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A Rant on LivingSocial

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What happens when a marvellous app. meets an unappreciative client, and that lack of appreciation trickles down to the users.

As reported in my Twitter feed, I’ve recently been taking advantage of GetSatisfaction, a customer feedback service employed by Avatars United, Twitter, LivingSocial and many more. The genius of it is that it basically acts just like a customer service forum. There are no lengthy forms to fill out, reports are made wide out into the open, and moderators (or customer service reps. in this instance) can close, highlight and respond to individual cases. This all creates a rather reassuring environment, with users able to make use of a friendly and hassle-free feedback tool, while observers watch which topics the company is aware of or are taking action against. With Avatars United, my use of the feedback service was for just that, offering (successful) hints on improving the service for my Second Life puppet. With LivingSocial however, it was an overspill of frustrations which saw me finally reach for the feedback tools. A lack of response now has me feeling unimpressed.

If there is one thing I really enjoy about the internet, it is those apps. which tap into my obsessive-compulsive, collector mentality. I love to create collections and wishlists, and so finding a service which not only offered me books (รก la Shelfari) but video games, perhaps the most under appreciated of collectible media, was joyous indeed. I immediately deleted my Shelfari account, set up shop on LivingSocial and ploughed away with getting my collections up. For an added bonus, I could integrate this with my new Facebook account. At last, a reason to actually use social media! The experience was not all I might have hoped, however. You may have noticed that I claimed that Shelfari account back.

When I consider the quality of the service at LivingSocial, I first have to place concerns about quality of content aside. They’re quite fair, given that the designers opted to use Amazon’s catalogues as a library rather than relying on users to manually submit every DVD, game, CD and book imaginable. There are other issues though, some of which were solved early on by Shelfari. For example, the cover images for each title can only be chosen once, and that image is always brought in via the original Amazon listing or the person who created it manually. This means, then, that one quickly feels distanced from one’s own collection:
“That’s not my version of Serenity.”
“I much prefer my European copy’s cover art to the US one.”

Picky concerns perhaps, but there were bigger fish to fry last week. ‘Adam’ had announced a large-scale clean-up of the Movies section of the ‘site, which is by far the most popular and most abused. ‘Abuse’, by the way, is precisely how I would define the boggling tendency some folks have to submit film soundtrack and poster search results to their movies catalogue, ignorant of the other media channels which LivingSocial has made available. Given how irritating it is to find PSP game results clogging a search for my most recently-watched film, I applauded the effort. Still, I had a concern. One reason so many people have added TV shows to their movie collections, myself included, is that they own the DVDs.

For imported series like Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, I have had no alternative other than to watch on DVD. I rather enjoy the fact, too – TV on demand is brilliant fun for watching a series through at your convenience, which is why I buy back domestic series like Doctor Who. Still, such boxsets appear not to be welcomed at LivingSocial. Despite their ‘movies’ portal actually only being indicative of what someone might have in their DVD or Blu-Ray collection (see Flixter for cinema), the more recent ‘TV shows’ portal caters only to what’s live. Users can express an interest in watching a series, or indeed flag it as something they currently tune into, but there’s no option for ownership. More than that, series cannot be searched for amongst Amazon catalogues, unlike with movies.

So, in the time that it’s taken to churn through drafts of this rant, my own movie collection has been “shrunk”, noticeably tonight after I just finished watching Doctor Who season four on DVD. Off I had trotted to LivingSocially to happily submit my review… and The Doctor had been wiped from the movie catalogues. A user who thought immediately of submitting a review to LivingSocial once he’d finished watching something has been denied passage and has had a number of his standing reviews wiped out. Proper reviews, I might add – I may not have needed the ‘Super Review’ incentive to do so, but I prided myself on writing something more meaningful than “cool” or “my fave scifi evar”.

I could have saved my reviews offline and kept them aside for future use. I certainly had the warning, but I chose not to. You know why? Naively I thought my suggestion may have been heard. I made it via a blog comment – not by GetSatisfaction, I might add. It remains the only blog comment at the article in which movie collection cleanups were announced. So, would I consider making my case via their portal at GetSatisfaction instead? My time with Avatars United so far has proven that ideas feedback piped through that app. can work marvellously well. My answer for LivingSocial, however, is no. Reason being, they just don’t appear to listen.

Ah well. An internet obsessive compulsive is denied his fix of organisation. Not the worthiest of rants to have, but somewhere in here there is a lesson to be learned about community outreach.