Any time a product is changed in a big way, there will be a certain percentage of loud users who don't like the change, but the product designers--usually--rightfully follow the same instincts that lead them to redesign in the first place, and the nay-sayers are (politely) ignored. I'm finally one of the nay-sayers!
I've been a happy and paying Pandora customer for years. I've discovered new bands, gone to unexpected concerts, and made unexpected friends at those concerts. It has affected my life consistently, positively, and non-trivially.
I'm just frustrated with "#NewPandora". There are basic requests and complaints that I have made and heard from other users year after year: What if we could make instrumental-only stations? Or vocal-only stations? What if we could add upvotes & downvotes to any song at any time, without having to wait for it to play? Stations tend to play 4-song blocks of similar music. What if we could see those blocks and skip over them if we don't like the aspects which chose them? What if we could pick and choose which Music Genome Project traits went into a station, allowing fine-tuned customization? What if we could scrobble our plays?
I'm not saying that any of these features necessarily should exist. Pandora is an admirably simple product. Obviously, if they implemented all (or even half) of the ideas in the above paragraph, it's likely that it would be a mess. Part of Pandora's beauty is that there aren't half a million things you can do. The "verbs" available have an attractive economy to them: you create stations. You upvote, you downvote. Sometimes you skip or snooze a song. That's it.
So what's the problem?
Over the past few years, I have seen Pandora roll out new projects with great fanfare. Pandora One. The desktop player. Mobile apps. And now "New Pandora". What bugs me is that they make huge deals out of inevitably expected changes, and then they don't iterate! The desktop player and mobile apps are still subject to almost the exact same flaws I experienced when I first started using them. Every time I pause the desktop player at the end of the day and come back tomorrow to resume, the track cuts off and I get a "Pandora is having trouble connecting to the internet, please click 'Retry' to try again" message. It's like clockwork. Why does it do that? Every time I want to move a song to a different station on the mobile app, I can't. It's not a feature of the Android app. Why can't I do that?
Instead we get New Pandora. Look, this is just a crotchety rant from an over-entitled user. Pandora doesn't owe me anything, and I know that. And New Pandora is great. You can click around the site without having to open new windows or wait for a flash loader to finish. But I still have to scramble to hit "Pause" when I open it while the desktop player is already going. And apparently now I can't bookmark stuff. They changed the meaning of the features: "Thumbs Up" doesn't just mean "this song is good for this station" anymore. It also (apparently) means "bookmark". That's not what I used bookmarks for. I used bookmarks when I heard a song that really resonated with me, that I wanted to check out later. Hell, sometimes I downvoted a song and then bookmarked it, because I liked it but it wasn't appropriate for the station! (On the mobile app, that's the closest you can get to "move to another station".) It wasn't broken--why did they try to fix it?
There are so many cool things Pandora could be doing with their product. If they had implemented just one of the inane features I listed above in the past however-many-years I've been a listener, I probably wouldn't feel the need to rant like this. But they just don't seem to be interested in really doing anything novel with their service. Instead they just want to keep obsessively polishing the same thing over and over again. I just don't get it.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Thursday, October 6, 2011
"As he liked to say, he lived at the intersection of technology and liberal arts."
-- Walt Mossberg, The Steve Jobs I Knew
I'm not an Apple guy. Never have been. I grew up in the age of the clunky DuoDock, not the hacker-beloved Apple II. Until a couple of months ago, I have never owned an Apple product, and I finally purchased one with great skepticism. iTunes, iPods, iPhones, iPads, Steve Jobs himself, and the whole cocaine-white Apple aesthetic have been frequent targets of mockery in my conversations with friends and colleagues for a long time.
If you had asked me yesterday evening, "How will you feel when Steve Jobs dies?", I would probably have answered with something like, "Well, I'd feel like Apple lost a great innovator." Jobs was never someone who I considered an inspiration for myself. Mostly I was just annoyed that I had to deal with his fan club.
A funny thing happened when he died, though.
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
When I heard that Steve Jobs died, I was sad. Mournful, even.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me get this out of the way right now: I am a total softie. I cry at movies (looking at you, Up--thanks, Steve) and sometimes at books, too. As I flipped through quotes, anecdotes, sound bites and artifacts from his life that rose up like crunchy leaves in an autumn zephyr, I was deeply moved. I literally shed a tear for the man. "Maybe it's just me," I thought, "or low blood sugar." But the more I saw of other people's commentary, the more I realized I wasn't the only one.
What was going on?
It's not like I knew the guy. I've never met him. I've never even seen him in the flesh! I had never been so emotionally moved by a celebrity's death before. So why the sorrow?
Emotions are usually too complex to draw concrete conclusions about them. I think that is true in this case. I don't presume to understand the vicissitudes of my own irrationality, but I believe that there is value in examining the mystery. I have no point to make: my goal is to explore, which tends to raise two questions for every answer it provides. I'm okay with that.
Emotions are driven by perspective.
"A walk outside in nature: something I can heartily recommend all the folk stoking up their teenage emotion tsunami while swamping [this site] with endless Steve tributes."
-- pseuds_corner, Hacker News discussion
Some conflict is inevitable in the wake of any event like this. Emotionally, we are all at different points in our lives. We are all different people, and different things resonate with us. The sorrow is mysterious by itself, but what about the ensuing backlash?
"I find the outpouring of grief repetitive at best and embarrassing at worst. It's the time of year for everyone to strut out their favourite Steve stories and anecdotes. Gotta tell everyone how you feel. ... I'm confident 99% of commenters didn't know Steve Jobs personally. If his death is difficult for them, it's a problem they themselves have created."
