normalization done poorly at the bank

I went to a bank yesterday to inquire why I was receiving mail at my old address despite having moved a number of months ago.  The first thing the representative did was pull up my record to show me that my address was correct in their system.  While that’s very nice, the mail has their name on it.  What’s more, I have received mail from this bank at my correct address already.

Then the representative tells me he’ll try to change it again in case the other person didn’t do it right.  While doing this he finds the problem and shows it to me.  This bank, in all their wisdom, has the customer’s mailing address on two screens.  A representative must make the change in two places.

Lessons from this:

  1. Scott blogged about normalization last year.  Having information in two places invites one to be wrong.  And we aren’t talking about the name of the state here.  Customer address is a piece of information you would expect to change over time.
  2. If you do have the same data in two places, you should write code that updates both rather than require people to do it.

Time Warner shame on you (the case of the missing vcr timer)

What happened

Time Warner Cable (in New York City) pushed a software upgrade to the cable box that got rid of the VCR timer feature.  This feature has existed since I got cable and allowed you to set the cable box to turn on/change channels automatically so you could record them on your VCR or standalone DVR.  I relied on this feature heavily.  I’m quite annoyed both by the fact the feature is gone and the way it was taken away.

Why tell your customers when you get rid of features?

I found out the VCR timer feature was gone when I got home last night.  I had set it on Wednesday night to record two shows from 8-10.  When I got home after 10 on Thursday to relax and watch one of them, I learned that my VCR had recorded two hours of blank screen.  While the shows are on and, they weren’t up last night when I was planning to watch them.  I also now have to watch them on a small computer screen rather than the TV.  It’s like I didn’t have cable yesterday.  Only it wasn’t due to a power outage; it was due to an intentional change by Time Warner.

I went back online to check last month’s bill.  Nary a mention of such a pending change.  Surely they didn’t think nobody used this feature.  A month’s notice would have been nice so I could have prepared in advance and not missed TV content.  Plus, why let people program a timer if you are planning to delete it.

What not to tell irritated customers

  1. You can use the power on to a specific channel timer. – Umm.  I can do that if I only want to record one channel each time I go out and never go on vacation.
  2. It’s better than before.  You can do <marketing blurb here>. – I’m mad, not stupid.  I used to be able to record shows for free*.   Now it’s $10 a month to do that plus some features I don’t need.  That’s not better. (As an aside, I used to be able to watch one show on network TV and record another for free before I got cable.  It’s sad when cable takes away a feature you get on regular TV.  I’ve been using an A/B switch and over the air antenna for that problem.) * Ok fine, it isn’t free.  I bought the VCR.  But that was a one time cost.  And I bought it when movie rentals came on videocassettes so I needed it anyway.
  3. I’ll give you one month of DRV free as an inconvenience credit because you sound annoyed. – While I’ll take the $10, I’m not any less annoyed.  An inconvenience credit works for an actual inconvenience (like the fact that my tv didn’t work yesterday from my point of view.)  It doesn’t make up for a new fee.  Hey Time Warner – I’d like to suggest a deal to you: I give you $10 once and then you give me $10 a month every month.

Why worry about customer usability when you have a monopoly?

My area has three choices for TV: Time Warner Cable, Verizon Direct TV or Verizon FIOS.  My building isn’t yet wired for FIOS and Direct TV requires a satellite (many apartment buildings don’t allow you to put up a satellite.)  Which means Time Warner is my only choice.

What this boils down to

Cable just went up $10 a month plus taxes.  I’d actually rather they have just raised the price of cable.  For that you’d get notice and it would be at the end of your contract.  This is just plain sneaky.

And guess what, you get to go the Time Warner store tomorrow

Ok.  So now I need a DVR.  There are two ways you can get one.  Go the the Timer Warner store or (wait and) pay for installation.  I don’t remember how much customer service said the installation visit is because I need to get this on a timely basis.  I’m rarely home when I want to watch TV and I resent paying the cable bill for TV I can’t watch.  So regardless of the other things I need to do tomorrow, I have to get myself to the Time Warner store to exchange my cable box for one that includes a DVR.  Assuming there wasn’t a run on them today from other people in the same situation.

And what went well

  1. The customer service rep was calm and polite.
  2. You can cancel dvr at any time.  I don’t think Time Warner will reverse their decision to force people to pay for a DVR.  However in the unlikely event they do, I’m not stuck with the DVR.  (even if I like the DVR, I don’t like that they are forcing me to get one.)
  3. Edited to add -the actual exchange and setup of the new box went well.  DVRs are certainly nice and I had been thinking of getting one when my VCR broke.  It was just that I wanted to do it on my own schedule.

