The Graph That Changed Me

Why UX Launchpad Won’t Be Like RealNetworks

RealNetworks popularized “streaming media” in the 90's, but stumbled after the dot-com crash in 2000, and never fully recovered.

I worked at Real from 2000 (before the crash) to 2005. And I noticed an interesting thing right away: RealPlayer was seen as annoying. Really annoying. Legendarily annoying. Pop-ups, forced upgrades, spyware, deals with shady partners, the works.

Which was a shame, because there was a time when RealPlayer was a pioneering technology, and one that people actually liked to use. But through a lot of user-hostile decisions by management, people learned not to trust RealPlayer or RealNetworks as a whole.

As employees, we weren’t proud of our business tactics, and we griped about them frequently. The topic came up at company meetings, round table conversations with executives, and through a lot of water cooler conversation over email, during lunch, and across the foosball table.

One day my manager showed me a horrible graph. It was pretty simple: the graph was steady, then it dropped straight down, then after a short period, the line shot straight back up and stayed level again:

Artist’s rendering of why you probably don’t like RealPlayer much

“That’s what happens when we do the right thing”, he said while pointing at the drop, “and that’s how much money we lose. We tried it just to see how bad it was for our bottom line. And this is what the data tells us.”

“Wow,” I said, taken aback. My employer clearly had two options: “do the right thing” or “be profitable”. That was the position they had maneuvered themselves into through a series of bad management decisions.

My manager then said, “More than half the company would have to lose their job in order for us to stop these tactics … so are you volunteering to be one of them?”

That was the day I learned I’d rather lose respectfully than win without honor. Once people become wary of your products or your business ethics, it’s game over. You can’t sustain for long, because you won’t keep your customers much longer.

Not to mention your employees.