Overthinking User Experience? Alexa's Jeopardy Just Did

My wife and I were loyal, sheepish players of Alexa's Jeopardy game. Every weeknight like the moths to flame that we are, we would flock to our Amazon device (well, an Alexa-enabled Sonos actually) and commanded Alexa "Play Jeopardy!"

Here's how "Jeopardy!" on Alexa works

Everyone knows Jeopardy! Host Alex Trebek gives contestants a series of clues in the form of the answers to questions. Contestants, some better than others then must answer in the form of a question (e.g. Clue: "You know you're here when you have nothing better to do." Answer: "What is ryannorris.com?"). On Alexa's Jeopardy! - each night one question is picked from each category from that night's episode and asked of sheeple like my wife and I by Alexa. We get way more wrong than right most of the time - and it generally allows us to think how stupid we are to not know what the anagram for "Dip Shuts It" is.

To keep you interested beyond the trivialities of the clues is that it will tell you how you did daily and weekly against the other contestants. Every week this is less exciting - if you can answer more than 10% of the clues correctly in a given week you will likely be in the top 1% of all contestants. But daily, there are certainly about 10% of contestants who answer all 12 (only 6 if you are not an Amazon Prime member) correctly.

It's fun. A tad repetitive. And definitely something that fills a valuable 5 minutes of the day.

It's pointless drivel, so what IS the point?

I'm pretty sure they want you to watch more Jeopardy! - this whole thing seems relatively cheap to produce, it probably buoys viewership when people like James Holzhouer show up. But it has its limits. There are only 6 or 12 questions each day. You can only play Monday through Friday (there are no Jeopardy! episodes on weekends to poach questions from). Playing with other people, particularly in the same room (and particularly with spouses) is difficult. Annoying. Alexa will mistake each other's excitement to answer the clue "A cookie with a creamy center and a stale sandwich" as "What is Borneo?" when you both answered "Oreo." But we still play.

And for this, all Alex Trebek asks us at the end of each game is to watch Jeopardy. It's cheap acquisition.

Now that Monday through Friday thing is pretty limiting. Not getting weekend engagement is a rule of physics of sorts for the internet. So the solution: put together a game of "best of" clues on Saturday, and a game of "Sports" questions on Sunday. Nice pilot. Better to have some engagement than no engagement at all. Right?

Fixing things that aren't broken

So the format of Alexa Jeopardy! was pretty simple. Alexa gives you the clue, you answer. The exchange goes a little like this:

The next category ::Jeopardy Chime:: Potent Potables. This drink of rum and pineapple juice sounds more like neckware.

The answer is of course: Mai Tai. Again, it's a simple game, easy to automate. A little bit of Jeopardy! branding with the chime between category and question. But it doesn't try to do too much. But with the updates to add a Saturday and Sunday game, someone just couldn't help themselves. It now sounds like this:

Today's 7th Jeopardy Category ::Jeopardy Chime:: Potent Potables. This drink of rum and pineapple juice sounds more like neckware. ::extra Jeopardy chime:: ::Alexa voice chime::

And it all fits inside the same amount of time that the old sequence did. Plus we have the multiple chimes, the odd chime after chime where you're trying to give your answer but can't be sure that Alexa is actually listening...it's annoying.

And then there's just the issue of fitting more words in the same time. It's like Alex Trebek was replaced with the Micro Machines guy.

What is the point of all this? Who knows. Does it change my experience to know which clue I'm on? Maybe. Do the multiple chimes help me know when to speak? Shit no.

I've been known to piss off a number of UX professionals by saying that UX is the art of tricking people into doing the things with a technology that you want them to do. I'm not wrong. It just strikes at the friction in UX. With great power comes great responsibility, etc. But is it possible by thinking you can improve the good thing you can make it worse? Purposeless changes in UX create purposeless impacts on the UX.

Now my wife doesn't want to play Jeopardy! again. Thanks designers.

Ryan Norris

Ryan Norris

Ryan is the former Chief Product Officer at Medullan, CTO at Be the Partner and Vitals, and now is a CTO consultant at Osmosis Knowledge Diffusion and has projects in alternative education, digital therapeutics, and patient engagement.

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