“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899.
(HT: The ROWE blog)
I saw a company policy somewhere once that stated:
“All information taken off the internet should be considered suspect until confirmed by information from another source. There is no quality control process on the internet; a considerable amount of information is outdated or inaccurate, and in some instances may be deliberately misleading.”
Default-negative views like this are life killers.
This is funny, from a recent issue of Wired. I had no idea that nutraloaf existed:
Could science build a completely nutritious space food? Sure, but it’d be a lot like nutraloaf, a substance served to prisoners in solitary in some states.
It’s so unpalatable that it’s the subject of several lawsuits.
The ingredients are ordinary enough, and Vermont’s version of the recipe (this makes three 1,000 calorie loafs) is balanced for fat, protein, carbs, and vitamins. So how could such a harmony of food and science constitute cruel and unusual punishment? Because it tastes like cardboard, smells like rotten eggs, and looks like baked vomit.
By the way, the ingredients are: whole wheat bread, canned spinach, great northern beans, powdered skim milk, potato flakes, tomato paste, nondairy cheese, raw carrots, seedless raisins, and vegetable oil.
AT&T has a plan where you can save something like $5 per month on your cell bill if enough people in your company have AT&T for their wireless and enroll in the savings program. Something like that.
So I went on to sign up for the savings the other day, and AT&T charged me $36. They charged me $36 to enroll in a program designed to save money. They charged me a fee in order to get the discount.
A discount program should, at the very least, produce good-will in the customer. This program does the opposite. Now, AT&T is very close to earning a place on my list of things that should not exist.
We’ve all experienced it: you call your credit card company or some other such company, and are prompted to enter your account number into the keypad. Then, when a real person comes on, they ask you for your account number again.
This is a poor customer experience. Why ask the first time if they are simply going to ask again? I can understand that, for security reasons, they might want the live person to get the number from you. But what possible benefit can it be to them to have you key it into the pad initially if they are only going to ask for it again later?
That’s a rhetorical question. I’m sure the companies have lots of good reasons. But, there are good reasons behind every poor customer experience. We need to get beyond allowing “good reasons” to complicate the customer’s life. And if we say “what’s the big deal with requiring the customer to do another 30 second action,” we aren’t truly thinking of the customer first.
I received a mailing from a fundraising consulting company today advertising a new “cutting edge technology” that they can offer to their non–profit clients: a font that looks like real handwriting but in fact is not. In other words, fake real handwriting.
This is appalling. Why would a non-profit want to use this service? Plain and simple, the thinking behind this seems to be: “We can make your donors think that they are reading real handwriting so that they will feel that the message is more personal. Then, they might give more.”
If you could read the fake-real handwriting in the image above, you’d see this perspective come out as well. But you don’t have to read that to see it. What can the value be in fake-genuine handwriting (they are calling it “genuinely penned handwriting”) if the person knows that it was created by a machine?
If you know that a machine created it, then it no longer seems personal. So the purpose of this “genuinely penned” stuff seems to depend upon the person thinking it is real. But if you think that it is real, then your assessment of the “personal nature” of the writing is not based on reality. In which case, in a very real sense, you’ve been tricked.
Why do certain direct marketing companies — and, in turn, the non-profits who use and follow their consulting services — reduce themselves to such tactics?
This company is being added to my list of things that should not exist.
We ended up taking the stairs.
I went to a site today (which shall remain nameless) to do a basic task. I was unable to find the “sign-in” area so I could sign in and take care of things.
Then I noticed a peculiar area on the home page: “How-To Video Demonstrations.” Normally one would think, “What a creative idea.”
Except that these video demonstrations are for basic tasks on the website that should not have to be demonstrated. They include: “How to register for an account on our site,” “how to log in to your account,” “how to enroll in online billing,” and “how to pay your bill online.”
Those things should not have to be demonstrated. They are basic, fundamental tasks, and it wastes the user’s time to have to a watch a video to know how to do them.
It is not hard to make the site easy to use such that users will find basic tasks immediately evident. That’s what a good site does. It makes things so simple that they do not need to be demonstrated.
And when it comes to signing in to your account, this site has apparently taken a process that thousands of sites have made simple and turned it into a nightmare of complexity. Which they then “rescue” with this creative idea of video demonstrations. This is one instance where a creative idea should not have been necessary.
