Tag Archives: online equivalent

Another Birthday, Another Batch of Birthday Spam

bday  

It’s that time of year again. The big old 3 0, or however old I am. And the first where I’ve really felt the power of social networks. Not in a good sense, though. Sure, it’s been nice to get some greetings from ‘loose ties’ in my online world who spotted, in one social network or another, that today is my birthday. Thanks, Graham and co. Really.

But all the other stuff? From websites I signed up for and, in a moment of madness, entered my real birthday (tho usually, the wrong year: 1900. That should mess up their stats.) There’s something rather sad about finding yourself getting more email greetings from services you’ve signed up for than from real people. How pathetic is that?

And not just for my own miserable existence. How is it that companies think that folk like me either a) enjoy being wished a happy birthday by some automated computer script, or b) are ready to believe that employees at the company involved sat around and thought “Oo! It’s Jeremy’s birthday today! We should send him something!” Either way I come across as pretty stupid.

Which I’m not necessarily disagreeing with. Hey, I’d rather get birthday spam than nothing at all. And when you get to my age either your friends have long given up on you or think you’re too old to get real birthday cards with little badges stuck on them you can wear. Message to friends and Auntie Mildred: You’re never too old to get cards with badges on. Never.

Of course, social networks aren’t all bad. At least with services like Facebook you can send birthday greetings and be reasonably sure they actually arrive. Which is more than you can say for those e-cards. Those silly email services where you choose the least lame ‘card’ from a very lame selection and whisk it off, feeling you’ve done the best you can for your buddy/spouse/mother. Awful. Thankfully, no-one sends those anymore, knowing that either they’re so lame they were losing friends/spouses/mothers or that most of them wouldn’t get through spam filters.

Anyway, we should be smarter than this by now. I’d love to see social networking tools used better to celebrate birthdays. We all know we don’t actually remember people’s birthdays; we remember to put them into some diary or calendar so it reminds us. Preferably before the day itself. Technology has just made that more efficient. But it’s lame to then just turn what is supposed to be a very personal experience into a generic one by automating birthday greetings. Who (besides me) wants one of those?

Social networking tools should offer users the chance to opt out of receiving birthday greetings, or to receive them only from insanely attractive members of the desired gender, or automate a quick whipround so the birthday person gets a free year’s subscription or a real g-string or something. I don’t want to sound venal, but whoever enjoyed a birthday made up of only greetings cards or their online equivalent? Where, in short, is the loot?

Why can’t, for example, a mall recognize someone with a birthday has entered the building and offer them freebies and piped ‘happy birthday’ music through the tannoy system? Or car-parks offer free parking? Or banks extra credit? If these companies were sincere about wishing us a happy birthday, shouldn’t they put their money where their mouths are?

And, finally, a thought. Why, if I registered my year of birth as 1900 for these services, aren’t the companies either awarding me ‘oldest living customer’ badges, or sending someone round on my birthday to check I’m ok/still alive, or something? If they really cared, wouldn’t they make more of a fuss of their 107 year old customer?

Protect Your Privacy With Twiglets

laplink

I really hate being asked for lots of private details just to download a product. In short: People shouldn’t have to register to try something out. An email address, yes, if absolutely necessary.

But better not: just let the person decide whether they like it. It’s the online equivalent of a salesperson shadowing you around the shop so closely that if you stop or turn around quickly they bump into you. (One assistant in Marks & Spencer the other day tailed me so closely I could smell his breath, which wasn’t pleasant, and then had the gall to signal to the cashier it was his commission when I did, without his help, choose something to buy.) I nearly put some Marks & Spencer Twiglets up his nose but that branch doesn’t sell them.

Anywhere, latest offender in this regard is Laplink, who ask for way too much personal information just to download trial versions of their products, including email address, full name, address, post code, company name. Then they do that annoying thing at the end of trying to trick you into letting them send you spam with the old Three Tick Boxes Only One of Which You Should Tick if You Don’t Want To End In Every Spammers List From Here To Kudus Trick:

laplink2

Rule of thumb there is to tick the third one in the row because it’s always the opposite of the other ones. As if we’re that stupid.

The other rule of thumb is never to put anything accurate in the fields they do require you to fill out. Not even your gender. Childish? Yes, maybe, but not half as childish as their not trusting you enough to decide whether you like the product on your own terms and not fill their spamming lists.

Of course the better rule of thumb is not to have anything to do with companies that employ such intrusiveness and trickery, but we’d never do anything then.

