Why Is the World Series Unavailable for Streaming?

Dear Fox Sports & MLB,

I tried to watch the World Series tonight, but it seems you haven’t yet figured out a way to monetize a live stream of a World Series game and instead have chosen to black it out online. This, despite the fact that you broadcast this same game for free on TV.

It’s 2012. If this is the best you can do, you’re going to have a really bad time over the next five years. If you need any advice, feel free to get in touch.

Sincerely,
the Internet

Usability vs. Advertising

Is good design compatible with advertising? A quick jaunt through some of the Internet’s most popular web and mobile properties would suggest the answer is mostly no.

At best, ads are relevant, tasteful and relegated to an easy-to-ignore location such as the right-hand gutter or a banner above the content. Too often, though, the web ads result in pages that look like this:

As product designers, we obsess over crafting great UX flows and pixel-perfect designs while ignoring incoherent blinking mess that will soon populate those innocuous-looking gray placeholder boxes on our mockups. There are no “user stories” that read: “As a Celtics fan, I want to read a summary of tonight’s game, so I should be able to see a banner ad for auto insurance.”

Instead, we trust that our users are complicit in our bargain: a free service in exchange for the subpar user experience. However, three trends threaten to shake up this bargain in ways that should concern any company that depends on trading usability for revenue.

1. There is Nowhere to Hide a Belly Fat Ad on a 4” Screen

On a smartphone, every pixel is a valuable asset. On the best mobile applications, the density of useful information is extremely high. Put another way, the “usability cost” of each ad is much greater on a mobile device than in a desktop browser.

2. Users Expect More

As the Internet has evolved from a series of mostly static content pages to a collection of interconnected dynamic apps, users have been trained to expect better, more thoughtful design and fewer mindless advertisements. The whole community has supported this trend by heaping praise and/or VC funding into consumer web/mobile companies without a sustainable business model.

3. Facebook’s IPO Will Change the Users > Revenue Equation

Conventional wisdom dictates a consumer web startup should “focus on users first, monetization second.” Once a service has millions of users with great engagement, the logic goes, there will be many opportunities to monetize these users. To bridge the gap between users and business model, venture capital steps in to pay the salaries of the awesome designers and programmers that make these cool apps possible.

This equation has been great for users and for design talent, because it allows visionary product people to hire great teams and implement awesome apps without worrying how to pay for it all (see Path, Instagram).

For investors, this equation has worked out OK, insofar as great design teams and/or engaged users make attractive acquisition targets for the gatekeepers of consumer-technology’s four proven cash machines: Google (search advertising), Apple (devices), Microsoft (desktop software), and Zynga/Facebook (naive stock market speculators).

However, if Facebook’s attempts to monetize its users continues to fall short (which seems inevitable due to the incredibly lofty expectations set by its opening price), it’s probable that this gravy train will dry up.


In short, users don’t want ads and are being trained to expect great user experiences for free, especially on mobile devices. This unsustainable trend has so far been supported by acquisition and speculation, but Facebook’s failure to meet expectations will reduce investor appetite for funding products with no business model.

In my next post, I’ll explore several potential ways out of this trap.

Disruptive Design

We often think of market trends as being driven by disruptive technologies.

Cloud computing is fueled by pervasive broadband networks and commodity server hardware. Smartphones are driven by low-cost microprocessors and high-speed wireless networks. Big data is created by massive online datasets and new distributed computing frameworks.

But while new technology is required, it is usually great design that disrupts markets.

It’s easy to think of examples. The iPhone certainly wasn’t the first smartphone, but its design reshaped the wireless industry. Server-side applications were nothing new, but it took Salesforce.com show that this method could be used to deliver a superior user experience. Dropbox made online backups work for users, rather than the other way around. Ruby/Rails, Python/Django, Backbone.js/Node.js, and MongoDB are doing the same for developers; when’s the last time you heard of a non-legacy product team developing in .NET or Oracle?

It is fun to think of other markets that have yet to be impacted by disruptive design, despite the required technology being in place. TV is a great example. Many TVs now ship with microprocessors and Internet connectivity, but in most ways the experience of watching cable is the same now as it was 20 years ago.

Similarly, utilities have spent much of the past five years installing smart meters on the sides of houses across the country. Yet for most Americans the process of consuming electricity is exactly the same as it was before this technology was installed.

At Gray Duck Labs, we love working on projects with disruptive design potential. Have an idea? Get in touch!

Lift Off

Today I’m excited to announce the official launch of Gray Duck Labs.

For the past six years, I’ve worked as a strategy consultant in the technology and telecom industry. I have been lucky to work with great colleagues and amazing clients across the industry, but what I enjoyed most about my time as a consultant was helping organizations adapt their products to take advantage of changing market conditions.

I started Gray Duck Labs so I could focus exclusively on developing these products, from concept to pitch, pitch to product, and product to profit.

Gray Duck Labs will work with talented designers, engineers and product managers to push their ideas to the next level, whatever that may be. We plan to work with teams of all shapes and sizes, from early-stage startups to Fortune 500 product groups. Depending on the situation, we will provide advisory services, invest in ideas, or just lend a hand when cool folks need a PowerPoint ninja to get them through next week’s meeting.

We already have some great projects in the works, and are always interested in doing more. Drop us a line today to find out how we can work together!

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