And a big thanks to both CBS and ABC via Hulu for making it possible to watch the shows I missed.

Web 2.0 Expo – Day 3

My tweet on the keynote screnn at Web 2.0 Expo

My tweet on the keynote screen at Web 2.0 Expo

Today, I attended the final day of Web 2.0 Expo.See day 1 and 2 comments. Many of the presentation files are available.

General comments:

  • I grabbed a picture of one of my tweets on the live tweet stream ( third tweet down on the graphic)
  • Heather Gold referenced the live tweet stream a couple times and even mentioned one real time.
  • The conference had a community manager responding problems. I think this was nice at an event about communities

Day 3 Keynotes

As always, the keynotes were fantastic. They were:

  1. Heather Gold on conversational mechanics and the Yiddish word tummel – It means noisemaker or conversation starter. That’s the person who makes sure everyone is involved and has a good time at the party. As does Twitter, a tummeler helps you cross between worlds – who’s here; who’s not; how do I keep them energized?  You say what you think to start a conversation and get people to react to you.  For more see Heather’s site on “unpresenting.”
  2. O’Reilly style interview with Beth Noveck – Hosted today by Tim O’Reilly. Beth is the Deputy (second in command) CTO for the federal government. On the first day of Obama’s administration he signed an executive order for the nation’s first CTO and CIO. He also launched a program for open government. The vision is more transparency. In practice this is more difficult.  We are not just talking blogs and wikis; we are making a shift. Open government gathers public feedback as they go: not at the end when finished and done. The first government meeting was promoted by word of mouth and 30 agencies showed up. Some answers to questions submitted in advance via twitter:
    • lobbyists should not be writing policy or be on Federal Advisor Committee
    • Web 2.0 style feedback will supplement the 2-3 year research paper
    • in Boston someone created an app in one hour for when the next T (train) is scheduled. New York tried to shut down a similar iPhone app before relenting. This culture needs to change to have truely open government
    • each agency needs an open government plan prioritizing releasing data with citizen engagement
    • experimentation should come first then push towards a standard best way
    • the government can create a data platform “innovation gallery” and share apps across states
    • a little town is running feedback in Web 2.0 way. If suggestion gets accepted, get points. Can redeem points for things like “mayor for a day” or “ride with police chief”

    More URLs for open government:

  3. Dennis Crowley introduced foursquare.  This six person startup created a mobile application that is a mix of a friend finder, city guide and game. As you go places, you “check in”.   The game gives you points, badges and you unlock things to try new things, meet new people and explore your city. It’s only available in a few cities but it’s a cute idea.   People get competitive and try to be “mayor” of their local coffeeshop by frequenting the most often. They should do an amazing race style thing in your city through this
  4. Kevin Marks covered buzzwords to show how words crystallize an idea. Examples include:
    • flow – everything is connected to everything else
    • faces – powerful way to contextualize
    • phatic – grooming – may care what you had for breakfast if very close to you Really?  I’m not sure I need to know that.
    • following – both agree to be friends (facebook model) vs just following parasocially (twitter model)
    • small world networks – not random or grid; best when grid like with a few distant connections so info moves quickly
  5. IBM discussed what a friend is worth – The idea is to unlock your network to find the right person to answer a question.  IBM says the value of an e-mail contact is $948.  Beware of statistics.  This doesn’t scale.  It also represents the cost of not having that communication channel.  They were scientific with a cited standard deviation of $26.  You have the most success when friends of friends are not in your network.
  6. Microsoft marketed Azure – Azure is their cloud computing platform.  They do support a SDK for Java and Eclipse extensions recognizing the non-Microsoft world exists.
  7. Gentry Underwood spoke about “Designing Web 2.0 – Here come the Antropologists” – Facebook is almost up to 400 million users – half of all active internet users yet is the equivalent of Windows 3.1 in interation design.   He showed the hillarious FaceBook in Reality video. Design ranges from low level (buttons) to the higher level sociology and anthropology (how people and cultures interact on the internet.)  As social technology grows, interactions change.  For example, flashmobs on twitter.  Gentry ended with explaining more interaction design is needed for multi-touch displays; in particular large ones.

Web 2.0 Open
I went to more sessions of Web 2.0 Open since I enjoyed them so much yesterday.  Interesting points and URLs from Web 2.0 Open:

Building your tribe

  • Revolutionary ideas come from trying risky new ideas.  As adults we are afraid to try things because we have gotten burned.  For example, we no longer put our hand on things that might hurt us.
  • Your twitter account is a channel of information.  We aren’t limited to the major TV channels anymore.
  • In person social networks tend to decrease over time as people move, etc.  Work to keep them active.
  • Facilitate the exchange of social capital – don’t be the guy who sits there without saying anything.
  • The ghosts in pac man each have a specific strategy.  There is a spot on the map where the ghosts can’t find you because it is outside their strategies. Not relevant, but interesting.

