iTunes Hygiene

Instead of working on a site redesign that I have a tight deadline on, I am dealing with a long-standing peeve I’ve had: iTunes hygiene.

This isn’t really a problem with iTunes so much as it is a problem with normalizing band names. iTunes’ search is quite smart, and matches similar items even when there are minor differences between them. So “Sigur Ros” and “Sigur Rós” will show up when I search for “ros”.

Its sorting in displays of music is clever as well. If I’m sorting on artist iTunes will cleverly show me “The Doors” intermingled with “Doors”.

The place that inconsistent artist names starts to bite me is on my iPhone. Sometimes I want to pull up an artist and just play all their music. When there are inconsistent names for the artist I end up with multiple entries and can’t get the mix of songs from them that I might want.

It’s easy to spot. Just scroll through the artists list in my iPhone and I find them quickly:

“Deee-lite” or “Deee-Lite”?
“Devotchka” or “DeVotchka”?
“The Doors” or just “Doors”?
“Flaming Lips” or “The Flaming Lips”?
“Iron & Wine” or “Iron and Wine”?
And is it “Gaga” or “GaGa”?

Sometimes she’s “Annie Lennox”, sometimes she’s “Lennox, Annie”.

Don’t even get me started on “Death cab for cutie”.

Then we have accented characters as in “Sigur Rós”.

Siouxsie and the...But the worst of the worst: “Siouxsie & the Banshees”. Or “Siouxsie & The Banshees”. Or “Siouxsie and the Banshees”. Or “Siouxsie And The Banshees”. At least “Siouxsie” was spelled the same each time.

Underworld Underworld
Then we’ve got this one:

I realize that some Unicode characters probably crept into one of those names – in fact, I’d love to know what happened. But it’s really not worth the time to me to pry the names out of iTunes and check their bits.

Some of these are my fault. Back in the bad old days I would enter artist, album and song names by hand. I’m sure I wasn’t as consistent as I might have been. Then MP3 rippers started using CDDB (eventually to become Gracenote), and you were at the mercy of whatever some random person had entered for the CD you were ripping. Still, it was usually better than having to enter it all yourself.

Now most of the music I get is through Amazon (once in a while iTunes but Amazon’s generally got my business). And the band names still aren’t always consistent across tracks or albums. Sometimes I think the bands aren’t even sure what their names are.

(For the record, all my music is either purchased for download or ripped from CDs which I’ve purchased.)

The problems are easy enough to fix, once you’ve identified them. Go into iTunes, find and select the batch of songs you want to fix, hit CMD-I, fix the info and you’re set. The next time you sync your i-device, it’ll be updated with the fixed artist names. iTunes deserves plenty of criticism, but that’s for its bloat and random hangs, not for its ability to actually manage music, assuming you can get it to stop hanging.

Then over time the names will start to drift again. I’ll probably never buy another album by “The Doors”, so they won’t be a problem. Maybe Siouxsie will release a new album when she turns 60.

The real solution is to use a database like MusicBrainz to normalize all the artist names in my library. I haven’t tried their Picard product. I am a bit chicken about letting random software loose on my too-large music library or my iTunes database. In this case, chicken wins.

Not a Good User Experience

Barnes & Noble logo

1. You’ve purchased an ebook from Barnes & Noble but unfortunately your credit card was declined because, well, around the holidays your credit card company just starts randomly declining your credit card.

2. Their web site tells you that your charge was declined, but gives you no option to attempt to redo the charge.

3. Instead, you have to call Barnes & Noble’s 800 number, which of course is currently suffering from an unusually high volume of calls. Their automated system gives you the chance to change your payment information, except that it won’t actually allow you to do that, so you have to hold for the next available representative.

4. After sitting on hold for twenty three minutes, you finally give up. If you were able to talk to a customer service representative, you have been warned repeatedly that you would have to give them your email address and order number, despite already having entered your order number into their automated system.

5. You would really like the ebook that you had tried to purchase, so you try emailing customer service to ask them to redo the charge, and you complain in your email that there should be a way to do this yourself on the Barnes & Noble web site.

This is not a good experience to give your customer. A good experience will include the first step, as it’s not Barnes & Noble’s fault that your credit card company randomly declines charges around the holidays. However, given that customers likely frequently need to retry a charge, the web site should offer a button to allow you to redo the charge as well as a mechanism for changing payment information, saving both frustration and time for the customer and the cost of having a customer on hold for half an hour and providing customer service time to handle the customer’s problem.

Having your web site become unusable on Christmas Day, possibly your busiest sales day of the year (when you’re selling ebooks and many people found a nook under the tree that morning), is also not a particularly good user experience.

Unfortunately, this isn’t particularly egregious given the broad spectrum of experiences that many companies give their customers. It is very bad, however, compared to the company Barnes & Noble would like to be: Amazon. B&N is admittedly doing very well in the ebook market right now, but success can easily mask problems. Their ebook sales could easily be growing at a tremendous rate and while the overall ebook market grows at an even greater rate, meaning they’re losing market share (been there, done that). It’s tough managing growth at a fast rate, but if they want to stand out in the crowd in a positive way, they need to put more care into the overall experience they offer their users.

Omnious Sounding

Yahoo seems to have changed the layout of Yahoo Movies recently. I was looking at what was playing locally and saw this: save-this.png It sounds ominous. If I don’t sign in are they going to close The Nugget?