Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Don't Do Me Any Favors

Netflix did me a favor. Or at least they said they did.

On Friday, I sent a movie back to Netflix. The replacement is arriving on Saturday, more than a week later -- because they did me a favor and sent me the first movie in my queue.

Because of the Memorial Day holiday, Netflix didn't receive my return until Tuesday. Then, they sent me the note above telling me that the top movie in my queue isn't available locally, so they're going to do me the favor of sending it from San Jose instead. But, not only does this movie still show as available "now", but every other movie in my queue also shows as available "now". I'd be perfectly happy with the second movie. Or the third. Or the eighth. But, instead, they did me a favor, so instead of receiving a movie on Wednesday, I'm supposed to get it on Saturday. (But, don't cry for me -- I don't have time to watch it anyway.)

I'm not saying that software designers shouldn't try and figure out what users want and help them out. Of course, they should. But, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are you helping your user? or yourself?
  • If you could ask the user what they want, what would they say? And would all users, or even almost all users, want the same thing?
For another example, my friend Mike Koss recently pointed out another annoying "favor". It's that wonderful Windows Desktop Clean-up Wizard that helps me out by nagging me that I have unused icons on my desktop. I never want to see it again! When they added the option to turn off the reminder (and buried it), did they consider whether they should just turn it off for everybody? Mike's post also adds his personal taxonomy of software annoyances and delights.