Archive for the 'fun' Category

Ticketek vouchers: Buying show tickets should be fun

After the number of shows Mike and I saw last year (at last count, it was nine, ten if you count the second time we saw Priscilla), someone very thoughtfully gave us Ticketek vouchers of a significant denomination for Christmas. Sadly, this year there has been less we have wanted to see, and as a result we decided we wanted to spend the vouchers on going to see the closing night of Priscilla (that would be time number four). You see (and this is part of the user experience problems with the vouchers) we have to use the vouchers within six months, or they become worthless (never mind that rock tours last literally years, and shows run for months, nor that Ticketek has the money for the vouchers whether we use them or not, we have to find something we want to see within six months). This limitation means that we have not been able to save the vouchers for something we really wanted to see, and thus considerably reduced their value to us as a product.

The situation got worse, however, when we tried to spend the vouchers. I read the terms and conditions and discovered to my dismay that rather than book online (as we did for each and every one of the events we went to last year), we had to use the vouchers in a Ticketek agency (most of which are open during working hours). There should be no technological reason for this, as the vouchers appear to have unique numbers on them (and other vendors use online vouchers all the time), but nonetheless this is the way they must be used. Fortunately, there is an agency in a music store not far from where Mike works, so he went at lunch time to try and buy the VIP class tickets we wanted for the closing night of Priscilla. The agency worker told him that the VIP class tickets were sold out, so he phoned me asking what I wanted to do. Being somewhat sceptical, I looked up the VIP class tickets on the Ticketek website and found I could purchase them there. After a little to-ing and fro-ing where the Ticketek agent suggested I try and purchase the tickets online “because I wouldn’t be able to” and me saying I was only going to risk that if the agent would pay for the tickets if they went through, the agent phoned Ticketek and found out that in fact there were still VIP tickets available, and we might be able to use the vouchers to buy them through the agency at the theatre, but that he did not have access to them from his system. It turns out (after a significant amount of running around on Mike’s part) that you can use vouchers to purchase VIP tickets from the venue, but by the time Mike got this far there were only single seats left. Maybe we’ll see Priscilla again in New Zealand.

There are a number of usability problems with this scenario, affecting different people in the equation:

  • The six month timeframe can significantly limit the use of the vouchers to recipients due to long touring seasons and short-ish pre-season availability of tickets
  • Though it seems to me that there is no technological reason why the vouchers should not be used online, they can only be used in person, making it much more difficult in today’s “always on” world to actually purchase tickets with them.
  • The agencies where the tickets are sold do not necessarily have access to all kinds of tickets, so the vouchers can not necessarily be used to purchase the tickets you would like.
  • The information screen that the agencies have does not appear to indicate that they don’t have access to tickets (as opposed to tickets being unavailable) clearly enough — customers can be misled into believing that the show of their choice is sold out, where all they really needed to do was go to the venue (though that could be difficult if the venue is in another city).

So, while the Ticketek vouchers are a lovely gift, they have proven significantly difficult to actually use to buy tickets, which makes the process of using them less like fun and more like hard work. Ticketek could significantly improve the experience of using their vouchers by extending the period for which they are valid, and making them available to use online. In the meantime, does anyone have any suggestions for Ticketek-sold shows that are coming up? Mike and I have three months left to spend our vouchers.

Google Maps: A classic case of value added

Google maps as maps just aren’t that great. They don’t include a scale, and lifestyle landmarks like schools and gyms are not marked. For Melbourne, the local knowledge that goes into streetdirectory.com.au makes that a much better map, and whereis gives better directions with more options.

