Stupid products: The Complete New Yorker

Periodically in the battle against customer-hostile software products, my energy flags. Then another product comes along that flagrantly traduces the bounds of decency, and I am reenergized. Today’s case in point: the Complete New Yorker. Boing Boing captures part of the problem with the product: its design on multiple DVDs makes it difficult to access content in any way but a straightforward chronology.

This is poor product design. One supposes that if the developers had actually thought about how customers might like to use a complete archive of some of the finest short writing of the 20th century, they would have identified the following use cases:

  1. Read whole issues in publication order
  2. Search for and read specific article
  3. Serendipitously flip through part (but not all) of the archive to see what catches your eye
  4. Search for information on topic spanning multiple years, e.g. automotive industry, Soviet Union and Russia, international terrorism)
  5. Read all items by a given contributor (e.g. James Thurber)

But the team inexplicably failed to anticipate the latter two uses of their product, which are not only completely predictable needs but also arguably represent the bulk of the value of an electronic collection. (Otherwise one might as well truck down to the local library and read the original issues in hardcover collections, the way we did back in the 1960s, or on microfilm the way we did in the 1970s and 1980s.)

Or, worse, they anticipated the customer requirement but ignored it, or argued that it wasn’t important. Which is essentially what the original complainant, Mister Jalopy, found out when he listened to a call in show with the project’s manager, Ed Klaris, also special counsel for the magazine:

…it was a decision… based on the product we decided to come out with, which was DVD’s. We wanted people to have similar experiences, instead of… and the experience we wanted them to have was this one, although I know it can be frustrating to go disc to disc, the way I viewed it is, when you are in a disc you can set your program to look just within that disc and there’s 500 issues in there. Oftentimes, you can spend an eternity just on a single disc…

In my business we call that a technology driven decision, rather than a customer driven decision. We also (at least the more enlightened of us) call it awfully damned condescending. “We know the experience we want you to have, so we’re going to close off all the other experiences you might think you want.” Codswallop.

And then to go over the top and reserve in the license agreement your right to eavesdrop on the private reading of your customers? And to share it with third parties? Oh, that’s more than merely adding insult to injury, and Mister Jalopy does a fine job of elaborating why in his post. And this isn’t even to mention the fact that the supposedly complete collection omits nine issues, eight of which come from 1989, the year of the fall of Communism.

Bottom line: I think I’ll skip it and recommend that others do the same. Perhaps those who own the beast will do the due diligence on what level of spying is actually performed by this product and give us an update. I am available for consulting for anyone who would care to try the experiment.