Libby and I recently spent two days testing NoTube’s ‘N-Screen’ prototype with members of the public at the BBC R&D user testing lab in London.
As Libby has described previously on this blog, N-Screen is a second screen prototype application designed to help a small group of people explore a collection of on-demand programmes and choose one to watch together in real-time, with participants either being in the same room together or in separate locations. The scenario imagines a future world in which most people will have their own personalised connected device such as a tablet or smartphone.
We recruited ten participants to test the app: five men and five women across a spread of ages between 20 and 64. All participants described themselves as TV enthusiasts, regularly watching at least 2 hours of TV a day.
Following some introductory questions about watching TV in general, during each session we showed the participant a version of N-Screen containing BBC iPlayer catch-up programmes (about 1,000 programmes) and walked them through a group-watching scenario – with Libby and I taking the role of the participant’s N-Screen ‘friends’!
Programme suggestions and explanations
N-Screen supports different TV recommendation and browsing strategies across the spectrum from cold-start to fully personalised, combined into a single user interface. This provides multiple ways of helping people to find something interesting to watch from a large collection of video content.
Suggestions for you
Each participant in an N-Screen group starts with a different set of personalised programme recommendations based on NoTube’s Beancounter user profiling service. For testing we had to show mock-up examples of these types of suggestions, and we had to ask our participants to imagine these were based on their user profile. Despite this, all the participants liked the concept of seeing programme suggestions based on things they’d done in the past.
Quite a good idea…might bring up programmes that haven’t come to your attention.
Really good – tries to tailor it me.
However, they weren’t so keen on the idea of getting recommendations based solely on age and/or gender. Several participants thought that this just wouldn’t work for them because they thought that their TV tastes didn’t match their age or gender profile; others thought that people didn’t like to be “pigeon-holed” in this way.
Tapping on a programme suggestion in N-Screen displays an overlay with a brief programme synopsis, and an explanation as to why it has been recommended – for example: “Recommended because you watched That’s Britain which also has Nick Knowles in it”. The idea here is to present the pathways through the Linked Data graph showing the connection that led to a recommendation being made. Several participants were particularly keen on the idea of being suggested programmes based on links between the people in them, such as actors or TV personalities, as long as those people are considered significant and interesting.
I like the idea of plotting actors through their career… I like it that you’ve gone for the actor – I want to see more of specific actors I like.
That’s a good idea if it’s a particular actor you follow…but if it was an actor in Eastenders I don’t know if that would really appeal to you because you’re watching Eastenders for Eastenders, and not necessarily the actor. But if it was Kelly Holmes and I’d like her as a character and I saw she was in Bargain Hunt, then I’d think let’s watch that.
I like Stephen Fry and I would be interested to see what he’s doing.
I like the idea that it’s also got Ian Hislop in it.
Someone’s in it who you like… A way of trying out something new that you might not know about – I like that.
However, in general, people didn’t seem to care as much about the explanation for a recommendation as we’d expected, based on research we’d read about the value of explanations for enhancing users’ trust in recommendation systems. It’s possible though that the explanations may have had more resonance with our participants if they’d be based on the individual’s real activities and data.
More like this
Beneath the main programme information, the overlay screen also shows a list of programmes related to the selected programme based on collaborative filtering techniques. The idea here is to expand out the selection of potentially interesting programmes for the user because the list of personalised programmes could be quite small. Again, all our participants thought that these types of suggestions could be useful as another means of bubbling up content that may be of interest, but they didn’t find the associated Amazon-style explanations (“Recommended because people who watched DIY SOS also watched this”) particularly useful.
N-Screen also offers a “random selection” option as an alternative means of surfacing content buried in the video collection, or for times when a user might reach a dead-end with the recommendations approach. The idea is to add an extra element of serendipity to the experience. Our user trial of the NoTube Archive Browser prototype, conducted earlier this year, suggested that people found interesting new programmes in a BBC archive collection regardless of whether they saw similar or random programmes.
Most participants said they thought they would find this feature useful as another way of finding new programmes, and a couple of them said it was one the things they liked best about N-Screen – although we did discover a few usability issues with the user interface.
Sometimes you get stuck. It’s like shuffle on iPod – definitely a good idea.
If you’re not sure what you want or what you’re in the mood for, if you didn’t want to watch the usual…yes I’d give it a try.
Sharing and receiving suggestions from friends
Finding interesting niche video content and using drag and drop to share these ‘hidden gems’ with friends is key to the N-Screen design. Since the earliest iterations of N-Screen, this aspect of the user experience has always appealed to people – together with the accompanying whooshing noise which provides an audio cue that you’ve received a suggestion from a friend. Similarly, once they’d got the hang of it, the majority of our participants also enjoyed dragging and dropping to swap programme suggestions, because they found it “simple”, “fun”, and “instant”.
