I read this quote the other day and it really made me think:

“Teachers have become “fair game” for malicious comment online, and said that there is no reason why sites like Facebook should get legal immunity.”

Legal immunity? Legal immunity against what? What can they possibly be legally blamed for? Writing the code that has created the worlds largest online social network? (Oh MySpace where did you go?)

Can you really blame an entire social network for a single persons comment?

Surely not. Surely this is the mob mentality I was speaking about previously.

This sort of behaviour is akin to arresting Kim DotCom who set up Megaupload and that English guy who created tvlinks.co.uk. Ok, they facilitate other people doing something illegal – but don’t actually perform the illegal “acting”. Is it really fair to arrest them? All they want to do is make an example out of them. Guess what? It doesn’t work. I’m watching similar sites pop up every day performing the same function.

So those virtual pitch forks have now been turned on social networking sites like Facebook.

This is turning into yet another ugly SOPA-type episode again. In years to come people will forget what the first ammendmant even stood for. Surely posting your own comment, to your own friends and followers is no one elses business. Punishing an entire social networking giant for a single users comment is ridiculous. It’s like suing a car manufacturer for a second hand care salesman over-charging you.

It’s not their issue!

Facebook have procedures in place to deal with cyberbullying… and not only that, but for inappropriate imagery, inappropriate comments and a whole heap more. With 425 million active users – I wouldn’t expect anything less. With social networking all the content is user generated. You’re relying on the users to generate the content which brings other users to your site – Twitter, Tumblr to name just a few.

A Facebook spokeswoman said: “There is no place for cyber bullying on Facebook and we respond aggressively to reports of potential abuse.

“Reports involving harassment are prioritised, with most reviewed in 24 hours.”

So, basically, Facebook are doing their job. Good luck sueing them – they MONITOR this sort of thing.

Venting on social networks is simply today’s version of writing the angry note in class and slipping it to your best friend, but being caught by the teacher. Sorry ’bout it. Children will be children. Venting is part of life. Let’s be truthful here, most children don’t understand or respect what teachers do until later in their education. That’s called maturity.

You can rest assured that Facebook’s business model is not based around 11 year old kids making complaints about their teacher. Just guide them to http://www.ratemyteacher.com. (I really don’t promote that site – I think it’s terrible actually).

Accidental SPAM

March 14, 2012

So, interesting thing happened the other day.

I’m an avid Gmail user, but BG (Before Gmail) I used to use Hotmail. I remember the days when Hotmail only allowed 2MB (yep, you young-ans, 2 MEGABYTES) of email storage. I was constantly deleting emails, never able to save anything, always had to delete everything!

Well, on occasion I do check my Hotmail email, purely because some things I haven’t switched over yet, and it’s always handy to check emails you’re designing in various different email providers to check the deviations and variations.

On this particular occasion I had 148 unread emails, now this is exceptionally more than normal, and looked something like this:

148 Unread Emails?

148 Unread Emails?

So, clearly what has happened is a fault in the unsubscribe system on YFU‘s website. What’s happening is when people are clicking “unsubscribe”, the email is being sent to the entire email list, instead of auto-unsubscribing them.

As a bit of background to being on this email list: I have previously requested to unsubscribe from them as I never requested to be on it, and have no desire to be as I’m not in a position to host someone. I assume I was an accidental sign up (I frequently get emails for someone else with a very similar email address) – but even still, I never had to confirm a request to being on the email list in the first place. Confirming a sign-up is part of the ACMA requirements.

This was the first email, and perhaps 2 or 3 similar followed in quick succession:

Please Remove Me From The Mailing List, Thank You

Please Remove Me From The Mailing List, Thank You

So, what happened next was nothing short of mob mentality:

Please Take Me Off The Mailing List. Seeing As That's The Fashionable Thing To Do.

Please Take Me Off The Mailing List. Seeing As That's The Fashionable Thing To Do.

