to close the feedback loop even more tightly by integrating comments onto new products themselves...

Posted by jzawodn at December 03, 2006 08:29 AM

Reader Comments
# paul said:

After the new and "improved" tv guide appeared, and after a fair amount of effort of confusion finally got me back to the guide I bookmarked - I knew this wasn't what I wanted anymore. In the past I've occasionally used MSN's TV guide, and although I never liked it anywhere near as much - it only took a few minutes with the new yahoo to know it was now a much better choice.

I'm tired of AJAX being used as a replacement for quality design.

on December 3, 2006 10:03 AM
# cooper said:

I'm tired of AJAX being used as a replacement for quality design.

I agree. Honestly, I was never a fan of tv.yahoo.com anyway. I have tried to use it a couple of times. Mostly, though I slide between "don't watch TV" and "TiVo tells me what is on." My TV watching usually comes down to "spend an evening with the TiVo catching up on the 2 or 3 shows I care about." TV listings in general seem like a moot technology to me.

on December 3, 2006 12:17 PM
# Joe Zawodny said:

I did not know tv.yahoo.com existed, but I'm happy to hear that someone is raising their voice about not fixing things that are not broken (from the users point of view). Now there may be a corporate reason to screw with things since I find it difficult to understand how a company makes money on something where the user is in and out quickly/efficiently. So there is probably a lot of tension there between works great and doesn't bring in revenue.

But that is not why I'm posting here. I would really like to know why Yahoo! is so sign-in obsessive. They are as silly about signing-in as Mirco$oft is enamoured with mouse clicks. I have to sign in several times per day just to visit my groups on Yahoo!. The finance stuff is the same way. Look, we should be allowed to assume responsibility for our web presence and data we put out there. Most people know that if it is really sensitive stuff it probably should not be on the web in the first place. If I am not worried about who can see my data, or who can pretend to be me in a group, or who can see what TV shows I watch then why should Yahoo!? Secure the cookies on my machine and let me worry about who has access to my hardware.

This is just plain stupid, it is annoying, and is a risk ultimately to Yahoo!'s user base disappearing. When something better or friendlier comes along the users will migrate very quickly. We are fickle. We are agile. Our loyalty is imagined.

on December 3, 2006 02:42 PM
# Dave McClure said:

for those keeping score at home:

Yahoo
-20 pts: fucking up a useful interface
-50 pts: not doing a preview/beta to get user feedback
+10 pts: allowing comments on corp blog so fuckup was discovered
+50 pts: IF they listen to users & reverse decision or offer a 'give me the old UI' option
-100 pts: IF they ignore current feedback

Google
-50 pts: not allowing comments on corp blog
-100 pts: not providing any visibility into future product direction

which sucks worse? i'd say they're both about even right now. Yahoo will pull ahead slightly in my book if they reverse the decision. Google earns continued scorn for assuming that "no information" is a good policy.

for ex: see Joe Krause's comments in TechCrunch post about JotSpot going 'dark' just prior to acquisition. altho i respect Joe, i do NOT agree the Google policy has served them well. rather, Google can perhaps choose to ignore users because other parts of the business are working, however there's no question it's a BAD policy which hurts the overall brand, and clearly illustrates arrogance and a preference for secrecy over communication & transparency.

so in summary: yahoo has just made a stupid TACTICAL move which they have the opportunity to correct, because they allow some amount of user feedback (via blog). google continues to make dumb STRATEGIC moves because they choose to be non-transparent about product strategy & rollout.

on December 3, 2006 02:44 PM
# Dave McClure said:

(to be fair to Google: they do a good job of testing UI and rolling out beta, so i might be a little harsh saying they're being strategically dumb, but i still don't think that justifies the lack of transparency & communication)

on December 3, 2006 03:05 PM
# Wally Punsapy said:

it says it's beta, though, like you mentioned, it does not allow a person to consume the old site. odd.

for a while, i used tv.y.c mostly for the channel / program listings (the grid Les mentioned). in the new version, it lies in a secondary(!) column as if it were related or contextual content.

i guess it's good news for those startups like evoke .... oh well.

what time is the peanut butter show?

on December 3, 2006 03:22 PM
# Joe Zawodny said:

Yay, we suck less than Google, Woot!

