What hasn't been noted much on the DEN and boo.com closings
May 19, 2000 7:17 AM   Subscribe

What hasn't been noted much on the DEN and boo.com closings is the high-bandwidth aspirations both sites trumpeted. No doubt this is why much of Metafilter's readership is privately reveling in these failures. They subtly reinforce the Web's "minimum" ideals -- keeping multimedia to a minimum, minimizing file sizes and download times, letting the minimalist purity of HTML reign supreme. Should this really make us happy, though? I'm a big supporter of fast browsing and markup-language standards, but aren't we missing the point when we secretly root for the bleeding edge to fail?
posted by werty (16 comments total)
Erm, really, they weren't that bleeding-edge. Usability is the focus of design, and do pointless Flash animations (or animated GIFs) really improve your web experience all that much? I turn them both off, personally. There's a place for stuff like that, but there's no need for 200kb java menus with some lame effect on every other site.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:24 AM on May 19, 2000

It wasn't the 'bleeding-edge' qualities of those companies which led to their failure. It was (among other things) their dependence on 'broadband' for success. Maybe that's what made us root for Boo to fail, because we knew that it was only a small number of internet users which could afford to take advantage of their services. Or maybe I only think that because I use a lousy modem.
posted by owen at 7:36 AM on May 19, 2000

The sites were poor to say the least, I mean, some effects were ok, on boo.com that is, but nothing bleeding edge, I'm on cable at home, and everything, so the connection wasn't a problem. But, even then, with that in mind, flash animation on den made me laugh, the content wasn't any good, and I didn't get the whole idea. For e-commerce, gap, levis, all those other sites are better, forgive me if they're big, that's just my opinion. There are better ways to spend your time on the net than watching something you can hardly see, because of the streaming and all that. Entertainment? imdb? theonion? millions of other sites. And, there's TEEVEE.
posted by tiaka at 7:54 AM on May 19, 2000

I must concur. Lord knows I'm a big advocate of using all the tools available, be it Flash, streaming audio, Quicktime, etc., but ONLY IF THERE'S A REASON TO.

If, on my personal site, I decide to put in a Flash movie that adds something to the overall experience, or if I put in a Shockwave file complete with Quicktime movies aplenty, then:

- I'm limiting myself to high-bandwidth users with plugins.

- I'd better have a DAMN good reason for using bandwidth-intensive technologies and demanding so much of a user's time. There are good reasons, both practical and aesthetic, but they had better outweigh the exclusionary aspects of these technologies.

Now, for a personal site, excluding low-modem users is not such a big deal. It's not optimal, but someone who's just doing their thing on the Web can do whatever they want.

However, for a company to spend $120 million on a poorly-designed, no-thought exclusionary site is just stupid.

And to bank the future success of a company on the rapid adoption of broadband technology is idiotic.

Plus, let's talk quality. When what you're offering in this bandwidth hog of a site doesn't even match the quality of UPN programming, you're doomed.

I agree there's a lot of room for improvement in e-commerce site design. Right now, online shopping is the equivalent of an outlet mall. But huge bandwidth-intensive stuff violates the cardinal rule of sales: get them in the store and keep them there.

Alas. Capitalism spins its wheels. Things fall by the wayside. Their successors will hopefully be smarter.
posted by solistrato at 8:33 AM on May 19, 2000

The #1 reason for boo.com's failure, far above all others, was that they were stupid and burned through $120 million in 6 months. No matter how bad the site was, their execution on the business end of things takes bad to a whole new level. They put all their money on red 23 and lost it all in one spin.
posted by jkottke at 8:46 AM on May 19, 2000

Their sites were pooly designed, in that they chose to ignore certain parameters (ex. the low-bandwidth requirement that is a reality of today's web) in solving their design problems. They ignored the user, and focused instead on the flashiness (Flashiness?) of their sites. For that, they both deserved to fail.

I'm glad that they did. It reaffirms that there is a reality out there that cannot be ignored, even in the hyper-inflated market that is cyberspace. It reaffirms the need for clear thinking and an understanding of this new world. The wheat will be separated from the chaff, the signal from the noise.

Where is the challenge, the sense of accomplishment, of succeeding in a world where everyone succeeds? (I'm not suggesting that a sense of accomplishment can only come from someone else's failure. I'm suggesting that it is the possibility of failure that make success more rewarding, and that that possibility fo failure is all too lacking in many of the enterprises being undertaken these days.)
posted by Calebos at 8:46 AM on May 19, 2000

Whether it was poor design, a poor business model, or poor management that caused them to fail, it is still comforting to see them fail rather then have them secure another round of financing.