Increasing your web presence for free or cheap

  • Presence is interacting with people, reflects you as a company
  • In 1997, FastCompany wrote “A Brand Called You.”  Turns out they were right.
  • Have a permanent URL (best if not on wordpress/typepad domains so you control links forever)
  • Check search status on Google, Yahoo and Bing – come preloaded as default with different operating systems and software
  • Make it easy for people to verify who you are – cross link your twitter, blog, etc.
  • Use pictures – people trust pictures.
  • The sites to use are often country/region specific (Facebook in US, Orkut in Brazil, etc)
  • Nobody has a good cross-twitter/FaceBook/Linked In/etc dashboard.  The closest just covers FaceBook and Linked In.
  • Track your comments/mentions on blogs
  • Set up Google news alert on your company name
  • Set up RSS feed on twitter mentions of your company name
  • Set up cotweet for group tweeting
  • Look at gist for updates on specific business contents.
  • See speaker/moderator’s blog for more.
  • If you need to delete a site from Google’s index, see webmaster tools

The FTC’s new disclosure rules

  • Go into effect: December 1st, 2009
  • Summary as it affects me: Reveal if you got something or have a relationship with the review/endorsement.
  • Other implications: Testimonials and endorsements must be representative of the average rather than the long tail, two standard deviations away case.  This affects the “results not typical” ads.
  • No backward compliancy is needed because blog posts are dated.
  • The FTC usually gives warning via a “cease and desist” letter.  If you aren’t following the new law properly or interpret it wrong by accident, you’ll likely get a chance to fix it.
  • Thinks will see more characters/animals endorsing products so don’t have to give disclaimer that the actor hasn’t tried it.
  • A good example of a book review disclaimer.
  • – If you need a free generated disclosure policy for your blog
  • – If you need a short disclosure for twitter.
  • The speaker/moderator has an excellent blog post on the topic.  She also showed a nice graphic showing when the new rules apply to you.  If I can find it, I’ll add it as a comment.

And finally, Microsoft on HTML 5 support in IE 8 (and related comments)

  • Microsoft claims it was a “myth-busting” talk and started out explaining how they shouldn’t be held accountable for IE 6 anymore.  It was a cute analogy – browsers are like milk – they should expire and go well with cookies.  They also pointed out IE 6 came out in 2001 before Firefox was born.
  • IE 8 has both an IE 7 and IE 8 rendering engine.  They recommend testing with IE 6 through 8.
  • For legacy sites, they recommend putting IE 7 emulation in the source.  For new sites, they recommending putting IE 8 emulation.  That way when IE 9 comes out, you don’t have to worry about backward compatibility.
  • They didn’t say geolocation made it in.  Does that mean it isn’t there?
  • They said everything covered today is in Firefox and Safari too.  Didn’t verify, but I assume it is true.
  • They did say there are a lot of details to figure out on how it works.  aka future bugs
  • DOM store – Store data in local store (across browser restart) or session store.  Up to 10 MB per site and 100 MB total.  Like local caching without cookies.
  • Mutable DOM prototypes – See the link.  Microsoft explains it better than me.  They showed an example of adding a validInput property to all form fields.
  • getElementsByClassName was not implemented in IE 8, but is coming – it is in HTML 5.  It’s also in jQuery of course so I wasn’t holding my breath.
  • Data URL – Can inline images or binary data.  This looks useful as you can dynamically generate an image without having to store it in a file.
  • AJAX Navigation – What gmail has been doing for years – hitting the back button works, but now built into onHashChange().
  • XDM (Cross Domain Messaging) and XDR (Cross Domain Request) – Windows, frames and iframes can pass information even if from different sites.  Mentioned a security issue in Firefox and Safari – check before use. Seems useful for portlets so don’t have to go to server for every little thing.
  • IE 8 Developer Tools – IE now has developer tools similar to Firefox/Firebug.  Old news to Firefox users.
  • CSS 3 vertical text is implemented
  • Microsoft Expression compares two browsers side by side and can overlay pixels to see where differs.  It is not a browser; it is a web design tool.  Free for comparing two versions of IE.  Paid version to include Firefox.  Requires Silverlight
  • They didn’t mention ARIA support, but it’s my favorite feature in IE 8.

Note: I have not tried any of the URLs referenced in this post.  I am just blogging that I heard them mentioned at the conference and intend to try some.