News You Could Do Without

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
benefits, features, users

emusic, hulu, imeem

If You're Taking Away Features From Users, Don't Tell Them It's For Their Own Benefit

from the that's-called-lying dept

Sometimes, I really wonder if companies think their users are stupid. There are times when they treat them that way. My favorite examples are when companies are taking away features or raising prices, and claiming (somehow) that it's for the benefit of those customers/users. For example, when eMusic raised prices and disabled features it put up a blog post trying to spin it as a positive, claiming "more of the good stuff!" Yes, at a higher price, with fewer features, but why let that get in the way of claiming good news?

The latest example is online music streaming site imeem. The company has struggled of late under absolutely draconian terms forced on it by the record labels. Rumors held that the company came close to going out of business until Warner Music agreed to renegotiate its suffocating deal. Still, there are many who question how the company can survive without a drastic change in business models. But, taking away features from customers with little warning and pretending it's a good thing isn't exactly the best way to go about things. Clay Shirky points us to the news that imeem is removing features for users to upload videos or pictures without even offering a "download to save" option. But, even worse, the blog post announcing the change tries to play this up as good news again, saying that it's all about "simplifying imeem" as part of an effort to enhance the site.

Sure, simplifying a site can be a good thing -- but unilaterally removing features that people use, with little warning, isn't really simplifying. You can simplify without removing features. If you have to remove features, for whatever reason, why not at least admit the truth: it's not for consumer's benefit, but for some other reason, and you realize it sucks for many users.

In other words, sound human, rather acting like your users are morons. If you want to see a company that's actually done a good job of this, look at Hulu. While we think it's ridiculous that the company caved in to content providers and tried (and failed) to block a specific browser (Boxee) from viewing its content, at least Hulu's CEO was upfront and honest about the fact that it sucked:
The maddening part of writing this blog entry is that we realize that there is no immediate win here for users. Please know that we take very seriously our role of representing users such that we are able to provide more and more content in more and more ways over time. We embrace this activity in ways that respect content owners' -- and even the entire industry's -- challenges to create great content that users love. Yes, it's a complex matter. A tough mission, and a never-ending one, but one we are passionately committed to.

For those Boxee users reading this post, we understand and appreciate that you're likely to tell us that we're nuts. Please know that we do share the same interests and won't stop innovating in support of the bigger mission.
eMusic, imeem and others would be wise to take note. Taking features away and pretending your customers are stupid enough to believe it's for their benefit isn't likely to fly.

Reader Comments

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  1. identicon
    Hmm, 29 Jun 2009 @ 1:28pm


    I think it's interesting that these companies are headed downhill in a hurry AFTER the labels have had their way with them. Do these companies even have control over the content of their websites anymore? I highly doubt it's the fault is that of these innovative companies. The recording industry seems to be impeding progress on all fronts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2009 @ 1:30pm

    A bit off topic, but I wonder why some enterprising person hasn't figured out a way to modify Boxee so that it reports itself as a different browser? Or why Boxee hasn't partnered with a browser (like Firefox or Opera) to bundle their browser (optimized for Boxee's hardware and a television display) such that Hulu can no longer block Boxee. It would seem to be in Boxee's best interests to make sure their product could do the one thing most of their customers will obviously use it for the most.

    And, yes, companies DO think their users are that stupid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Rebel Freek (profile), 29 Jun 2009 @ 1:36pm

    Re: Interesting

    Why should these other companies make money while the record labels arent?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2009 @ 1:44pm

    Go somewhere else

    Incredimail did the same sort of thing a few years ago. They had you do an "update" to the software and in doing so, you removed the spam filter that came with it. (Even in the paid versions of it that happened.) THEN they offered you the great opportunity to pay a monthly fee to put the spam filter back in. (Supposedly a new and improved feature.)

    Writing to them to complain about them removing a feature in your already paid for software resulted in a response that said that since the free version also included the spam filter, you hadn't actually paid for that feature and they could remove it because they felt like it.

    So much for Incredimail. Stop doing business with these sorts of entities and don't look back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    KefkaticFanatic, 29 Jun 2009 @ 1:47pm

    Somebody needs to watch more Futurama.

    "Good news everyone!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    minijedimaster (profile), 29 Jun 2009 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Re: Interesting

    since when are the labels not making money? Last I checked they've been making money hand over fist on all of the music lovers out there for the last half century.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Mel, 29 Jun 2009 @ 2:01pm

    It makes them look stupid, as if they don't understand anything about their service. It doesn't look as if they think I'm stupid.

    I would still use a site that confessed to needing that feature removed, because at least they understand that's what I use it for (and are nice enough to explain the reasons why). But when they assure me that the change is better, even though I like and use the feature and they're not replacing it?

    If it's something like imeem, I would no longer use it at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Blatant Coward, 29 Jun 2009 @ 2:49pm

    Meanwhile In Luchenbach...

