How can you alienate customers? Capital One can teach you an effective method. They offered a lesson to our household this week, in fine, sequential detail.
Last week we paid into a Capital One loan using check-by-phone. Easy to do. And the rep emailed me confirmation. Nice and smooth. Then, a few days later, a Capital One rep calls. "We haven't received payment on that loan."
Me: "I just paid this to you guys. Let me find the confirmation email."
Capital One: "Well, your bank didn't send the funds."
"Holy cow! Is my bank in trouble? I know I have enough funds to cover it." Did we make a mistake? Did we get hacked by identity fraud? Brief panic at our house.
Pause on their end. "Um, yes, you, er, did in fact pay us. The payment was, ah, misapplied to the wrong account."
Passive voice is usually the sign of culpability. Don't people know this yet? I replied: "OK, was that a mistake on my end?"
Embarrassed pause. "No, that was, ah, internal."
"So we're fine, right?"
Etc. I eventually got him to apologize for wasting my time and causing a brief panic, then went about my business.
This morning, they called again. "We haven't received payment on that loan." I sighed, summarized the previous conversation.
Capital One rep, right away: "Ah, I see that in my notes. Um, no problem. Sorry to bother you."
"Is something wrong with your system?" I worried.
Quite cheerfully he replied:"No, we're fine."
"You're certainly not fine." I harangued the poor chap, mentioned "harrassment," then hung up.
Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for Capital One's Customer Service: Contact Us page to load. It's been stalling for ten minutes.
One of the keen details of this little affair was how easy it was for the second and third reps to find out their mistake. It didn't take putting me on hold, connecting to another office, hunting around. The correct information was right there. At best, this reflects some disorganization or poor rep training and support.
Capital One: now at the bottom of our list when we seek our next loan. Are you listening?
Muppets meet computing in 1967: "the Real Computer Monster", a/k/a The Coffee Break Machine. I love the combination of technical language with goofy monster eating action, and the steady stream of cost analysis. The creature looks a lot like Cookie Monster.
Here's the version which appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show:
The second link above is to the Muppet Wiki. What an awesome resource.
This MetaFilter thread offers underground terror delights. It begins with the historical case of Floyd Collins, a Kentucky caver who died after being trapped for days not too far underground, and amidst a blaze of publicity. Follow the thread for links to all sorts of goodies, including the Collins musical, criticism, wonderment about compariative corpse contortion, a claustrophobia-inducing book, and a more recent story about death by spelunking.
Sometimes MeFi is wonderful.
Many Infocult readers have probably read this new Wired story, about a CIA scheme to stage a fake sf film to get some Americans out of revolutionary Iran, but I wanted to note several amazing passages. First, a Roger Zelazny-Jack Kirby-theme park axis:
All they needed now was a film — and Chambers had the perfect script. Months before, he had received a call from a would-be producer named Barry Geller. Geller had purchased the rights to Roger Zelazny's science fiction novel, Lord of Light, written his own treatment, raised a few million dollars in starting capital from wealthy investors, and hired Jack Kirby, the famous comic book artist who cocreated X-Men, to do concept drawings. Along the way, Geller imagined a Colorado theme park based on Kirby's set designs that would be called Science Fiction Land; it would include a 300-foot-tall Ferris wheel, voice-operated mag-lev cars, a "planetary control room" staffed by robots, and a heated dome almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building. Geller had announced his grand plan in November at a press conference attended by Jack Kirby, former football star and prospective cast member Rosey Grier, and several people dressed like visitors from the future. Shortly thereafter, Geller's second-in-command was arrested for embezzling production funds, and the Lord of Light film project evaporated.
Reminds me of Jodorowsky's Dune, which is nearly contemporary.
And an ARG-ish knitting of fiction into reality, which one could imagine under the header "This is not a CIA game":
The new production company outfitted its office with phone lines, typewriters, film posters and canisters, and a sign on the door: studio six productions, named for the six Americans awaiting rescue. Sidell read the script and sketched out a schedule for a month's worth of shooting. Mendez and Chambers designed a full-page ad for the film and bought space in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. The night before Mendez returned to Washington, Studio Six threw a small party at the Brown Derby, where they toasted their "production" and Mendez grabbed some matchbooks as additional props to boost his Hollywood bona fides. Shortly thereafter, the Argo ads appeared, announcing that principal photography would commence in March. The film's title was rendered in distressed lettering against a black background. Next to it was a bullet hole. Below it was the tagline "A Cosmic Conflagration."...
When the ads appeared, Hollywood Reporter and Variety writers called, generating small news articles in each magazine. "Two noted Hollywood makeup artists — one an Oscar winner — have turned producers," read an article in the January 25, 1980, Holly wood Reporter. "Their first motion picture being Argo, a science fantasy fiction, from a story by Teresa Harris ... Shooting will begin in the south of France, and then move to the Mideast ... depending on the political climate." (emphasis added)
There's also a bizarre Prisoner echo in the fake production company's name: Studio Six.
