Time I will never get back

My friend struggles with technology on a daily basis. She thinks that technology is specifically designed to be annoying to her. She sees nothing intuitive about the user interfaces in modern solutions from phones to washing machines. She is especially annoyed when software is designed to increase effort instead of reduce it and do not get her started on the illogical and nonsensical rules that stores come up with as their way of doing business.

Finally she snapped this week and threatened a sit-in protest at the O2 store because her free phone upgrade couldn’t be given to her because the accounting system wasn’t able to deal with the free upgrade. She pointed out that, as it was a free upgrade, the accounting system would be unaffected by a €0.00 transaction. Alas too logical for modern systems.

She is right about every one of these pieces of technological stupidity. Why do we do this? Why do we enshrine the most detailed and complex set of business rules into multiple layers of technology and completely eliminate common sense and dis-empower the people operating these systems from overriding the stupidity and doing the right thing for the customer?

As Seth Godin said in his blog this morning. “What makes a celebrity special? … It’s exciting to shake hands or get an autograph from a famous person … you’re getting a slice of attention from someone who has other options. … Your customers too. They’re famous now. Time to start treating them that way.”

Time also to rethink blind logic, strict adherence to policy, practice, procedure, process and all those other pesky, pissy details that get in the way of common sense.

And now a special message to SmarterMail, Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Google, Bing, Yahoo (all of whom failed me last night) …

In my friend’s slow drift towards the latest and greatest technology she upgraded to an iPhone. Her excellent website provides her with email through SmarterMail which, as the name implies, provides a superior email service. Connecting her BlackBerry to this email was easy – so easy that she did it herself. Connecting to the iPhone was impossible. Googling, Binging, Yahooing the problem came up with results that talked about the 2nd Generation iPhone and were dated 2008. Apple had no information. SmarterMail had none either that was current. After three hours of persisting I finally cracked the code and connected her phone to her email.

Why is it that, as a supposed engineering discipline, we think the word “standard” is a plural. Can we agree that somethings will be standardized. Cell-phone chargers do not need to come in 50 varieties. Apple computers need to have a VGA output. And connecting to email servers should require email address, password and URL and the systems should work out everything else. The only Port Number I care about is the year it was bottled!

So, are we all agreed? If you bring out new stuff you need to pass the following tests:

  1. Does it really make my life easier?
  2. Does it work (without doing anything) with ALL the existing stuff?
  3. Can it be downloaded, installed, configured and used without studying computer science, without calling a friendly geek, without answering silly (or incomprehensible questions) and without “losing hours of my life that I will never get back” … and … and this is the biggy
  4. Will I GAIN hours of improved lifestyle because of it?

If the answer to any of those questions is no – don’t release it – it is Beta and you should never practice on the paying public.

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