And then…

I Don't Even Know Why I'm On This Mailing List... But Yeah I'd Like To Get The Hell Off

I Don't Even Know Why I'm On This Mailing List... But Yeah I'd Like To Get The Hell Off

To lots like this:

Remove Me At Once From This Very Annoying List - You Are Sending Me Hundreds of Random SPAM

Remove Me At Once From This Very Annoying List - You Are Sending Me Hundreds of Random SPAM

Yes All Coming To The Wrong Address Its Not Me Stoppppp

Yes All Coming To The Wrong Address Its Not Me Stoppppp

All in all, there were over 100 of these filling up my inbox (imagine if I only had 2MB still). I understood people’s frustration, it IS really annoying especially if your main email is being hit with all these irrelevant unsubscribe requests. I could only imagine this hitting my gmail, and my phone beeping and buzzing every 10 minutes, I’d probably send an angry email as well. Jump on the virtual bandwagon. Wave the virtual pitchforks. Throw the virtual rotten tomatoes.

You get the idea.

So, the company issued an apology out on the 7th March stating technical issues which they were looking into immediately. The strange thing is though, from 7th of March until the 11th of March, we were all continuing to receive each others “unsubscribe” request emails. This is a problem a standard HTML beginner could fix up. A webform is not rocket science.

Not having ever encountered this company before, aside from receiving irrelevant emails, they seem like a small company – and considering I received about 100 unsubscribe requests, I imagine that’s a large portion of their list base. Otherwise, there would have been a LOT more.

As a company, they obviously provide a good and needed service, and I would never doubt that. But each company today needs to protect and project their brand identity online – small technical glitches should be spotted immediately. When people actually request to be on a mailing list – they are entrusting you to not spam them, and provide them with relevant emails.

As with everything else in life, I’ve worked with small mailing lists and gargantuan mailing lists as well. Mailing lists for all companies can drive massive traffic and business to their website/company. Make sure you manage peoples data correctly, because aside from what happened being incredibly annoying, I also got over 100 different email addresses in my account. Privacy is an issue there too.

I’m sure you’re all dying to know whether I unsubscribed too? Well, as it happens, I didn’t want hundreds of random people receiving my email address, so I will happily wait until I’m assured the issue is fixed, and my request will slip in too.

Maybe when I’m at the point in life where I want to send a child away on an exchange program, or host one myself, I will actually request to be on the list.

Lesson of the month: manage your data like you would manage your best china; polish it on occasion, handle it with care, and make sure you keep it somewhere safe.

Social Media Marketing

January 9, 2010

Is there actually a solid formula for this?

I really no longer think so. It’s not exactly hit and miss, but there is no exact forumla to say whether performing action ‘x’ will provide you ‘y’ amount of business.

I 100% support social media marketing – the audience and consumer of today is no longer a receptor – he is a selector. Unlike when advertising was mainly on TV and Radio – today online, you can chose what advertising you expose yourself to. I think marketeers were placing their bets on pop-up window advertising being effective and working. However, along with savvy computer users, came the ability to successfully filter out such minor annoyances.

Today, marketing and advertising is a different ball game altogether. Instead of having huge big budgets – people have to be clever and creative to be able to market and convert the customer.

dixons avertisement

Clever advertising on Dixons part

Marketing throught social media is technically free. But in order to make it best effective – a company needs to hire someone who is specialised in the area. Habitat learned from that mistake. They hired an intern to control their twitter account and the intern ended up inserting irrelevant, but trending, hashtags after each tweet.

Habitat UK Twitter Fail

Habitat UK Twitter Fail

The intern was quietly let go.

That’s the issue that regularly arises with social media – a company hires someone who has a facebook and twitter account, thinking they know exactly what they are doing. But delivering a companies brand through social media is a lot different then using personal social media accounts.