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Staying Productive in Your Underwear

I’m researching a piece on how to cut back the amount of stuff you have to read, particularly RSS feeds. So I have spent the morning reading blogs related to the tools I’m writing about. In the process, of course, I find more than 20 new blogs that are interesting enough for me to add to the feed reader that I’m supposed to be in the process of thinning out. It’s the online equivalent of packing up all your stuff in newspaper ready to move and then sitting down and spending the whole day reading fascinating news items on scraps of year-old newspaper.

Anyway, I realise I should write more about working from home, something I’ve done (the working from home, not the writing about it) for more than five years now. Here’s a great bunch of tips from Kevin Yank, who’s based in Australia although, yes, he’s a Canadian:

He recommends maintaining your morning routine as if you’re going to the office, unplugging the TV, and, most interestingly, purging your work PC of distractions. His home PC, meanwhile, “constantly checks my personal email, downloads podcasts, fetches low-priority feeds from a plethora of distracting web sites, and is replete with cute little apps that generate eye candy and always seem to need upgrading when I should be doing something else.”

Great idea to have two computers if you can manage it. Although I’m divided on whether it’s possible to divide work and personal stuff these days. Doesn’t one feed off the other? I found myself yesterday arguing fiercely with a friend from a major U.S. bank who said she was not even able to access web-mail on her work computer. To me this is daft; limiting workers’ access to such things merely panders to lazy IT staff and undermines the chances workers will be well-informed, motivated and well-connected. Of course, as smart phones take over these kinds of connectivity roles — email, IM, VoIP, presence, RSS, blogging, photo taking and sharing — all these efforts will be worthless anyway. Then we’ll have to check our phones at the door. Or work from home.

Anyway, I like Kevin’s ideas. The more professional you make your environment, the better you will function. Now I’m off for a lie-down.

Love Hertz, Cos I Don’t

Booking online is, sadly, still sometimes as mindless and time-wasting as dealing with an automated phone system. I’ve just tried to book a rental car online for the UK. OK, so Christmas is a busy time, but some of these sites take so long to navigate it would be quicker to walk. Actually, Budget and Avis weren’t all that painful. They told you straight out what was available and what wasn’t (although call me old fashioned, but I still feel that online should offer deals for more expensive cars if less expensive ones aren’t available).

The one I have a problem with is Hertz. They don’t tell you what’s available, they only tell you what’s not available. And even then, you have to ask for it first. It’s the online equivalent of a Monty Python sketch (or an Indonesian shop manned by undertrained staff) where you only find out by trial and error what is actually for sale. Click on a kind of car and then submit your request for a quote. Some time later, you’re told

Hertz

So then you try selecting another vehicle, and then another, and then another…. until eventually you get to the bottom of the list — seven or eight car categories later — without a single vehicle available for the timeslot you’re looking for, and you begin to wonder whether they actually have any cars at all. What do they keep there in their lot? Santa’s sleigh fleet? Herds of reindeer? I must confess I didn’t try the extra categories that were a little out of my league, from the “Landrover Discovery 2.5 or similar” to the “Ford Transit 17 Seater – Corporate rentals only or similar”. Next time I will bring the extended family along, just so I can rent a car.

But, Hertz, come on. This is 2005, nearly 2006. Surely you guys have figured out that websites like this don’t cut it anymore? Web site navigation has got to be intuitive, imaginative and should anticipate what the customer needs, not just a bolt-on interface for your lousy car database. A simple “This category of car is not availalble, can we recommend a category F car instead? The following models are available at this station” would be enough in this instance to have kept my interest as a customer. Now you’ve lost one more customer who’s off to catch a bus.

Getting Communal With Books

It’s always hard to explain to people why sharing stuff online is so powerful. For one thing it’s getting easier, with del.icio.us etc. But the real power is in being able to harness the wisdom of others in finding stuff. Simply put, it’s the online equivalent of asking among your most knowledgeable acquaintances for helping in finding things — from a good barber to a good book, a good CD to a good funeral home. Anyone who has read The Tipping Point will know the importance of mavens (or was it connectors?) so it’s not rocket science that this is an amazing use of the Internet’s leverage. Why some people remain hostile to it baffles me.

Anyway, here’s another great communal sharing thing, written up well by Jim Regan: Do your own LibraryThing | csmonitor.com:

Book clubs and English classes notwithstanding, reading tends to be a predominantly solitary pastime, and truth be told, not many of us have ever considered listing the contents of our ‘personal libraries’ for either our own or anybody else’s entertainment. But the Internet keeps finding new ways of changing our habits, and LibraryThing appears poised to turn the cataloging of books into a form of communal recreation.

Definitely worth a read.