    "If You're Taking Away Features From Users, Don't Tell Them It's For Their Own Benefit" cause that is a copy right of Time Warner Cable, Yeeeeeeehawww!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Felix Pleșoianu, 29 Jun 2009 @ 10:00pm

    I wrote it before, but it's worth repeating: companies don't think their users are stupid. They want users to be stupid. How else will they sell enough of their crap to break even?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2009 @ 10:31pm

    Re: Re: Interesting

    This shouldn't be about record labels per se, it should be about artists and consumers. If record labels can't innovate they should go out of business. These companies are providing a service, record labels are providing laws that benefit no one but themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2009 @ 10:32pm

    Re: Re: Interesting

    Because record labels aren't providing a useful service that benefits consumers. No one is stopping the record labels from innovating but instead of doing useful work they spend their time lobbying congress. No, they should not make money if they don't want to provide something useful to society.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2009 @ 11:44pm

    Re: Re: Interesting

    No one is stopping record labels from making money but we shouldn't allow them to make money through government intervention. If they want to make money they have to compete with the free market, they can't do rely on the government to hold their hand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Sapphire, 30 Jun 2009 @ 5:10am

    not good enough

    Why don't these people think these things through eh? Have a sustainable business model to begin with and build up from there. The result- you don't have to strip features away from users and users stay happy. Not good enough imeem!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2009 @ 6:13am

    I for one, don't think Hulu has done enough. I understand the position and am not directly mad at them but what the hell. We had something that was working and then content providers go and shit all over it. Let's see the cost benefit ratio on this...make content available over Hulu and make advertising revenue...seems to be good when the option is don't make content available and send your business to China that is more than happy to host your content for free while paying you nothing. Do they just sit in board rooms all day thinking about ways to screw themselves and then complain that their assholes hurt?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    another mike (profile), 30 Jun 2009 @ 10:39am


    wonder why some enterprising person hasn't figured out a way to modify Boxee so that it reports itself as a different browser?

    That was actually one of the first things Boxee did was edit the agent so they looked like one of the approved browsers. The content providers still weren't satisfied.

    Firefox lets you full-screen what's playing, and I think that looks good enough for me, so the whole siege was really quite irrelevant and distracting. Especially for Mac-only software, which Boxee was at the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2009 @ 11:02am

    This isn't exactly new. Companies in ALL fields of business have been doing this for years. "For your convenience" and "to serve you better" have long been code for "we're taking away something that you liked but which is expensive or difficult for us". Is there anybody who hasn't received a notice saying something like "To serve you better, we are closing the branch at Main and 4th"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    bshock, 30 Jun 2009 @ 11:34am

    sure, it's maddening, but that's the way it works

    Radical advocates of Capitalism never seem to admit that their system depends on (among other things) accurate information flow.

    If Company X sells shoes that cause corns and Company Y sells shoes that don't, Company Y should outsell Company X and emerge as a winner in the marketplace. But that can only occur if consumers know the benefits of buying from Company Y.

    These days, just about every major company has realized the benefits of controlling -- or at least muddying -- information flow.

    Company X starts with a blank claim that its shoes are the best of the market. If word-of-mouth trends towards the idea that Company X shoes cause corns, Company X has endless responses, none of them true:

    -- There is no scientific proof that Company X shoes cause corns. See the independent studies (that we paid for) which confirm this assertion?
    -- Corns? This is a lie told by the Liberal Media.
    -- Company Y's shoes actually cause corns, or worse.
    -- Even if Company X shoes cause corns, we have indendent studies (again, that we paid for) showing that corns are beneficial.

    And so on. Company X merely needs a sufficiently large, compliant tap into the media and an ongoing, aggressive spin campaign. If they keep up the disinformation long enough and in sufficient quantity, public opinion may very well end up supporting them.

    So of course companies are going to crap on your shoes and call it "Shinola." They've got a very good chance of making you buy it.

    And even if you don't, there's always your children, who believe anything they see on tv.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2009 @ 8:25pm


    Exactly. You hear marketing people talk about demographics, but there's really only one demographic they care about: people with more dollars than sense!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Radio Sausalito, 6 Aug 2009 @ 3:12pm

    Don't want to hate emusic, but they give us no choice!

    We have ended our long running relationship with eMusic based on their handling of the Sony price increase. Our price per song was doubled without notice. Imagine if a cell phone company doubled its per-minute charge - people would be outraged even if they did tell you! We requested that Emusic reinstate our prior plan but restrict access to the more expensive "new" mainstream content from Sony. All we wanted to have access to the same independent artists that caused us to stay with emusic for so long at the price we signed up for. Their response to each of our emails? A canned message talking about the reason for the price increase. I know others follow our suit and cancel their subscriptions. Only faced with a dwindling subscriber base will eMusic return to its once glorious haven for independent music lovers instead of taking on iTunes - a battle which it will assuredly loose.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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