My polite letter to the Odeon’s marketing director

Just sent this to the marketing director of the Odeon Cinema group, following up yesterday’s post on the matter, and trying to pursue the ‘the network is doing your innovation for you, for free, so why not use it’ approach:

Dear Mr Tevere,

I read with some disappointment your correspondence with Matthew Somerville, the web developer who had undertaken in his spare time to make a version of the Odeon website that was easier to use, less confusing and – most importantly – corresponded to best practices in terms of making information accessible to all, including those with disabilities.

While I understand your view that the information on your website has been used without permission, and that you have had feedback from customers feeling misled by Mr Somerville’s web service, I would urge you to re-examine your position.

Mr Somerville had effectively provided your company with a prototype for a much more successful, inclusive, and legally compliant* web service. The consultancy fees that you might expect to pay for such a thing would reach six figures. He had done this out of frustration with your existing web service, a frustration echoed by many other potential Odeon customers, and one which garnered a certain amount of negative publicity for your brand at the same time as Mr Somerville originally created his site.

At this time, I was interviewed for MacUser magazine and drew attention to the deficiencies in your web service and the solution offered by Mr Somerville as worst and best practices on the web in terms of e-commerce and design.

At that point in time, your company’s corporate communication around the issue could have been characterised as ‘cautious but enlightened’; this time you seem to be erring on the side of appeasing your corporate lawyers, to the detriment of your customers.

You are now at another point of opportunity: To harness the work that Mr Somerville has done and come to an amicable agreement with him around your respective intellectual property (your data and brand, and his excellent prototype); or, to take the cautious route of ‘business as usual’ and deal with the negative publicity that will bring.

If you choose the former, then the benefits I think will shortly become obvious to you, the rest of your company and your customers. Design for accessibility is just good business sense, as market leaders in e-commerce like Tesco Online** have found, and getting something for nothing is surely even better business sense.

Whether you call it ‘market’, ‘open-source’ or ‘networked innovation’, embracing new ideas from enthusiasts outside the threshold of one’s own company is seen as the way forward for product and service development by the Financial Times, The Economist and the Harvard Business Review, among others; and certainly finding a compromise in this spirit would maintain Odeon’s image in the business press as a pioneer in using new channels for marketing.

I look forward to hearing Odeon and Mr Somerville announce a win-win way forward, and reading the column inches of praise that decision will inevitably lead to.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew Jones

* “Web Accessibility and the DDA” : http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/01-2/sloan.html
** The Guardian, 10th July 2004: “Access points for shopping on the web : Tesco gets a four-star rating in the supermarket league”
‘It’s not just those with these special needs that are using the site, as the simple design is attracting a much wider audience, to the extent that online shoppers are spending £13m a year on it.’
http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardian_jobs_and_money/story/0,3605,1257758,00.html

cc’d to:

Jack Schofield, Guardian Online
Ian Betteridge, technology journalist and contributor to MacUser magazine
Bill Thompson, technology journalist and contributor to BBC World, OpenDemocracy.net

Also posted to my weblog, http://www.blackbeltjones.com where I also intend to publish any replies I receive.

Let’s see what happens.

Times you wish you could have been wrong #143

macuserUnfortunately Matthew Somerville did get letters from the lawyers (and marketing director, but more of that in a moment), asking him to take down his accessible re-working of the Odeon cinema chain’s website.

Marketing people and lawyers can, it seems, too easily be in the thrall of “Brand” with a big “b” and mortified about what might happen to their business due to imagined assaults on that most tangible of assets; rather than what is happening in their interactions (or lack of it) with their customers.

A few years back, 4 guys wrote a book that called on business to get on board the Cluetrain, and realise that the web was returning markets to being conversations, and that the relationship between a brand, and it’s customers was going to become one of peers to each other. In parallel, the open source movement has gone from being something of an IT industry oddity to the subject of leaders in The Economist and The Harvard Business Review amongst others; about how open, networked innovation can benefit all sorts of industries.

But aside from it being leading-edge business thinking – isn’t it just good business sense, and downright grown-up to put aside the “not-invented-heres” and the legal doubletalk, and admit when someone has done you a whacking big favour? As Matthew Somerville has done for the Odeon Cinema group?

The guy who emailed Matthew to ask him to remove from the web the hard work he had put in to make their website accesible and easy to use, was Odeon Cinema’s marketing director, Luke Vetere. His email address is LVetere@odeonuk.com.

I’m going to email him and ask politely whether he couldn’t reach an agreement with Matthew where the expertise and work that Matthew did could benefit Odeon and their customers. Perhaps you could too, if you think Matthew was doing something right, because, hey – markets are conversations.


UPDATE: Phil Gyford is on this too, and it seems that the Odeon’s existing site just plain doesn’t appear in some browsers.

Right of reply?

Nice piece on Matthew “Saving the web, one site at a time” Sommerville in the Independent this week:

“Ever got really frustrated with a website? So frustrated that you decided to redesign it by creating your own interface to the information that it offers? Matthew Somerville has. Between completing his Oxford maths degree and starting his new job in October, he’s put together simpler, more accessible versions of the Odeon cinemas site, National Rail’s online enquiries and live departure boards, BT’s directory enquiries, and even the Hutton Inquiry. He’s got rid of such time-consuming hi-tech puffery as big graphics, JavaScript, frames, cookies, pop-up windows and drop-down menus. And in each case, his version is faster and easier to use.”

In the piece it goes on to quote the client at the Odeon (who apparently will no longer press Sommerville to take the site down – good!) as saying:

“Not only is his website an infringement of Odeon’s copyright, it is also confusing to Odeon customers.”

Good grief. He did it for free, because your site was confusing him, a potential Odeon customer. He’s at least given you a stick to beat your agency with for nothing! He’s doing your thinking for you, man! Talking of the agency – I’d love to know what the designers there think, if any of them are reading… Right of reply in the comments field below…