Sorting My TV
For a few years now, I’ve tracked the TV shows I’m watching using the iOS app Couchy, which integrates with the Trakt.tv service. Sadly, Couchy ceased development last year. I’ve kept using it since then, but in the past few weeks it’s finally started to fail.
I looked at (and purchased) many, many alternative apps back when Couchy’s demise was announced, but I could never find one that I liked as much. In particular, I haven’t found a match for the information density of Couchy’s main screen combined with its “smart” sort order.
Couchy’s main screen shows a scrollable grid of portrait-orientation poster images for each TV show, three to a row on my iPhone, each with text below it showing the show name, how many episodes behind I am, the season, the episode number, and title of the next episode. (I’d include a screenshot here, but poster images are no longer loading for me in Couchy, so it wouldn’t be much to look at.)
The sort order determines how the shows are placed in the grid. Within the app, Couchy describes its smart sort as follows:
Shows will be sorted in the following order:
- Episodes airing today
- Missing episodes
- Awaiting episode
- Ended shows
As I’ve tweeted about my search for a Couchy-replacement app, I’ve found it difficult to explain what I’m looking for in terms of sorting. And even Couchy’s sorting is sometimes not quite what I want. So I’d like to explain here instead, free from Twitter’s character limits.
What I Want
I use an app like Couchy because I’m usually in the middle of watching many different TV shows. When I have some time to watch TV, I launch Couchy to remind myself what I’m currently watching, how far behind I am, and which shows have new episodes waiting for me. This is my most important use case: choosing a show to watch.
I have so many TV shows in my trakt.tv collection that sorting is essential to helping me select a show. I don’t want to scroll through dozens of shows to make a selection. I want to look at the top one or two screenfuls of shows on my phone and be sure that I’m seeing all the shows I’m most interested in watching now.
Most simple sort orders don’t work for my purposes. For example, consider sorting by the date of the latest episode. There are many shows in my collection that I’m not actively watching. Maybe I’ll get to them in the future, but for now, the unwatched episodes are just piling up. If those shows jump to the top of the sort order every time a new episode is released, it’s just noise to me. They’re obscuring the shows I actually want to watch.
Sorting by the number of unwatched episodes has similar problems. Sorting by the date I last watched an episode of a show might seem like it’d work, but I might really want to know about a newly released episode of a show that I’m caught up on but that hasn’t released an episode in a while.
If I had an actual, concrete algorithm in mind, I wouldn’t be writing all this. I could have explained it in a tweet. But I haven’t thought it through enough to nail it down at that level. What I can do instead is describe the desirable features of such an algorithm.
If I’m not actively watching a show, it should be pushed down in the list. Deciding what “actively watching” means will surely involve some thresholds (e.g., “has watched an episode in the last N days”), and it would be nice if those were configurable.
Shows that I’m actively watching should jump to the front of the list when a new episode is released.
Shows that I really like but that are on a break (e.g., between seasons) should jump to the front of the list when a new episode or season is released. Again, determining which shows I “really like” is tricky. An easy out here is to just have me choose by marking them as favorites. A ranked list of favorites would be even better and would help with sorting decisions near the top of the list.
When sorting shows that I’m actively watching (or really like) that just had a new episode or season released, favor shows with the smallest backlog—except in cases where a whole new season just dropped for a favorite show. For example, let’s say I’m one episode behind on Homeland, two episodes behind on Fargo, and caught up on The Expanse, which is a favorite show. If Homeland and Fargo both release new episodes and The Expanse releases a whole new season, all on the same day, the sort order should be: The Expanse first (even though it has the largest backlog), Homeland second (because it has a shorter backlog than Fargo), and Fargo next.
I could go on, but I think I’m getting into the weeds. The four points above capture most of it. I’m sure other people have their own preferred sorting orders, but this one is mine. I’ve seriously considered writing a trakt.tv client app for iOS just to scratch my own itch, but I don’t think I’m ready to tackle a task that large quite yet.
In the meantime, if you’re an author of one of the many trakt.tv client apps in the App Store, please consider implementing something like what I’ve described here. I’ve probably already purchased your app, but I’ll be extremely grateful on top of that.