We discovered a few initial usability issues around grabbing items to drag, and dropping them in the right place, and most people didn’t realise at first that programme items could be dragged. However, it’s possible that this was because 9 out of 10 of them were not tablet owners, and were therefore not familiar with using drag-and-drop, an interaction style that is becoming increasingly common with the rise in numbers of touchscreen devices.
If all tablets are as easy to use as this then l’d be happy to drag and drop things – it’s so simple, really easy.
Easy to use, even if you hadn’t been here I would have figured it out…it’s easy to drag and drop.
The idea of sharing and receiving suggestions for things to watch with friends in this way was a highlight of the app for many. However, not all participants imagined that that this would necessarily be done in real-time; several of them talked about swapping programme ideas to watch later, in the same way that they might currently use email or texts to send links to interesting programmes.
I don’t think it’s on to recommend things for others to watch instantly.
Neither could the majority of the participants see themselves using N-Screen on multiple devices in the same room as other people; they couldn’t see the point.
Sharing…I think it works more if we’re in a different location. I couldn’t imagine using it in the same room. What would be the point of that?
It takes away the point of chatting.
Obviously that would be us being lazy and not wanting to talk to each other.
It’s considered impolite to get your iPad out when you’re in a social group.
Several participants said they could imagine scenarios for using N-Screen with friends or family located remotely, but these tended to be associated with one specific individual rather than a group: with “my mum”, “my friend back home”, or “my best friend”. Again, several participants talked about sharing items that could be watched later, rather than immediately.
Not for watching something instantly, only for making suggestions for things you could choose to watch later if you wanted to.
My mother keeps saying ‘you should watch this’ – and I’m not always able to at the time she suggests…If my mother sends me a text about a show, I might not be looking at the phone, so it would be good if she could use this and we could watch apart or together, and we could watch it now or later.
I’d liken it to a reading group – I wouldn’t say ‘let’s all watch Eastenders now all together’ but I’d imagine creating a list that you watch on your own later.
Sharing with the group
When we asked participants if they would share different programmes with the whole group in N-Screen, rather than with specific individuals in it, their responses suggest that empathy in considering other people’s preferences is a strong influence over deciding which programmes to share with whom.
Yes, it would depend on the friends and their tastes. For some programmes, like Strictly [Come Dancing], that everyone likes this would be great. I’m into scifi but not all my friends are.
There’s only certain people you can recommend things to on this scale. So it would be limited to people I thought who would be interested. Some friends I have nothing in common with taste-wise when it comes to entertainment.
Yes, I know different friends like different things.
Changing the TV display
Once the group has decided what to watch, the idea is that one of the N-Screen participants drags the programme to the TV icon in the top-right to start playing the programme on the TV screen. All the participants liked this feature.
Ah, this is too much, it’s awesome. I love this.
Fantastic, you’re often watching something on the iPlayer and you really want it on the TV, so this really speeds things up. It’s amazingly quick.
That’s magic. I like that.
For the scenario in which N-Screen friends are remote, our initial idea was that they could watch something ‘together apart’, with their TVs being sychronised – so that dragging a programme to the ‘shared TV’ icon would automatically start playing the programme on everyone’s TV.
Some participants caught on to the idea of watching ‘together apart’ in real-time and thought it could work well.
I like the idea of me being in my house and a friend being in their house and watching something at the same time, but not in the same place.
That we’d all watch together at the same time, simultaneously in real-time is good.
If they had the same set-up, I’d expect them to watch same thing at the same time.
However, nearly all participants were against the idea of programmes on someone else’s TV being changed remotely and the majority felt that each individual should be in control of their own TV, unless explicit permission had been given.
I would hope they’d be in control of what they’re watching. I can’t change their TV can I? I’d like to warn them I’m about to change their TV…
It shouldn’t change the other person’s TV. It would be like a ghost…
I’d like to drag and drop for my own TV but I’d be annoyed if someone else changed my TV – we’d end up having wars! It takes control away.
A couple of participants mentioned that a small alert in the corner of the other person’s TV screen might be a useful compromise.
Some initial conclusions
- Overall, participants were complimentary about trying out N-Screen; they mostly liked it and found it fun and easy to use, but not necessarily for collaborative browsing and watching TV in real-time with others.
- They were positive about the different types of programme suggestions and the concept of sharing and receiving suggestions with friends.
- However, several of the older participants couldn’t see it replacing other ways of sharing TV recommendations such as texting or emailing. The latter were also sceptical about the concept of getting together with friends to decide what to watch on TV without having pre-planned it.
- The idea of dragging a programme to the TV icon as a way of controlling what’s playing on the TV was universally liked, so long as it didn’t also change their friends’ TVs.
Next we’ll be taking a closer look at the implications of these findings.