Or, better, the way to be creative here would have been to make the way to do these actions self-evident. That’s what good sites do.
Maximizing usability, in fact, is the proper goal and aim of any site on the web, because if you can’t use the site easily, the content will lie dormant and the brand value of the company will diminish in the user’s eyes.
Nobody does a better job of laying out how to make a site usable than Steve Krug in Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition, which I highly recommend for those who are interested in the subject of making websites usable.
In the meantime, I’m going to be watching an online video demonstration…
I’ve heard the following message a couple of times now while waiting for my flight at the Philadelphia airport. It goes something like this: “If you feel that you have been overcharged in any of our shops, please let us know.”
That does not instill much confidence in those shops! It almost sounds like a form of reverse advertising.
Normally when I’m on a plane I read the whole time. But today I had to get up at 4:30 to catch an early flight out and decided to sleep.
This was not the best decision I could have made. The space is already pretty small, obviously. Then my seat wouldn’t go back for some reason, though of course the person in front of me was able to put their seat back.
I found it impossible to figure out a decent position to rest my head, and wavered in and out of sleep for pretty much the entire flight.
I think there were a couple of other times when I tried to sleep on a plane, never with much success. Has anyone ever been succesful at getting decent sleep on an airplane? Alternatively, how do you make the most of the time when you fly?
Just had lunch at a Mongolian barbeque in town. I really like those places. However, one thing has always stood out to me: the bowls they give you are way to small for the purpose.
For those who aren’t familiar with Mongolian barbeque, here’s how it works: You go through a buffet to fill up a bowl with meat, vegetables, and sauce, and then give it to the cooks who barbeque it on a Mongolian griddle. It’s great.
But the bowl is smaller than your typical cereal bowl (sorry for the image quality–it was dark and I took this with my iPhone, and apparently wasn’t very steady):
So it always overflows when you’ve added what you want:
Solution: Conform to the way users actually behave and provide bigger bowls. I’m sure there are reasons behind the smaller bowls, but I’d advocate thinking first from the user’s perspective.
In the meantime, you can use two bowls if necessary: one for the vegatbles, and one for the meat. But that’s twice as much to carry through the buffet.
I was going to spend the afternoon working at Starbucks today. (I’ve been working remotely from home for the last few months, and sometimes it’s a good change of pace to get out of the house.)
Then I remembered how they charge for WiFi, and decided to stay away.
There are three reasons Starbuck’s decision to charge for WiFi is not best:
First, it slightly diminishes the value of their brand. My esteem for Starbucks is a bit lower because they are unwilling to make the simple customer-oriented choice to make their WiFi free. Especially when even most hotels now offer free WiFi.
Second, it complicates things. The problem is not simply that it costs $10 to get online there (although that’s a big barrier). The problem is also that adding the payment gateway increases complexity. You have to create a username and password, for example. My password list is already 16 pages long (yes, 16 pages). It is not fun to have to add to that list.
Third, it probably costs them sales. They’ve probably done the analysis on this, and so maybe they would say this is made up for by the revenue generated by the WiFi. But speaking as a customer, there is at least one less person buying coffee at Starbucks today because of this WiFi policy.
I don’t want to sound down on Starbucks here. They do great work. But if their value proposition is that they create a “third space” rather than simply selling coffee, they have an opportunity here to do things better and advance their brand.
It has been said on the campaign trail a couple of times now that those making over $250,000/year can “afford” to pay more in taxes. There are lots and lots of problems with this thinking. First among them is that the issue is not about what citizens can “afford,” but about what the government has a right to do with people’s money. Another issue is that this statement wrongly assumes that the government can utilize that money more effectively than the individual who earned it. We’ll talk about these things more in future posts on making good decisions in the economic and political realms. (In the meantime, I highly recommend Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics 3rd Ed: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy.)
But if we want to talk about fairness, Hugh Hewitt made an excellent point last Friday in his post on Obama’s plan to “share the wealth:”
What Obama doesn’t understand is that behind every small business that gets to the level he where he wants to slam new taxes on it, are years and sometimes decades of hard work and low, if any, profits, deferred dreams, and large debts that need to be paid from today’s success as well as tomorrow’s retirement plan to fund.