Archives for category: Technology

The fantastic end-to-end experience we get when we shop at Amazon has serious repercussions for our experiences when we shop on other ecommerce sites. This is especially true for us in Ireland when we want to shop on Irish websites.

I was reminded of this recently when I was trying to buy two items on the Currys PC World website. I selected the two items and went to my basket to check out. The first item, incredibly, was not available for posting to me – WTF! – so it offered me click and collect. I selected my closest store and it said it was out of stock. Yes, I was at the checkout stage. The closest store was in Dublin, over 100 miles away. S0 that’s €30 on fuel and a full day to pick up an item that cost €30…

I moved down to the second item. This was not available for click and collect – why not? – but was available for online delivery. With me so far? I filled in my billing details and clicked ‘continue’. No good, WTF! 2. I had to go back up and delete the first item that was only available in practically the next time zone. When I deleted the top item the page refreshed and left the bottom item in the checkout but wiped all of my hitherto completed payment details – WTF! 3.

None of these WTF! moments would have occurred on the Amazon site. I left the Currys PC World site feeling that its experience is so excremental compared to Amazon. We become so conditioned to how good the Amazon buying experience is, and the experience itself, by which I mean the shopping process they take us though – that it negatively predisposes us against other vendors.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I do the vast bulk of my online shopping on Amazon and why they’re hoovering up business.

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When my Dad died, about 12 years ago, there were a number of pieces of paperwork we had to complete. I say paperwork because the forms we had to fill in were just that, paper.

Dad was truly pre-digital. He didn’t have a mobile phone, an email address or an online bank account. He didn’t have anything digital. Heck, the guy didn’t even own a pair of jeans. When he died, we wrapped up his affairs in a 100% offline way. And that was it. He generated no more paper. He didn’t write any more letters.

Nowadays a good portion of us are digital. I’m sure you are, reading this blog post. When you die, what will your digital death be like? Will someone set up your email out of office for you? ‘I’m sorry, but Paul is not in a position to reply to your email, ever. You see, he’s dead.’ Will someone close your Facebook account, your other accounts, your online subscriptions? Will they even know where your passwords are, if you’ve committed them to offline or online sttorage somewhere? There’s guy I’m connected to on LinkedIn who hasn’t just retired. He died along time ago, and I get his work anniversary notifications, which is a bit surreal.

Your digital death extends way beyond your physical death, perhaps forever. When you die, you’re not just in our hearts and minds, you’re still around in the ones and zeros.

Blanket banner advertising

Online advertising is getting more and more targeted, as you’d expect. Companies and websites are getting better at collecting and mining customer information so that they can deliver more targeted ads which have a higher chance of converting, since in theory they resonate and are more relevant.

That doesn’t stop the odd bit of blanket advertising. Here’s one I got earlier in the year from M&S, promoting their Big & Tall range. I’m far from big and I’m far from tall. Surely if this is just a bulk buy from hotmail then it’s not appropriate for a section of the population in the high 90’s per cent?

I get lots of such ads to my hotmail account. I can tell you that they’re not remotely targeted. The only ones that are targeted are when I’ve abandoned a purchase on an ecommerce-savvy website like Amazon, and then it presents back to me the exact product I was either researching or declined to purchase.

To understand why companies still persist with untargeted ads and their microscopically small click-through rates, you have to put yourself in their shoes. Perhaps they don’t get the data from the owner of the space. Perhaps the click-through rates are still worth it. Perhaps the front-of-mind awareness, which has always been so hard to measure in the traditional offline world, is good enough for them.

Either way, it’s hard to believe that this form of untargeted online advertising has much of a shelf life.

 

Are you a ‘State of the Art’ person or ‘State of the Ark’?

State of the Art people love trying and owning the latest hot tools and playthings. They’re always on the lookout for the fresh and the new. They don’t mind paying a premium for being at the front of the queue and in some cases they’ll tolerate the kinks and bugs before they get ironed out.