However, Google Maps is something special for four reasons:

  1. In the bad old days, many map publishers (for example Wises in New Zealand) required you to pay to look at their online maps. Once Google Maps was launched, that business model no longer worked for them because people are unlikely to pay for what they can get for free. So now, not only can you look at Google Maps for free, but many other maps as well.
  2. The integration into search results, while it is cross-promotion for Google, is also really useful when you’re looking up a business. For me, living in Melbourne without a car, it is important to know a business I select is near the transport network, and the recent integration of maps into search results lets me do that.
  3. It’s everywhere. It might not be so easy to find a really good maps site in another country, especially if that country has a different national language or uses another character encoding. Tony points out that it is even good in Japan’s notoriously complex address system.
  4. The thing that really makes Google Maps stand out is the photographs. While I agree with Sara that they are a little bit scary, I also really enjoyed looking at the places I have lived, and worked, and the places that are important to me. I also like all the weird and wonderful artworks that have come out of Google looking down from the sky at us, like the man shaped lake in Brazil. Some things seen by Google’s eyes in the sky are beautiful, and some of them are odd, surprising, and ultimately controversial, but it certainly has brought a different view of earth to the average internet-connected human being.

Each of those four things is value added over a traditional map, and even over many other online maps — they give the user that little something extra that makes it worthwhile coming back. For me, the real selling point is the photos, though: they take something that is a tool, and essentially boring, and make it fun.

LibraryThing: Fun, but is it useful?

I’ve used LibraryThing for a while now, but today I used it to set up a public catalogue of books about user experience that I like (I will keep updating this catalogue as I read more interesting books).

LibraryThing is a piece of software that I find quite compelling — one of the most compelling out of all the ones we are using for 23 Things, in fact. There are other pieces of software that do similar things, for example Shelfari*, but there is something about LibraryThing that I really like.

I don’t believe anyone I know will upload a list of every book they own (though it has a bulk upload function, if you do keep a list for insurance purposes), and I don’t believe anyone in the world will upload every book they have ever read. There are a couple of things about LibraryThing that are just bad usability, like not allowing users to rate a book when they add it in the simple add interface, and not being able to see reviews in the catalogue interface. I have no desire to talk to strangers about books, so the social functions are completely wasted on me.

So why do I like it so much? Well, part of the reason is because it is fun. The personal stats that let you know how obscure your reading taste is are interesting, and the unsuggester is pretty hilarious (and reasonably accurate). Terms like “special sauce” recommender might technically be poorly usable (because they require a specific cultural context to be understood), but they make me smile when I read them. Now, having fun can make for a very positive user experience, but it is dangerous to rely on fun (not everyone would consider it “fun” to try and push up their obscurity rating, for example), and fun has a limited lifespan — to really engage people, it pays to be fun and useful**.

If you have a good reading community, and if you have no reason (such as providing a reading list) to share a catalogue of books then LibraryThing might not be that useful. Having said that, when you have uploaded a few books (and most people will think of their favourite books first) LibraryThing gives pretty good recommendations — for example when I was creating my reading list, it suggested a couple of books I had been meaning to add and forgotten about. The Suggester is really worth a try — and the unsuggester could potentially broaden my horizons.

I don’t know that LibraryThing makes life any simpler, but it is pretty usable, somewhat fun, and it certainly doesn’t make life any worse.

*Shefari put me off because when I tried it it was slow and only worked properly in Internet Explorer. These things have changed, but I haven’t really been back. This is a classic example of how one bad experience can put a user off for life.

**Not everything can be or should be fun, but for a service designed around a recreational activity, for example recreational reading, a little bit of fun can be a good thing, if it is done right.

Update 03 October 2007: A couple of my commenters have pointed out their frustrations with LibraryThing, notably that there is a 200 book limit on a free account, and that certain profile attributes that would be nice (like hand picking favourite authors, rather than relying on catalogued books) are quite difficult. These limitations are not things that would have occurred to me, but I am a casual user who is just looking for recommendations (and a researcher who is interested in recommender systems), and my commenters are librarians. The moral of this story is that if a system has many usable feature but some features let the side down, or if the system doesn’t offer what a regular user might consider to be a reasonable feature set, or if it depends on being “fun” to create a good user experience, it is doomed to create a poor user experience for at least some, if not many of its users.


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