Sunday, April 23, 2006

Captivating the captives

My building recently installed LCD screens in each of the elevators, which constantly show recent headlines - political news, entertainment, the usual bite-size stuff, from a company called Captivate Network. They're neat, although I wonder what it says about our society that people can't stand to be without TV for even the length of an elevator ride.

Despite the constant stream of quasi-useful information from the screen, I think the most interesting part is watching the people. See, there's only one TV, to the left of the door, and it's a small 8 or 9 inch screen. So only one or maybe two people can see it. But the attraction of the TV is so great that everyone else will jockey around, crane their necks, squint their eyes, and generally make a fool of themselves for a glimpse of the TV. In fact, it actually does look a lot like the picture on page 3 of their marketing brochure. Of course I can't get too high and mighty here - I do the same thing myself. I guess Captivate Network is aptly named. But then it's not that hard to be captivating, when the audience is literally held captive inside the stimulus-poor environment of an elevator.

The other feature of major interest is the UI mistakes they made in the programming. The screen shows a short article on the left side. The right side is split between the unavoidable ad space on top, and a small area on the bottom that rotates between weather, stock quotes, and two other things I can't remember right now.

It's this last area that's bizarre, because they put tabs on it. Right above the viewable area are 4 tabs, and they light up when they're being displayed. Because they look exactly like the tabs in many pieces of software, the implication is that you can push the tabs to see something else. Not interested in weather? Push the "Stocks" tab. Almost everyone did this the first time they saw the screen. But of course, it's not a touchscreen -- the tabs have no effect whatsoever. So the UI is incredibly misleading, especially because the tabs serve no other conceivable purpose. Every adult knows what stock quote looks like, and what a weather forecast looks like, and they don't look at all alike. If the "Stock" tab wasn't there, I still wouldn't think that IBM was going to be cloudy and 72 degrees today, or that the weather calls for PFE to drop another quarter-point.

But I should quit complaining. If they did take out the useless tabs, they'd just increase the size of the advertising.

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