State of the Ark people are quite happy with their outdated device, since redundancy or obsolescence don’t faze them too much. It works well for them, and if it isn’t broken then they don’t want to fix it. For them the gains in pleasure or productivity don’t offset the pain and effort of scaling the learning and adoption curve. Let the guinea pigs deal with the problems; we’ll take it when it’s 100% ready to go.

Much of this depends on where we are on the adoption life cycle for new things, toys and technology. It’s a kind of bell curve with innovators and early adopters at one end, and laggards at the other. In the main part of the bell curve are the early majority and the late majority who make up the vast bulk of us all.

It’s not just gadgets and gizmos though. The adoption lifecycle works for anything new and our place on it says a lot about the kinds of people we are and our attitude to change.

I’ve been travelling on Irish trains for 10 or 15 years. On the whole they’re reasonably comfortable and reasonably reliable, and quite expensive, perhaps because there’s a lot of fixed assets to maintain and a lot of staff mouths to feed. It being a state body, I imagine there’s a quite a lot of fat on the business that can’t be easily trimmed.

Irish Rail trains have these automated train announcements for their inter-city routes. The announcements come on at various points in the journey. I thought they were perhaps driven by GPS, so that when the train was a certain distance from a station, this triggered the ‘in a couple of minutes we’ll be in X’ announcement, and so on.

I don’t now think this is the case, because the announcements have been coming in at oddest the times, for quite a while. Recently I was on a Dublin-to-Galway service that was announcing we were coming to the various stops before we got to them – which is good – while we were at them – not so good – and after we had left them – not good at all.

Also, Irish Rail would do well to listen to the announcements of other operators like Gobus, whose messages are much more friendly and positive rather than negative. Irish Rail announcements have rather too much ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ about them. What’s wrong with saying ‘please avoid sitting in pre-booked seats’ or ‘please keep your feet off seats for the next passenger’? It’s less negative and conveys the same request. Theirs comes across as a bit semi-state and antiquated to my mind.

Finally, before I fall off my soap box, there are ticker tape-style notices on each carriage which display what the audio announcements say. On one of them, there has been a typo – an extra space like this  ‘please do not put your  feet on seats – for years and years. It must appear on every train, on every route in the country. You can’t tell me no member of Irish Rail staff has never noticed it and thought to get it fixed? It’s the detail that counts in the service business.

I’m going through a period of frustration with my iPhone’s texting function at the moment. With the latest release it seems harder, rather than easier, to get a quick text away.

The typepad is still incredibly small and the individual letters about a third the size of my finger tips. When you flip to landscape to use your thumbs it’s no better because although the letters are a bit larger, so are your thumb tips compared to your finger tips.

The autocorrect function seems to have had a wobble too. The other day I meant to type ‘did you’ and when I glanced up to the screen the application had offered ‘didymium’. Didymium? Is that even a word? Well, it turns out it is, and it’s unrelated to the small swinging parts key to male reproductivity – as in epididymitis. No, it’s some kind of chemical amalgam.

While I felt a very marginal gain in acquiring a new word, I also wondered why the autocorrect algorithm was set up to prioritise a highly obscure material ahead of a slightly mistyped ‘did you’ which must occur across devices a few million times a day.

I wrote recently about how many of us are in front of a device keyboard all day and manage to get by with 2 or 4-finger typing, rather than potentially the 10 digits at our disposal. When was the last time you saw a job ad for an predominantly office-based role that wasn’t for a PA or secretary that said ‘since the majority of your time is desk-bound, you must be able to type 50 words a minute or more to apply’?

When I had a few months off between jobs about 15 years ago, I went to a typing course. I didn’t last more than a couple of weeks. Even though I wasn’t working, I couldn’t spare the lost productivity while my typing speed was cut into a quarter of ‘slow’. I didn’t have the time to engrain the behaviours to see the long term benefit.

Because I’ve probably typed a million words since then, I’ve improved my typing ‘organically’. I’ve made it up as I go along. My organic typing is now a flurry of activity as hands cross over each other and fingers overlap. I look like a piano player when I type, and it’s hardly a virtuoso performance.

