Dear HBO Go, I love you, but fix your interface

HBO is home to many programs that I watch and appreciate and like to dish about with my friends. I love to blog about Game of Thrones. I have deeply enjoyed what I’ve seen so far of Insecure and Divorce, even though the latter is incredibly depressing and everyone wears wool tights all the time like it’s a Louisa May Alcott novel. Doll & Em? Great. True Detective? It was something to talk about at least. Big Love? Yes, I watched three seasons. Girls? I’m sorry, but I still like it.

It’s also cool and great that you can stream HBO shows in real time or many years after the fact on HBO Go. Thinking back to a childhood spent checking the clock at sporting events and hoping I would get home in time to watch Lizzie McGuire, this modern technology truly is a marvel.

Unfortunately, that brings us to the only problem I have with HBO Go: its user interface. It’s sort of bad, especially when compared to its cousins, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. HBO seems to have all the money and talent it needs to do stuff well. HBO even has enough engineering talent to get around the system overload problems that come with making the most popular TV show in the world. And yet, it’s stumbling over the basics.

This is a bad way to organize movies on a streaming site, in particular because most people don’t start their search for something to watch by asking “What letter would I like my content to start with?” Most people also don’t have HBO’s catalog memorized and therefore wouldn’t scroll through the list to find a specific film. It’s not the biggest deal in the world, but it’s sort of just odd that this is the way things are.

Sorry, but why? Netflix lets me!

A streaming service with a limited but large selection of films to choose from should make it simple for me to determine how many of them star Jake Gyllenhaal. I shouldn’t have to search each individual Jake Gyllenhaal movie to see if one is available. That’s unfair to me, even though it’s not a big deal.

The same issue as before, except I care about directors slightly less than Jake Gyllenhaal — as I care about everyone in the world slightly less than I care about Jake Gyllenhaal.

By streaming service standards, this is extremely limited. Even by HBO’s cable standards, it’s a paltry set of categories. Where are the other HBO brands, like HBO Comedy, HBO Zone, or the mysterious HBO Signature?

The movie catalog page one displays the title and a tiny photo of the program’s actors. By contrast, Netflix lets you hover over something to see a brief plot summary, star rating, year, and a large image, and click to see a dropdown with more information (like actors and genre designations), all without leaving the catalog.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like how Netflix doesn’t expect me to know what every movie ever made is basically about. Obviously I could just Google it — that is not a huge imposition on my time. But it also seems like it’s not a huge imposition to just fix it!

The pop-up that prompts you to watch another episode of the show is unpredictable. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. There have probably been thesis papers about how Netflix’s “keep watching” pop-up more or less invented the cultural phenomenon of TV binges and showered Netflix in money, yet HBO does not want to join the party.

Or, to be fair, they’re at the party but they keep going in the bathroom and scrolling through Instagram. The pop-up exists and I know I’ve seen it — but seemingly never when I actually want it! This means you must click on the show’s title, return to the main page, reselect the season you were on, and scroll down to the next episode.

It’s not a huge chore to have to do any of these things. My real chores are cleaning the cat box and making sure I have a balanced lunch already placed in a Tupperware and ready to go for the next day before I go to sleep. But it still seems wrong-ish that this shouldn’t work properly.

This is obvious. The episode that aired most recently should be listed first — not the first episode of the season! Who opens and prepares to watch an episode of Last Week Tonight that aired eight months ago? They want last night’s Last Week Tonight.

That’s just typical human behavior. Usually user interfaces are designed around typical human behavior, but that’s none of my business.

This is just maddening.

hbo go

As you can see, none of these problems will ruin your life or even make it a huge challenge to watch a good show like The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. But they’re still annoying, ongoing distractions. HBO has built its brand on its quality floating above the competition. HBO Go doesn’t quite live up to that legacy.

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