Jed Cohen

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Privacy – Security versus Simplicity

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flickr. from rpongsaj.

I have two Twitter accounts.  I have two Twitter accounts because on Twitter there is no distinction between public and private.  So if I want to restrict something to just my friends, I can’t.  It’s all or nothing.  I know that chances are you don’t really truly care what I tweet about.  But considering how easy it is to dig up information about someone, I think it’s prudent that I reserve a portion of my online presence for just those who know me in real life. Of course the primary difference between my two accounts may just be whether or not I share what I ate for lunch, but I think that’s okay.

For Twitter, the privacy feature is simple.  Off or on?  Public or private?  Open or closed.  Facebook, on the other hand, isn’t so simple.  I have complete flexibility in terms of who can see what content and if they can comment on it.  I can lock down as much of my profile as I want, or I can let anyone with an internet connection take a look.  It’s up to me (and you).

Privacy on Facebook is complex.  Then again Facebook itself is complex (at least when compared to Twitter), so this makes sense.  As a result, Facebook has a tool that lets you look at your profile as if you were someone else:

Privacy has to be at the core of any internet service.  Users need to feel protected otherwise they probably aren’t going to want to participate.  They may not always recognize how protected they are (consider the modern day urban legend of embarrassing pictures on Facebook costing someone their job).  But that sense of security and trust remains important, even if it’s only in the minds of the users – although it should be forefront in the minds of the service providers as well.  We don’t even have to go very far back for examples.  The Google Buzz launch.  Facebook’s own recent changes to privacy settings.  Concerns about Foursquare leading to robbery.

But as social sharing services grow more and more complex, do privacy controls need to be scaled to match?  If Twitter decides to add more features, will they have move away from the private/public dichotomy and make things more complicated?  And what happens when another social platform rises up to join Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in what will then be the “big four” of the social networking space (insert your location based service of preference here)?

Obviously I don’t know.  Maybe there’s a third model for privacy on social media, one we haven’t even considered yet.  I guess I’ll be dual-tweeting till that happens.  What about you? How do you deal with the different privacy settings across the social platforms you use?

Written by Jed

March 27th, 2010 at 7:47 am

Posted in facebook,social media,twitter

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How I Would Change: Netflix

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Let’s call this the start of a semi-regular series.  In each of these entries, I’ll take a look at some product that I interact with and point out a few ways I would improve it.  Almost like I was a product manager at the company.  Except I’m not so as always these entires represent only my opinion and not the opinion of anyone I’m associated with.

I’m going to assume you know what Netflix is.  If you don’t, I’d recommend checking out their website and then coming back to finish this post.

I’m going to break Netflix down into the two services they offer – rental DVDs via mail and streaming movies via the internet.  We can’t really change the DVDs via the mail that much.  You could get more disks at once for the same money.  Netflix could stock more disks or build more distribution facilities, but those wouldn’t really translate into benefits for consumers (since disks are delivered next day anyway).  Or they could open physical stores, but we’ve seen that and it hasn’t exactly been working so well.

But we can improve the streaming experience.  And we can do it in a few ways.

Shift control away from the computer.

In order to stream Netflix content to your television, you’ll need an Xbox 360PS 3WiiRokuBoxee Box, or some other kind of streaming device.  But most of the time watching movies on your TV doesn’t actually start there – it starts on your computer.  This is where you add content to your “instant queue,” which is the main pipeline of content from Netflix to your device.

But what if you’re not at your computer?  What if you’re at your TV and you want to watch something that’s not in your instant queue?  Then you need to get up, walk to your computer, search for what you’re looking for, and add it to your queue.  Not exactly ideal.  So let’s add the ability to modify your instant queue from your device.

Yes, this presents problems.  You’d have to input text into a search field using your device’s remote.  This means a lot of arrowing around a keyboard on your screen to type in a title, but a predictive search option will help with that.  And given the convergence between television and computing that devices like the Boxee Box are fostering, you might see more QWERTY keyboards coming to remote controls sooner rather than later.  In addition, the rise of the smartphone means that Netflix could create a mobile application to let users interact with their account and alter their instant queue.

As streaming continues to grow, Netflix will need to shift the management of the instant queue away from the computer and to where people already are – their couches (and maybe their pockets too).

Redesign with the family in mind.

The average US household had 2.59 people in it in 2000.  And I can bet you that at least a portion of those 2.59 people did not all want to watch the same thing at the same time.  So the second major change that Netflix needs to make is to allow multiple family members to establish their own identity within one household account.  Netflix addresses this somewhat with profiles, which are sub-accounts that let you set up individual DVD queues and allocate a set number of disks to each queue at a time, but they don’t translate into the watch instantly queue.  By establishing profiles for the watch instantly queue, Netflix would bring an additional level of customization to their streaming service.

At the same time, this would add a layer of complexity, which can translate into user frustration.  As such, Netflix might have to redesign aspects of its user interface (to change profiles) and device registration process (perhaps to specify a default profile).  There are difficulties with this, given the fact that most of the devices people use to stream Netflix are made by other companies.  But building this functionality into the streaming experience now will provide them with a leg up as more and more people shift away from traditional cable/satellite towards digital platforms.

And for a company whose revenue stream is based entirely on subscriptions, that can’t be a bad thing.

So that’s what I would do to improve upon Netflix (which is already pretty great).  But I’m curious – what would you do?  Leave a comment to let me know!

Written by Jed

March 12th, 2010 at 5:52 pm