Launching his Citizendium*, Larry Sanger offers a manifesto at Edge. He lays out an intellectual apparatus supporting the 'endium, and builds up an argument to lure readers away from the Wikipedia. It's a flawed, strange, unnecessarily difficult essay, but a useful one, in part for its flaws.
One interesting gap in Sanger's argument is his failure to address the blogosphere. He references blogs only three times, doesn't engage at all with them despite being useful for nearly every point of his argument, and actively avoids them at key points, like this one:
it is absolutely true that dabbleristic (if you will), expert-spurning content creation systems can create amazing things. That's what Web 2.0 is all about. While many might sneer at these productions generally, Web 2.0 has created some quite useful and interesting websites. Wikipedia and YouTube aren't popular for nothing, and for many people they are endlessly fascinating.
Setting aside the condescension (see below), Sanger's focus on aggregation-oriented "websites" as sources doesn't really apply the the many-millions-sourced blogosphere. This is where his dichotomy of experts vs Web 2.0 falls apart, since many bloggers are experts, and blog precisely from that standpoint. Consider public intellectuals, researchers, critics, and teachers, just for starters. It is, in fact, the disunity, the multiplicity of the blogosphere which enables so many points of attraction; there is no site. Instead the blogosphere offers distributed conversations and filtering. Hence the usefulness of RSS in letting individuals aggregate and work between these many points - and notice the absence of RSS in Sanger's piece?
Notice, too, that Sanger doesn't say much about people enjoying the publication platforms represented by Web 2.0. Instead the content presented there exerts a fascination, the allure of a shiny object to which one does not contribute.
A different problem comes from the historical background Sanger evokes. He offers a model of ancient hierarchical domination of knowledge early on in the essay, seeing it advance up to something like the present day. As Nicholas Carr snarls,
If elites were tightly controlling "what we know" for the past few centuries, they were certainly doing a clumsy job of it...
Moreover, Sanger's historical model isn't merely inaccurate and simplistic, but based on an unsurprising, even predictable elitism:
What's most appalling is the way it presents "we" - by which I assume Sanger means the entirely imaginary claylike mass of undifferentiated beings that to him and others of his ilk represents mankind - as being dumb receptor valves entirely without imagination or a capacity for free thought. If from the Enlightenment to the present, "we" were spoonfed "what we know" by some central cabal of elitist gatekeepers bent on thought control, then why are we - or, more precisely, were we - so smart?
Along those lines, the R.U. Sirius podcast caught a similar condescension in an earlier passage:
The new politics of knowledge that I advocate would place experts at the head of the table, but—unlike the old order—gives the general public a place at the table as well.
"Is that the kids' table, Larry?" one speaker laughed on the podcast.
Sanger also commits the far too popular error of conflating wikis in general with the Wikipedia case. Quoting James Surowiecki, "An intelligent group, especially when confronted with cognition problems, does not ask its members to modify their positions in order to let the group reach a decision everyone can be happy with," Sanger claims that "that's exactly what happens on wikis, and on Wikipedia." Larry, that describes some wikis, but not all. Some wikis are closed, or single-authored, or group-authored, in ways which promote writing in ways other than consensus. How many have you seen?
Furthermore, one of the great problems of Web 2.0 is the fate of content which doesn't receive attention. The famous Siegenthaler entry, for example, became a problem in part because nobody bothered to read or edit it. It wasn't consensus, but lack of attention, and hence no operation of the wisdom of crowds, that led to the persistence of hoax content. This is very much a problem, especially for academia. Citizendium might offer some fixes for that, but Sanger doesn't offer any sign of seeing this possibility.
Sanger's essay falls prey to another historical problem. Despite it being a decades-old movement, the driver of the World Wide Web, with large numbers of academic objects attached to it (conferences, journals, scholarly articles and books), hypertext remains a problem for academia. We aren't sure how to handle the literacy of hyperlinks. We like to built information architectures which keep people from linking outwards, or just make it damned hard to do.
If Wikipedians actually believe that the credibility of articles is improved by citing things written by experts, will it not improve them even more if people like the experts cited are given a modest role in the project? And, on the other hand, if (somehow) it is not the fact that the cited references were created by experts, one has to wonder what the references are for. They have a mysterious, talismanic value, apparently. It seems that we all know that footnotes makes articles much more credible—but why? Whatever the reason, Wikipedians wouldn't want to say that it's because the people cited are credible authorities on their subjects.
