Yesterday I noticed how many notifications I got from these two apps. And I wondered – rather than disable notifications what if I just removed the apps? Would I care? Notice? I enjoy both services but will now need to access these via laptop which means once or twice per day.
So I did. And now let’s see if my world is a little less cluttered, a bit less noisy.
Like many people I have multiple calendars – I have two work calendars (don’t ask) and a personal calendar. This isn’t that weird when you think about the fact that you get a calendar with Gmail and often at work you’re forced¹ to use some form of Microsoft Office (either on-premise with Exchange or online with Office 365). And maybe you are an advanced family and have a shared calendar somewhere as well – although this scenario is not common, most families still use a whiteboard or post-its on the fridge.
The problem occurs when you want to schedule time with someone – you have a single view of your calendars thanks to iPhone, Android, etc. but you cannot see their free/busy since a) it’s often not shared and b) it’s split between multiple services.
Hailstorm – in 1999 we worked on a variety of cloud services (we didn’t have that term yet) one of which was MyCalendar. The idea behind MyCalendar was that it would pull the data from each of my different calendaring services and make them into one. That way anyone wanting to schedule time with me could see my free/busy (with permissions of course) and schedule appropriately. Hailstorm was a great idea canceled too soon². But here we are in 2018 and we still have not solved this scenario.
There are a few services out there that try to help:
Doodle – this is more for group scheduling and isn’t very useful with how people really want to schedule time.
Calendly – great service when you need to ask someone to book time with you – but it still doesn’t work for *their* calendar service which is what is needed. I pay for this service especially as I interview a lot of people and need to not spend time emailing back and forth asking for open times.
AI services like x.ai – these are tackling the problem a different way i.e. having an AI bot handle your multiple calendars and the rigamarole of emailing back/forth. These are basically trying to replace a bad system (calendars) with a bad solution (human assistants). Opinions vary on how well these assistants really do; I’ve seen things work well and I’ve seen conversations go off the rails.
Why doesn’t someone build Hailstorm’s MyCalendar. It’s a simpler problem to tackle today then it was in 1999. Most calendars are online. Most export free/busy. Many can be integrated today using OAuth as witnessed by Doodle and Calendly. Given that I am paying for Calendly now I’d be happy to pay for a service in which I could tell people “my calendar URL is here, grab whatever time you need” and it just worked.
¹ No one chooses to use Office – it’s a decision that is steeped in corporate lore and at this point it’s a barnacle. If you start a new company you might get to use a decent collaborative tool but if you have an existing large business it’s too late, you’re trapped in the 90’s forever.
² Hailstorm was canceled for many reasons. We pitched an ad-based business model but Microsoft wasn’t ready to accept that concept; to be fair Google was still a year or two away so who knew it could work? Many teams were also worried about canibalization e.g. Exchange worried about lost sales if we did Email in the cloud. Oops, turns out that was going to happen anyway. And there were legitimate concerns that we couldn’t actually build and operate the services we were promising.
A fine post by Tren Griffin this morning about Netflix’ Reed Hastings. A very important quote:
“We are investing heavily in [machine learning] because we want it to be: you turn on Netflix and there’s a row, there’s like four choices, and you just want to watch them all. To get to that consistent view is where we are targeting.”
If this is true, and I believe that Netflix (and Amazon) are using machine learning, why are the recommendations always terrible?
I’ve seen a stat that shows people spend more than 20 minutes daily looking for things to watch. Anecdotally no one has ever told me they liked the Netflix (or Amazon) searching or browsing ability. And of course if you add in a mix of people e.g. Mom, Dad, Kid 1, Kid 2, then the matrix of options and bad choices appears infinite.
A few thoughts on why these brilliant minds and powerful machines are failing:
The tools being used seem to believe that because you liked or bought one thing, you probably want another. How often do you buy something from Amazon, e.g. a broom, only for the rest of the Internet to scream “you probably need a second, maybe third, maybe fourth broom!!!” And you know what? I never do. If I bought something, it was fairly unique. And I won’t need it again for another many years. The same goes for movies – if I watched a RomCom, odds are good I will watch something different next time.
Sample size is small, cost of making a choice is high. I might watch one or two shows a week on Netflix. I simply don’t have 4+ hours available. So each movie I select is a big deal – it can’t suck. Contrast this with YouTube which has a ton of content and the “buy in” is very small. If I select a bad 8-minute clip it won’t matter much. And I can select 10 of these things (and thereby provide 10 signals to Google) vs. 1 to Netflix.
For some strange reason Netflix doesn’t seem to take abandonment into account. “Hey, you watched Vikings, I bet you want some more Norse-y stuff”. Well no, I started ‘The Vikings’ and found it unwatchable.
I’m sure Netflix and Amazon are both working hard on this – I wonder sometimes if they ever leave the office and just watch how people really interact with content. Book recommendations are even worse if that’s possible so this isn’t a unique issue.
Ten years goes by awfully fast! We were living in Zurich at the time and for some reason I needed to fly back to Seattle for some set of meetings or another. At the time I didn’t know enough about Microsoft flight policies to simply book a business class flight and not worry about any of the details. Later I flew 600k miles on BA from Paris to Seattle.