Isn't the point not to suck at all?

I just went to tv.yahoo.com. I did not have to sign-in - yet. I set up my preferences and played with the site a little bit. First thing I notice is that shows that started in an earlier time slot but are still running have thier title centered off the left edge of the first column. Some are completely invisible.

Then I went back about 10 minutes later. Did not have to sign-in. I expected to be taken to tonights listings, but was dissappointed - I got the useless initial page. I do not want to read about the fantasy world of Hollywood and take a survey. I want to watch TV (well not really, but I would assume that most who visit do). I found the little link to tonights listings (although it is inactive until after all of the brief version of the listing loads in the sidebar) and figured I could just bookmark it so I can go directly to what I want in the future. We'll test the longevity of that link later. Then I find the computer (Mac mini - non-intel running Firefox) is barely responsive due to all the animated cpu-intensive crap trying to lure me to click on something to generate revenue. Resist the overwhelming temptation to hurl and click on the link to tonight's listings. Disappointed once again to find that the "Display only my favorite channels" is not the default after having set up my preferences to specifiy what my favorite channels are.

So what is not to like? Where are the TV listings from the newspaper? Oh, on-line, naturally. One click and I'm satisfied with getting just what I expected.

on December 3, 2006 03:27 PM
# Eby said:

I also noticed the change and the fact that I now have to login to use it. I've noticed similar trends with things like Yahoo's podcast site where you have to login just to download someone else's content from their own site.

Seems like many of these services are being used to just get accounts. The TV seems a bit better then the podcasts though, where Yahoo is using other peoples' content and bandwidth.

on December 3, 2006 03:36 PM
# Chicago said:

The Yahoo TV Beta is so bad it made me find a viable alternative. I found TitanTV to a very nice, simple, fast loading TV grid display. I suggest that everyone check it out. The link is http://www.titantv.com/TTV/Grid/Grid.aspx

on December 3, 2006 05:10 PM
# Derek said:

As someone on the Corp Blog pointed out....let me highly recommend http://www.meevee.com/ .... it's not quite as "basics" as the old tv.y.c, but my god is it nicer than "the abomination future of tv.y.c as envisioned by Yahoo".

on December 3, 2006 06:27 PM
# adam said:

ok, one small question ... how is it that 10 sorts before 3 in the favorites? And, not all your favorites show up? The old site was much better...

on December 3, 2006 06:30 PM
# CJ said:

Whoa. For "service type" you get to choose between Satellite, Cable, or Rabit Ears. Apparently we haven't invented rooftop antennas yet. (I'm a cheap bastard, so I can't wrap my brain around paying $50/month for tv).

I don't know how they're sorting the channels.... they have it so that Channel 5 comes after 48 and before 50 which would imply asciibetically except that Channel 7 and Channel 8 appear between Ch 65 and 66. And Channel 9 (KQED) doesn't appear at all. They're providing immense entertainment value for us programmers who are seeing this.

Oddly enough, I thought the old interface was very hard to use -- it was very 1995. It needed an update... just not this one.

on December 3, 2006 07:08 PM
# Bryan Price said:

I'm looking at this on Firefox 2.0.

Craptastic is pretty much how I would describe. I get asked for a zip code, *but I don't have a text box to type in!*

OK, I just tried this with IE7 since I've heard that's what Yahoo is pushing these days. It wants me to install a plug in where the file description and the company are showing as the default project TODO:s. Am I going to allow that to run? You bet your pink little arse I'm not!

At least in IE7 I am getting *something* under My TV. I see now, it's just the major networks. I signed in under my name (I automatically signed in with Firefox it seems) and I get the same behavior. In fact, I still can't even type in my zip code with IE7.

Yep, this is spectacularly craptastic.

on December 3, 2006 09:14 PM
# miles said:

@joe, re: sign-in obsessive
a few things to try:
- check the remember me box when signing in -- that won't kill you cookies when closing the browser window
- look at you account settings to see how long a session is good for. 24 hours is an option (default?).
Between the 2, I sign into yahoo twice per day -- once at work, once on my home computer.

on December 3, 2006 09:24 PM
# Joe Hunkins said:

Joe Z is right on - Yahoo's login fetish costs them in many ways.

