Little Things Count

I’ve been in film acquisition mode recently.  Well, accidental acquisition mode.  I was watching a film on blu-ray and realized there was a digital download available.  Then I bought some chips and 2 cans of Pringles results in a free digital download.  But neither worked the way you’d think.  And that was also my experience helping someone get on their library’s free magazine subscription.

Movie Fail

I don’t stream video and watch no TV so I usually get my films off a disc.  But, in the spirit of being somewhat modern, I’ve been attaching my digital downloads to my Google Play account where possible.  It’s easy to play them through any device that has a Youtube app.  You can usually attach your download to one of a number of outlets, but others, like Apple’s iTunes, are so device specific that I can only watch them on a PC running iTunes.

Disney runs a bit of a thimblerig, getting you to sign into their rewards site first.  THEN they forward you to the actual redemption site so you can complete the final step.  In fairness to them, I have done this twice before without a hitch but this time it was a complete failure.

Unfortunately, like any consumer technology information experience that fails, there’s generally more than one moving part.  In this case:

  • The Disney “cast” member – who wished me “a magical day” – couldn’t help and told me to call Google Play
  • who told me to call Disney back, because it was the interim code generated by Disney’s redemption site that was not accepted
  • which gave me the chance for ANOTHER magical day.  The Disney cast member gave me a second code which also didn’t work.  This was further complicated because (a) code could have come from a US or Canadian version, (b) I might have been using the US or Canadian version of the redemption site, and (c) I might be hitting the US or Canadian version of Google Play.

I don’t normally go the phone call route, anticipating this kind of ping pong.  But I’d tried the codes in 2 desktop browsers and a tablet app and had the same results.  So I was out of luck, because the publisher clearly couldn’t fix or diagnose the problem.

On a flutter, I submitted the code to iTunes – which I can’t use – and, of course, it worked.  So now I have a film download slathered in DRM that we can all gather round my PC to watch.  It is easy to see why the alternative – cracking the DRM – would be seen as a fair option.

So, one film acquired but pretty much unusable.  The second one, from Pringles, worked, after a fashion.  In barely legible print on the Pringles can, it told me to go to and enter my codes.  You can still go there and get the error I got:

Pringles Canada didn’t configure its web server properly

The trick is to know that web sites don’t need the www in their URL.  WWW was a shorthand that differentiated web sites from other ones, like FTP or Telnet or whatever.  But your server name doesn’t need a WWW.  However, most IT teams who manage servers will understand that we information users are accustomed to seeing that WWW.  We may type it even if we don’t need to.

The way this is handled is by the IT staff.  If you were to type in, you’d end up at  I intercept www requests in my .htaccess file and forward them.  In most cases, the server will do the opposite: capture all incoming requests to the domain and forward them to the www-version.

This is what Pringles didn’t do – even after I DM’d their Twitter account – so only people who know that they should go to rather than https://www… will ever get the chance to pick a third-rate straight-to-video digital download all for their own.

The Library Setting

We tend not to talk much politics over Thanksgiving but technology often comes up.  In this case, a relative brought a device and wanted to use their public library’s digital magazine services.  As soon as she opened her mouth, I had that tickle on the back of my neck that this might not turn out right.

She said, “I talked to my librarian and she said we could set up Zinio and Flipster so I could read magazines.”  This librarian – in New Jersey – said the same thing as the librarian up here at the Toronto Public Library when I was in there.  Unfortunately, Zinio is no longer the app of choice and so both librarians started their patrons off on a potential snipe hunt.  Zinio users are now on RBDigital’s own app (which isn’t so hot).

Okay.  We quickly confirm that, as in Toronto, New Jersey public library users are on RB Digital.  We take her Apple iPhone and download the 2 apps from the app store, after the inevitable “I don’t remember my iTunes password since last Thanksgiving”.  Now, with her library card, we should be ready to go.

I take the extra precaution to download and install my VPN client, just in case the public library is looking to see if we’re in the US or not.  They don’t, but it’s a handy tool to have if you ever travel because you may not have been geo blocked through the normal course of things.  Freegal, for example, is a common public library music download service but it has different catalogs depending on whether you’re in the US or Canada.

Unfortunately, both apps ask for 2 pieces of user information and she only has a library card.  The librarian said that was all she’d need – the bar code on the back.  And that is exactly how it works for me.  I’d never seen the username and password prompts, as if I’d purchased a license.

In the end, I resorted to a phone call to the New Jersey public library where they walked me through access.  They were unaware that there were apps for the services, and so were only forwarding library patrons through the Web site interfaces to the publishers.  Unfortunately, neither one had a mobile site, so the interface on the phone was practically unusable.  But at least the RB Digital side prompted users to download an app, creating a significant disconnect with the service the library is providing.

Public library pushes the web version of e-reading, but the publishers are pushing their apps.

But why didn’t the people who were providing the service know about the app, and why wouldn’t they warn a potential user that they shouldn’t really use it on a mobile device.  We’ve known for years that device adoption is rising, and that people are e-reading on both dedicated e-readers and other portable devices, like tablets.

End result?  My relative will either go another year without using the magazines or will never do so.  The web experience lacks all of the features – like reminders, auto-downloads for offline reading, the proper format and feel – that the apps deliver.  Sure, the library is riding the same e-reading crest as everyone else, just as Disney and Pringles are theoretically offering digital downloads as incentives.  But each little hurdle adds up to people having frustrating experiences.  We can ask a lot of a person when we expect them to run through mazes to get to the information they should be able to easily access.


David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.

1 Comment

  1. I feel your pain! With planned obsolescence, incompatible operating systems, browser hiccups, software failure, “helpless” desks, and a less-than-expert end user this access versus ownership of information becomes more unwieldy and less reliable by the day. Case in point – our 5 year old vehicle will recognize and let us play music from our iPod. If the iPod dies it is irreplaceable. If we get a new car it will likely no longer recognize the iPod. I can no longer sync the iPod with iTunes software, which got buggier and buggier every time I upgraded it and now I can’t open it without a required upgrade. The iPod has 25,000 songs on it, which I fortunately backed up on an external drive (assuming that still works). Those songs were slowly and carefully migrated from vinyl. We own the vinyl, the music isn’t portable but at least we have it. Had we done what most folks do and purchased ACCESS to songs via iTunes we would have little recourse except to shift to a new platform and device (though I know of no 160GB iPod equivalent on the market, they will want us to stream it from Google Play or something). Sigh.

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