Poorly run companies, poorly designed products, both are hopefully on their way to extinction. For the longest time, it seemed like the market would support anything with a ".com" in its name. Hopefully, those days are behind us.

I'm not sure where I read it (Industry Standard, perhaps?), but there is no Old Economy and New Economy. There is just One Economy. All companies are going to have to play be the same rules. These failures are another sign of that. And I think that's a good thing.

posted by Calebos at 9:17 AM on May 19, 2000

IANAWebDesigner, but I don't think a site's design by itself is reason enough for Chapter 11; spending a $20M/month, however, is. I think it's more likely that the bad design was yet another symptom of incompetent management.

I.e. they didn't fail because of Java/Flash: they were stupid enough to use limited media in an e-commerce site, and they failed because they were stupid (evident by the $20M/month thingy).
posted by costas at 10:21 AM on May 19, 2000

Putting aside why Boo really failed . . . (since everyone seems to know that)

There’s bound to be a perception in the industry that Boo failed because it was different. This means anyone that wants to try something other than a tabbed e-commerce site with three columns of information is going to find it difficult to secure investors.

Suit 1: Well their site looks nice, and then on the backend th . . .

Suit 2 Looks nice! Like those artsy fartsy folks at Boo and Den? No Thanks. Next!

posted by alana at 10:31 AM on May 19, 2000

Sigh. Here's a closing tag for me
posted by alana at 10:32 AM on May 19, 2000

at least boo didn't have tab based navigation.
posted by muta at 11:02 AM on May 19, 2000

Boo.com was overpriced. More than anything else, I think the idea of trying to get people to bay $150+ for a pair of crappy shorts is just plain stupid. Especially when the target audience is not 30-somethin MS-millionares....
posted by nomisxid at 1:43 PM on May 19, 2000

Damnit I wish I saw this post earlier since both Jason and Matt beat me to the correct post: Boo & Den did not fail because of design/usability issues. They failed because they were lousy businesses.And look, I am a card carrying member of the UPA and SIGCHI and I've made my living (in part) peddling usability consulting, but I don't pretend that it is the end-all be-all of a web-based or any other business. An easy to use site which does no marketing will fail. An easy to use site which does not merchandise well will fail. And so on.The most instructive counter example to ("ease of use" = "business sucess") is CDNow (this great article tells their story well [via Obscure Store]). They did many, many things right design-wise and innovated better than anyone else (online before Netscape 1.0 was released) but retailing online is hard. And they made some poor business decisions. And competition was harder than they thought. And the deal with Columbia House fell through. And they have too many employees. And their easy account management, great purchase flow, layout research, etc., etc., didn't prevent them from running out of cash.I don't know why this bugs me (I didn't bother saying this on CHI-WEB since I know that no-one there will listen to anything like this -- it's just flame-bait there) but the over-simplification is really grating.Sure, I made fun off Boo with everyone else when it first came out. Sure, it was funny to grab people around the office, sit them down and say "try to buy a pair of shoes" and watch as they poked around for 5 minutes without being able to even find the shoes. Sure Miss Boo was annoying and even certain 4+ browsers were shut out of the site. But some aspects of Boo's site were quite well done (such as the merchandising) — a point which never gets acknowledged.. The main problem: $138 million is a phenomenal amount of money to burn through to develop a site with little noticible marketing.Don't get me wrong. I didn't like Boo and I never bought anything there. And I think usability is really important. And I think that all the consciousness that has been raised about usability in the last 18 months is great. It's just that I really hate that baaaaaaaa sound I keep hearing about all this.
posted by sylloge at 3:53 PM on May 19, 2000

Re-reading the thread, it was not just Jason and Matt I agreed with, it was most of you. And good point Alan — Amazonization has its good points, but I don't want to see innovation stiffled.
posted by sylloge at 3:56 PM on May 19, 2000

the latency of the boo.com for northamericans, made it hard to use. but it really was an immersive experience. as an experiment in creating a retail experience online, i think it was successful. the amazon's of the world treat the customer as a USER. the interface is cold and mechanical...is it usable? sure if you know what you want. but does it recreate the sensation of being in your favorite bookstore...does it capture the mystique. no, it does nothing but provide the machine for you to consume. it's a vending machine. boo tried to be an experience. and let's not forget it was also an exercise in target marketing. amazon is only targeted at making it easy for you to submit your credit card number.
posted by p2 at 4:17 PM on May 19, 2000

The interface was definitely a problem at Boo but I think we did good work with the backend. Check out my overview of what was learned in designing it at http://www.tnl.net/newsletter/2000/boobust.asp (and, yes, I was involved with Boo but only on the backend...)
posted by TNLNYC at 4:38 PM on May 21, 2000

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