user experience

Hulu! Where are you?

Hulu Logo For most people, the shared sentiment with respect to Hulu takes on one or more of the forms…

“Ohhhhh… I sooooo want to get in!”
Please let me in.”
“Why won’t Hulu let me be cool, too?”

… or …

“Hulu? Whatever! I use Fancast (GoFish, Veoh, MeeVee, Imeem or some other inclusive web product).”

The “whatever” sentiment is definitely rising among the (currently) prospective users of Hulu. BTW, Fancast et. al. are nowhere in the same league of the overall product experience presented by Hulu.

What is hulu?

It lets you watch TV shows from NBC, FOX, Sony, SciFi, and many more television channels, online, within your web browser. The shows, both from recent times to times long past (e.g. Mary Tyler Moore) are available in full length and small clips, in standard and high definition formats, and can be embedded in other websites.

Hulu is currently in private beta.

Super-dooper, Wicked-cool, Private Beta

Private betas can be very valuable for a new product release; even more so for the start-up company, cycling and refining and bringing to life their product within a small, controlled group of people – facilitating feedback, activity, and iteration. The private beta allows for the more careful selection of people that you (the startup) feel will best help prepare the start-up’s product for its introduction to the “real-world.”

Private betas are also a great marketing tool to drive up demand. Private betas help make them (the future customers) want to get in. Even if these future customers don’t need it, they will want it – and will also help make the larger public feel that organic desire. For many start-ups this can be, and is, useful, when executed well, to promote the viral word-of-mouth knowledge about the product; maybe even allowing the company to spend its limited funds on things like employees and further development.

But, there is a point where the concept and utility of a private beta gets “silly,” when the period for the private beta exceeds its value-added. When, within the private beta, there exists a thoroughly refined and well defined web product, that from all practical appearances is a complete production-ready consumer product. I say, “Hulu, you have already passed that (‘silly’) point. Open up!”

Should Hulu make the most of the buzz they are getting? Driving up the demand? Yep. And it has been done very well. Private betas have tremendous value in the creation of both product and buzz – and in a cost effective manner. However, I am already observing, upon numerous accounts, that many people on the “outside” are already losing interest. People (the potential Hulu consumers) move on. People join other “elite clubs.” People have fun with people and products that will accept them (for who they are).

It’s not sour grapes that I am expressing towards Hulu — I am one of the lucky ones, “the elite.” But, I log in, I use Hulu. I enjoy using the ready for primetime, Hulu. The product and its UX are very well refined, simple, and enjoyable. The product is visibly more than ready and the value-add of the private beta is on the decline.

Hulu. It’s Quite Enjoyable.

There are some points of interface discomfort, but, on the whole, Hulu presents a very clean and enjoyable online experience.

Mostly lovely

  • The overall experience: clean, simple, sleek, enjoyable.
  • Flash player integrates a great deal of extra functionality in a non-obtrusive, intuitive, and sleek package.
  • The homepage’s grid layout of popular episodes, clips and the “recently added” is a nice way to see what else is out there – find new entertainment in which I may be interested. It also helps set the initial tone for the site — simple, clean, easy to use.

Little Discomfort

  • Episode selection baffles me. There are many ways to select the episodes. But, the primary way of episode selection (clearly what the interfaces are driving me to use) doesn’t offer to list the episodes in CHRONOLOGICAL order! (for some shows it works out OK)
  • The chronological listing of episodes is buried at the bottom of the page. Why? Don’t people typically want to see their shows in order???
  • The playlist is a nice feature, but needs some usability work. This feature needs to have better integration into the more prominent (viewable) areas of the page, rather than the top-right drop-down which can be both awkward and sluggish to use.

Now what?!

Hulu, continue to improve. Continue to collect feedback from your user base. But, end the private beta, before even the very happy Hulu-ers leave the very exciting and enjoyable product of Hulu for more inclusive (non-private beta) pastures like Fancast, GoFish, Veoh, MeeVee, Imeem, etc.

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

P.S. And for all of you other start-ups don’t overdo the private beta. And, when in doubt…Open up. Listen to people.



  1. I think the reason they are in private beta is exactly what you said. It makes people go:

    “Ohhhhh… I sooooo want to get in!”
    “Please let me in.”
    “Why won’t Hulu let me be cool, too?”

    Hey, it worked for me….lol
    But yea, its basically the same exact thing as fancast…


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