Why did Yahoo's usual "community friendly approaches" fail here? It's easy to get instant feedback and it should *always* be done with significant site changes.

on December 3, 2006 09:26 PM
# Erik Schwartz said:

My comments were not intended as a bash, merely as constructive criticism.

First of all, I commend Y! for having open comments on a corporate blog. It shows that Y! stands behind what they build and values the input of the general public.

The problem with the new t.y.c is it was not designed focusing on solving the problem that most people who use the site have. The HUGE majority of people use the site to find out what time and channel the TV shows (or movies) they ALREADY like are on. They want that data as fast as they can. If you fail to meet that core need, anything else you try to do is meaningless.

I understand there are pressures from advertisers to increase inventory with community features and to build collaborative discovery systems to find new programming and so on: If you can't tell the user if tonight's episode of "Law and Order" is a rerun or not faster than they can find out from your competeitors then you're going to piss people off and bleed audience.

FWIW, I didn't really notice that tv.y.c got screwed up until someone who used to be in the entertainment group (back when there were just 6-8 of us) emailed me. The reason I didn't notice is that I tend not to go to Y! TV, I get my listing on my customized TV module on My Y!. The TV Listings module on My was not "upgraded". It still tells me very quickly what's on, which channel and if it's a repeat.

on December 4, 2006 08:17 AM
# Matt said:

I have TiVO (will be building a MythTV cluster soon to replace it), and hence don't use YahooTV. But the apparent lexical sorting, redesign of the interface to make the primary function squeeze into a small fraction of the available space, and other changes are serious problems, and this should have been anticipated. Meanwhile, Yahoo's login fetish continues apace. (And no, having the option to sign in once a day is NOT ENOUGH! I want to be able to say "Yahoo is for things whose security I don't care about enough to require more than a persistent cookie" and have Yahoo accept that.)

Meanwhile, the serious problems with Groups haven't been fixed, I still can't sync Calendar/Addressbook with my Palm unless I pollute my desktop box with Windoze, and folks at Yahoo seem to think that adding mandatory AJAX to everything is going to win them hearts and minds. (Adding it to Yahoo Mail meant that I had to downgrade to an interface that didn't allow me to use "Report Spam".)

Honestly, if Google's RSS aggregator didn't massively suck, I'd probably never set eyeballs on a Yahoo page again. But MyYahoo works almost half as well at that as something I'd code up at home on a spare weekend, if the phrase "spare weekend" didn't evoke howls of laughter...so I'm still around, at least until that service also gets a mandatory upgrade, or goes into another period where it doesn't notice RSS changes for a week at a time.

Accepting comments on the company blog is a good PR move. But Yahoo's been dropping the ball an awful lot lately, and PR will only get them so far.

on December 5, 2006 02:47 AM
# Jim Turner said:

One can only wonder if the "shake up" at Yahoo was for this very type of faux pas. It's time to start thinking ahead, and being a player again.

on December 6, 2006 11:22 AM
# Dan said:

I completely agree... Does anyone have contact information to a Yahoo department that would hear our plight? I'd be happy to send a letter! If only they'd return Yahoo! TV to its normality before this crap got confused as moving forward for the best.

on December 6, 2006 01:48 PM
# Art Zawodny said:

Zawodny's Law ... I love it!! :)

on December 13, 2006 11:13 AM
# Kiyo said:
on December 13, 2006 03:54 PM
# Tom said:

Jeremy, I don't know if you'll see this since I'm commenting on a post now several weeks old. It's my general impression that the new Yahoo TV service really isn't any more functional now than it was when you wrote about it back on December 3. How about a followup post from you on this topic?

Negative comments continue to accumulate - but I have no sense of dialog between the public and Yahoo.

on January 22, 2007 07:26 PM
# Markus said:

Fantastic article covering some points I really needed. Thanks

on March 29, 2007 09:38 AM
# Joe said:

http://us.mg1.mail.yahoo.com/dc/optout?script=no

This fixes a bunch of the new yahoo shit that no one in their right mind wants. Opt-out, and POOF everything is working again

on September 17, 2008 02:26 PM
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