Interestingly, one of my brothers can type properly, and he’s had some issues with RSI – repetitive strain injury. I wonder if the act of anchoring your wrists down more and being more regimented with the spaces your fingers occupy makes you more prone to these injuries of ‘isolation’ compared to the organic way of letting the fingers go where they want to and damn the downturn in efficiency.

How many of us spend large amounts of time at a computer, device, smartphone or other digital device? What do we do on them? Well, principally we’re typing our part of some dialogue.

Isn’t it amazing that computers have formed the central role in our working and playing lives yet so few of us can type properly? What a bonus it would be to type as fast as we can talk, as fast as we can think even. How much more productive could we be?

Many of us continue to get by on 2-finger typing. I’ve graduated to 4-finger typing, with the occasional thumb for the space bar and the pinkie for the return key, when I don’t use the dictate function on my mac. It’s still painfully slow, but it’s progress of a kind I suppose.

I find it flabbergasting that the primary and secondary schools my kids go to don’t get typing and keyboarding lessons. Boys and girls both need it; it’s an essential skill for the modern world, even if we never type anything during our working day.

We’re all looking at the keyboard, when we should be looking at the screen. There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

I travel on Ryanair a lot, at least twice a month. It’s an affordable, efficient and on time airline. I’ve written about the airline a lot on this blog, too many links to insert here and also I notice there’s no search function on my blog, which I must fix – but, trust me, I’ve written about Ryanair a lot.

They’ve improved the way they treat customers over the years. After flying with them hundreds of times, I’ve never had to amend a pre-booked flight before, however. It’s a scam.

Many months ago I booked a long weekend away for me and Her Ladyship to Rome. She’s never been, so we were really looking forward to it. Out on the Friday morning, back on the Monday evening. Perfect.

Then my good lady got offered a new job, a great job. The only snag was that she had to start the Monday we were flying back from Rome, so I needed to cut short the holiday by one day and rebook the return flights.

Firstly, they stiff you €40 per flight to re-book. Painful, but not the end of the world. Secondly, the new return flights were for some reason really expensive, more than the original out and back flights combined, so I parked the change for a day or two to think about it.

As luck would have it, the next time I looked at the new flights I was in a brand new browser session, and had forgotten to follow the process of re-booking the pre-booked flights. Lo and behold, the price of the ‘net’ new flights was less than half the price of the ‘rebooked’ new flights going through the re-booking process.

Armed with this insight, I looked at re-booking both the outbound and return flights and going somewhere much cheaper that Rome, either Edinburgh and London. The re-booked flight prices were over twice the price of making a brand new booking.

So Ryanair charge you €40 per flight to change your flights and more than double the prices for the pre-booked flights. It’s a really laborious, painful process in their legacy system, too. It’s also a scam, plain and simple.

The original flights to Rome were €370. Brand new return flights to London were less than €100. To change the Rome flights and re-book to London would have cost us an additional €180, after the €370 credit had been applied.

I’m now looking at cancelling the flights to Rome. I’m not hopeful of getting anything back.

Don’t change your flights once you’ve booked them with Ryanair. They have you over a barrel and will ride you like a rocking horse, to mix some wooden metaphors.

I use Google Chrome for my web access. I use it on my Mac laptop.

Sometimes I’m just browsing. Most of the time I’m working. Sometimes I’m doing highly repetitive things like making small changes to web site text pages, via a content management system (CMS).

It’s the small things that make the difference when it comes to usability. I really like the circular timer thingy on a chrome browser tab. It’s so simple, and yet so communicative, instructive. When you do a ‘send’ like clicking a link or submitting something the circular thingy goes one way, and then when you start to ‘receive’ like getting a new page back or updating the page, the circular thingy goes the other way. When the browser fully delivers the page, the thingy disappears and the tab favicon comes back. I see the process every time I compose and update this post.

It’s not in the middle of the screen, obscuring your view and your productivity, like the pinwheel of death. It’s up in the browser tab.

This is great when you’re doing lots of updates, because as soon as you see the circular thingy reverse its direction you know you can switch to another tab, saving lots and lots of milliseconds, which add up over time and really help you out.

Well thought out, simple and illuminating. Marvellous, magical usability.