Facebook Facelift Flap

October 30, 2009

Facebook (the popular social networking site) made some changes to the home page recently. Sounds pretty routine – web pages and software applications are updated regularly and routinely. But these changes triggered an astonishing array of protests around the world. See as examples:

Malaysian News

Eighth-grader leads Facebook protest

My take on this is that to some degree, if you provide technology, software or web services to the public, you simply have to accept that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Technology, including user interfaces, needs to be upgraded on a regular basis to avoid becoming stale, dated and even less useful. But each upgrade will trigger a certain amount of dissatisfaction from those of the existing user base who are comfortable with the status quo – at the same time that it pleases and excites the other users. So how do you please as many people as possible, most of the time?

The key to managing changes, upgrades and facelifts is timely and effective communication. Here’s where perhaps Facebook fell short. While I am by no means a hard-core Facebook fanatic, I do visit my Facebook page multiple times per week, and I had no idea about the changes until after they took place. So whatever means they used to communicate the impending changes (if they did), having escaped my attention, no doubt was also missed by many (if not most) other users. They could, for example, have generated a pop-up screen on login, displayed a few days ahead of deployment, giving explicit information about the change with a hyperlink for more details and a video tutorial.

Lesson learned:

I’ve found during my career that clear and timely advance communication generally paves the way for early and easy acceptance of change – and that springing surprises on people usually provokes resistance and anger. I’ve also found that many in the technology industry simply don’t get it.


Show and Learn

October 23, 2009

Earlier this year,  the company I work at, Blue Link, hosted some university students on an “Extern” job shadowing program (see http://www.careers.utoronto.ca/progServ/extern.aspx). Our technical staff had university students observing them as they performed their day to day work activities, providing some explanations and Q&A.  The students were pleased with the experience, and you’ll see some of their comments later.

But for me, the most interesting aspect was the fact that our employees reported the same benefit: we also learned a great deal from the experience. (I’ve often found that teaching a subject is the most effective way to master it. It seems that this applies even to the simple act of sharing what you do and explaining it. )

For example, when developers had to verbalize their thinking on design decisions, and explain their reasoning to the externs, they were more clear (in their own minds) about the choices they made. A technical support analyst, after reviewing the triage guidelines with the Externs, is now more comfortable with the process and the reasoning behind it.

The following are comments made by the students, as supplied by Ron Wener, the program coordinator:

  • The positive aspects of my placement experience would be the workers networking among themselves and with their customers.
  • Workers helped each other out in very positive manner. There was no competition among the workers.
  • Another good aspect was that every worker had the knowledge each others’ work and that their work changed day to day.
  • Every day was a new day with something new to work on for them.

I strongly endorse giving back to the community, and programs like Extern and Outplacement are great examples of how companies can do just that – and perhaps gain unexpected benefits along the way.

The Stench of Technology

October 15, 2009

I read with fascination about Nissan’s plans to use fragrances to alert drowsy drivers and alter motorists’ behavior. You should read the full article here. As machine-human interfaces engage more of our senses, so the potential for broad-based improvents grows – as the less the skill set required to make use of the technology.

It got me thinking about business applications for this technology. If your customer service people sometimes get distracted and don’t notice new inbound customer orders, you could trigger an attractive smell each time an email or fax arrives from a customer. (Make mine chocolate and I’ll enter every order in real time.)

We could improve productivity in the warehouse. If order picking falls behind schedule, fill the warehouse with the aroma of pungent fertilizer – and once the backlog get caught up, replace it with fresh coffee – or if late in the day, a sniffing of Guinness.

The possibilities are endless.  The salesperson who hits her target early in the month gets rewarded with a hint of Caribbean seaside.  You could even personalize the process based user profiles – so while I get a whiff of single malt Scotch, perhaps you’re inhaling eau d’BLT.

But you’d have to draw the line somewhere. No-one wants to see the poor job applicant reading his rejection email while using a bandana to muffle the smell of sour grapes.

Yes, I know – this post stinks.

I Sleep At Night

October 7, 2009

hammer_cellphoneCan you spot the connection? I woke early this morning and, while wolfing down a little breakfast, read this newspaper article about people sleeping in reach of their Smartphone. Then I rushed to the office for a very early scheduled meeting. While waiting for the other party to arrive, I checked my email. Turns out he’d sent a cancellation email last night around 11:20 PM. Now I had in fact checked email around 11, just before heading off to bed.

So what’s the connection? Firstly, let me be clear: it’s extremely rude and quite unprofessional to cancel an early morning meeting late the night before, by email, and assume the other party will have read the email before they rise early and rush into the office. However, as noted in the article, many people have become conditioned to receiving email via their Smartphones 24/7. I suspect that in this instance, it simply did not occur to the other guy that anyone would not receive his email in real time. That’s no excuse, but it may be the explanation.

Many have written at length about the conflict between common courtesy, and the addiction to cell phones and particularly Smartphones. I know and work with many people who are devoted to their iPhone or Blackberry, yet still interact with others respectfully and with impeccable manners. Sadly, though, I do encounter a few of the other type of “addict”.

I’ll just add this cautionary note to those who cannot bear the thought of missing an email or a text message in the middle of the night, and seem to increasingly assume that everyone else is the same: some of us actually sleep at night.

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