-- jarek, Hacker News discussion
Now there's an interesting perspective: is Steve Jobs' death a problem for me? No. I'm okay with feeling sad for a day or two. Consolation from friends is not required; my life has not been thrown off-balance in any way. Though its intensity is a surprise to me, I view my melancholy as a natural part of my existence, just like feeling upbeat after a good comedy film or reflective after a thought-provoking book.
So perhaps that's where wires are being crossed: I don't know many people who profess to have a problem processing Steve Jobs' death, but maybe the outpouring of grief is interpreted by the emotionally unaffected as an imposition.
Of course, it is an imposition, even if the solemn masses aren't explicitly asking for help. Social sites are filled with everyone's favorite Steve stories and anecdotes; it's impossible to ignore. If you're just not feeling the love, it's probably easy to feel excluded. I have felt that way with every other celebrity death. As my Twitter and Facebook feeds clogged with expressions of grief, I sighed with disdain and pointedly avoided comment.
There's an implied judgment in this conflict: you shouldn't feel that way, or at the very least, you shouldn't burden others with expressions of that feeling. We have accepted different answers to the question, "Is it reasonable--acceptable--to feel sorrow at the death of this person?"
It leads me to wonder: if I didn't feel this way about Steve Jobs--if I didn't understand--would I feel the same sense of flippancy or judgment? Would I be restraining myself from typing, "Just get over it, Apple fanboys"?
We rarely have perspective on our own perspectives. You'd need transparent eyeballs for a trick like that. Instead, preoccupation comes naturally to us, pre-packaged with an iniquity perfectly scaled to fit our situation.
Isn't it indulgent, then, to commiserate over the loss of one man, when other events--equally or more important--are still coming at us full-speed? What about Fred? What about the other 99%?
I don't know.
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
-- Steve Jobs
So where did the emotion come from? Is it grief over loss? If so, what did we lose, really? Is it disappointment that we'll never get to meet him? Or is it something else?
"I am truly surprised at how sad I am. Even if I disagreed on some of the decisions made by Apple... he was to me the most inspirational man alive. What a devastating loss."
-- abstractwater, Hacker News discussion
Apple put a memorial portrait of Jobs on their site, with the filename "t_hero.png". When this was initially pointed out to me, minutes after hearing of his passing, I was moved nearly to tears. "Such succinct poignance," I thought. I later discovered that "hero" is a common term for the best photograph from a given shoot.
(In the industry, we call this "the art of self-trolling").
"Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me ... Going to bed at night, saying we've done something wonderful... that's what matters to me."
-- Inscription on Steve Jobs' star at the Entrepreneur Walk of Fame in Cambridge, Mass.
Beyond his legacy as a businessman and designer are the aspects of Jobs' personality that we witnessed over the years. This is the guy who nurtured a corporate culture that famously flipped off AT&T. Developers and designers trade stories of his obsessive attention to detail and dogged pursuit of what seemed to be the Platonic ideal of each product, visible only to him. His products are famous for their immaculate appearance, and he delivered keynotes about them to thousands of viewers while wearing grass-stained sneakers. He is remembered with fondness and respect by everyone from Bill Gates and Sergey Brin to Barack Obama. News of his death made it to the homepages of Amazon, Microsoft, and even Google.
"They are linking to the home page of Android's competitor. Google's statement says this event transcends money, transcends business, transcends all rational thought.
Observe a moment of silence and reflect. We all lost a great man whose vision changed everything - I just smile a little at the comments from people who say Steve Jobs didn't affect their life, because they don't carry an iPhone, or because they are a DIY guy, or because anything else. You didn't have to own an iDevice to have been touched by Steve Jobs - you lived in a world in which he tinted every facet of technology with his genius."
-- andrewljohnson, Hacker News discussion
All of this, for a guy almost universally mocked and criticized for his stubbornness and need for fine-grained control over every aspect of his company. And indeed, saying you are unaffected by Steve Jobs because you don't use Apple products is like saying you are unaffected by 9/11 because you didn't live in Manhattan. So I ask again: Where did the wave of sadness felt by so many come from? The ripples of Steve Jobs' influence will resonate through our world for decades to come. Perhaps the sorrow is a sensitivity to the loss of a great ripple-maker.
"Didn't know it was possible to feel so sad by the death of non-family/friend. RIP Steve. Am lucky to have lived in your era."
-- pyUser, Hacker News discussion
As I mull over everything I know about the guy, a few thoughts occur to me. For one thing:
Steve Jobs inspires me far more than I ever gave him credit for.
"Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."
-- Apple's "Think Different" poster
Steve Jobs changed the world in a big way. You don't need to affect as many people as he has to change the world, but it's still thrilling and scary to view your actions from that angle. I think a lot of people have presumed to use just such an angle to evaluate themselves; on occasion, I certainly have.
Considering the sum of Steve Jobs' achievements and legacy, I find myself aspiring to be like him; to devote myself to doing what feels right the way he did, to change the world with every opportunity, just like him. Maybe, just maybe, a lot of us identify with him far more than we ever realized, and this jarring reminder of his mortality forced us to look at him differently: he wasn't a mythical legend with supernatural charisma and design sensibilities. He wasn't a flawless paragon of everything good in the world. He wasn't just a CEO on the stage, or a designer, or a developer. He was a human with a dream, with a birth and a death, just like us.
The only thing separating us from him is time.
"I want to make a ding in the universe."
-- Steve Jobs