That "mysterious, talismanic value" is simply the old, useful practice of hypertextual contextualization. That's foundational to the Web, both 1.0 and 2.0 (but not the 3d Web so far!). We can rely on the great work of experts, in short, without setting up hierarchies internal to our projects.
One last point: Sanger fails to offer a good answer to the challenge Wikipedia presents to academia, which is to participate in it. When I meet with other academics (professors, librarians, other campus staff) and read academic writing (cf the Chronicle, home of "internet: threat or menace?" journalism), they often speak of the Wikipedia as something wholly external, an object to behold, shun, or examine with goggles affixed to eyes lest they be injured by exposure.
What rarely comes up is the possibility of editing the thing, which would address many of the problems Sanger raises and suffers from. If one half of the United States professoriate and half the grad students - not all, just 50% - spent five minutes every year in one or two entries in their fields, surely the result would be an improved Wikipedia.
Take five minutes, folks, from a faculty meeting, or a committee, or a Friday afternoon, to check in on an entry concerning a topic to which you have devoted your adult life. Tweak a sentence for clarity. Add a line. Jump into the discussion of an article. Link to a single scholarly source you trust. Pick an entry which looks like it hasn't received as much attention as the others. Five minutes a year can't be too much to ask. Imagine the aggregate improvement for the Wikipedia, and, in turn, for the vast numbers of people who use
it. If we can't see the latter as a good, why on earth have any of us selected academia as a field?
I'm still going to follow the 'endium, in part because it is exercising an attraction on academics. But I suspect the problems I've laid out here will appear and shape the project's developmental arc.
*"Citizendium": the awkwardness of this name has come up nearly every time I've heard it spoken aloud. I wonder if those involved in the project will embrace the goofy sound, as various Web 2.0 proponents have done for their names.
The hypothesis of my haunted cyberculture project is that once we come up with a medium, we create stories describing it as a fearsome thing. These stories occur in fiction, nonfiction, and the slippery boundary in between the two. Today's case in point: an Alternet story about Twitter and social collapse.
The question is, how can a city of limited resources (water, gas, optical fiber) sustain an exponential growth in technology, innovation, and wealth?
In other words, will maintaining ourselves in Twitter time -- constantly growing the population, constantly using resources -- kill us? [Luis] Bettencourt and his colleagues say that's a very real possibility.(emphasis added)
Newitz suggests "Twitter time" is a form of destructive social singularity. Optimistically, a necrotic singularity mhich might be followed by a recovery period:
urban cultures [could] go through phases of Twitter time, then slow down again for a while, essentially "resetting" the model.
Newitz bases her discussion on a reading of a recent paper about urbanism, "Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities" (a direct link would have helped, Alternet, or even a clear citation! welcome to the Web). That Bettencourt, Lobo, Helbing et al article is, in turn, based in part on this 2004 study of patents and cities, which finds cities to be excellent innovation centers, beyond expectations and the rural world. This is really the core of her article. As such, turning to other, powerful drivers and dynamics, such as peak oil or globalism would have helped the piece.
Ultimately, Newitz isn't blaming Twitter for urban problems, but seeing it as a sign of them. Yet the article's presentation and rhetoric play that structure, at best using Twitter as a draw to bring readers into the broader questions of urbanism. Unfortunately, this means glancing off of Twitter, dismissing it as part of "the nerd loop" (ouch), and not seeing it as already being discussed (!): "I wasn't sure how to explain Twitter's bizarre popularity..." Annalee Newitz, please check the blogosphere. We've been explaining this for months. Heck, a technology manager just told me he misses the older days of Twitter.
Beyond this article, we haven't yet seen stories about Twitter in classic cyberfear patterns, like expressing forbidden sexuality, enabling copyright infringement, being used by terrorists, leading to murder and suicide, etc. If Twitter lasts, and/or its imitators grow, we should expect such accounts to arrive presently. We should expect a murderer's tweets to appear. Infocult is always looking for such stories - send 'em on!
(via Jon Lebkowsky)
The most Earthlike extrasolar planet yet has been spotted by astronomers in Switzerland. Gliese 581 c is in the narrow lifezone around its star. It's bigger than Earth, maybe five times our size, lurks close to a wee red star, whirls around it in about two weeks, but might hold water, and hence... life.
Technology Review notes a new avatarspace offering: the ability to get high. Red Light Center is offering various toking etc options for their Utherverse. So as the age of Third Life dawns, we might see this as another example of Balkanized or splintered 3d worlds.
RLC explains the appeal with several arguments, but this one really struck me - it's about celebrating giving in to peer pressure, safely:
By separating the social pressure from the real-world application, users have a totally revolutionary mechanism to deal with peer pressure, and actually to give in to peer pressure, without the negative consequences.
So you can embrace the marginal and conform at the same time.