Have you seen the Social Dilemma on Netflix?
In a nutshell, the Social Dilemma is a Netflix original documentary sharing the perspectives of tech co-founders and co-inventors of some of the most addictive programs on our phones. The 'tools' they thought they were inventing grew to become more than just tools, but a responsive creature that literally needs attention to survive. Yes, they've allowed for human connection like never before, but it's also created an unprecedented beast of a business model that preys on impressionable user behavior and thrives on advertising dollars. As a 'free' social media user, we can connect with our friends and be entertained by years of content, but what we truly give up is our time and focus.
"There are very few things in the world where you call the person who's engaging with it a 'user'. People who are addicted to drugs and people on social media."
- The Social Dilemma (not Meghan Markle)
Tristan Harris, the star of the documentary and former design ethicist at Google, is blowing the whistle on predatory user design. He points out there are design teams whose jobs are to create features that keep its users locked in, and none to limit users' time.
This made me think of ads for Quibi, from early 2020. Remember those?
Quibi: An Alternative to spending long periods of time one your phone
With a 58.5 million dollar ad budget and celebrity endorsement left and right, Quibi presented itself as the next major player in streaming entertainment, with Quick Bites and Big Stories. Quibi's goal was to be where users could go when they turn to their phones to fill in extra time. Waiting in line at checkout, eating on your lunch break, sitting on the bus...those moments when we don't know what to do with ourselves, so we look elsewhere.
Quibi positioned itself to be the first major short-form streaming service. They also did something truly unique with the way that it is viewed on mobile. Users can rotate their phones to seamlessly switch the vertical to wide view. What Quibi did differently is that they filmed each show in two different formats so quality would not be compromised when a user was holding their phone vertically, as they normally would.
But why did it fail?
Well, think about it - why would you download and pay for a service when those 'Quibi moments' can easily be spent on all kinds of content on your social media?
We all know how easy it is to be sucked into a timeline - you go to check a notification, and then suddenly you realize 20 minutes of your precious life just passed into oblivion. Similarly, it's very easy to binge on a show, spending several hours a week just to find out what happens next. We all have busy lives and we are constantly plugged into each other - we turn to social media (ironically) and streaming services like Netflix to escape, even for a little bit.
After watching the Social Dilemma, I wonder if Quibi was actually on to something. Maybe it was just too soon, or our user behavior isn't ready to bend to this yet. While social media designers aim to keep us logged in as long as they can, Quibi could have aimed to help users limit their time and still get their entertainment fix.
As of October 2020, Quibi founders announced that Quibi is shutting down and looking for buyers. Quibi launched in April 2020 - 3.5 million users downloaded Quibi for a 3-month trial, and only 8% of those users actually became paid subscribers after the trial period ended. The founder blames coronavirus.
In my opinion, I think it's a mix of the coronavirus and targeting the wrong people for the wrong reason. Why would Quibi target those tiny in -between moments of our daily life? It's instinctual to turn to our phones at those moments, to check what we missed or reply to real conversations. If we're just trying to fill those awkward time pockets, why should we get invested in a show? Why would we pay for that? We're just looking for time to kill, and that there are plenty of 'free' weapons already available. Coronavirus is partly to blame because (obviously) social values shifted, and those in-between moments became in-between weeks for many people. Yes, there were empty gaps to fill for a Short while, but what were people eventually trying to get back to doing?
BEING PRODUCTIVE, maintaining a balanced-ish schedule and having more awareness of how they spend their time in a healthy way during a time where days blurred together. Because people now had to manage their own time, mixing productivity with pleasure became easier to do.
I wonder if Quibi had aimed at people who were productive 'offline' -- the people who had ambitions and goals to pursue, the people who do not spend several hours a week on social media but still want to unwind - could they have made it? What if Quibi could have been where we can go to get a breath of fresh air without sucking away an hour of our life one episode at a time? What if Quibi were to be the first streaming platform that let you set a timer for how long you spend online? What if they maintained the free subscription model and gave users a reasonable cap on episodes watched, and raked in ad dollars after the free trial ended?