I find Halfords twitter account to be particularly great – I tweeted once about what bad build my bike was – and Halfords replied, saying I should take it into my local store and they would fix it for me for free! That’s the kind of service that is now expected through social media channels.

Then you have brands, smaller brands, who try and gain new customers and business through social media. The key part here is relevance. I say this ALL the time – you want targetted traffic, high conversions? Be relevant. If you end up putting hashtags at the end of your tweets which have nothing to do with your product – you won’t gain targetted traffic and high conversions. Simple as. Same as adding random people on Facebook. They won’t know who you are, chances of them being interested in what you have to offer is slim too.

So – social marketing for any brand is highly important.

  1. Listen to your customers
  2. Reply to all comments – negative or not
  3. Have conversations
  4. Above all – relevance, relevance, relevance

User Generated Content

August 20, 2009

People have opinions.

People have experiences.

Experiences may lead to an expression of an opinion. Depending on the experience, this opinion can be negative or positive.

Take, for example, my own personal experience of TalkTalk. When I moved my life over to the UK, I immediately began hunting for the best broadband and international call package deal with the phone providers. TalkTalk was the cheapest. Hands down – BT was incredibly expensive, and other providers had shoddy deals, so it was TalkTalk who prevailed.

Friends around me were of the opinion that TalkTalk should be avoided at all costs because of X, Y and Z.

I ignored them, I wanted to form my own opinion. Besides, money was tight, and TalkTalk were giving us a Go-Live date of three weeks time. 4 weeks, still no broadband. 8 weeks no broadband, but phone line had been set up. TalkTalk telephone customer service (outsourced to India) were so difficult to understand, and difficult to give any clear, solid answer. They skipped around the topic without confirming anything. Boy, was I regretting the choice to move to TalkTalk.

Then I discovered http://www.talktalkmembers.com/

A no-hold-back customer frequented Help forum, with official TalkTalk staff moderating and dealing with the queries. 150% more effective then actually talking to someone on the phone. Replies would generally be within an hour, you would receive clear feedback and understanding, and apologies, and the offer of compensation (as long as it was TalkTalk’s fault). Each initial first post would usually start with:

“TalkTalk customer service is appalling I have been let down repeatedly, I am never extending my contract and I will pay the cancellation fee to move to BT”

And the final post would usually be along the lines of:

“Oh thank you SO much, you provide an amazing service, so efficient thank you.”

I found out within 24 hours why my broadband would be delayed by another 3-4 weeks, that I would be offered compensation, and they were very sorry.

Fantastic.

It’s a relatively dangerous thing which TalkTalk are doing. The forums are open to public, so the faults in their services are wide open for any potentially new TalkTalk customer to see, and run away from. But TalkTalk have so much faith in their staff, that they know each issue will be resolved to a satisfactory level, and although their dirty laundry is aired for the world to see, it gets clean pretty damn quickly.

I would say 90% of people come away from the forums far happier then when they arrived.

user generated content

Other companies aren’t so sure of the idea.

I’m currently working with Company X (a rather large world-wide corporation) on the idea of user generated content, and whether the potential installation of a forum would be a beneficial idea or not. Then, there’s the topic of moderation of the forums. By “moderated” they mean: 24 hours a day moderation – with a huge amount of censorship. If any contributor even breathes something negative about Company X then it will be deleted. Freedom of speech is not allowed, and propaganda is rife.

Being the “social media expert” I informed them that this would be social media suicide. Not allowing forum members to voice their opinion would anger us mere mortals, and it would rapidly spread across the internet that “Company X” is not allowing members to post freely and openly on a public forum. Instead of being afraid of what users would post about them, they should embrace this chance to swiftly and easily connect with their users, allowing them to tackle and solve issues head-on.

This, by itself, would spread the word quickly across the internet how efficient “Company X” are in their customer relationship management.

Currently “Company X” hire two individuals to sit at computers all day, trawling through the internet for any mention of “Company X”. If this mention is in anyway negative, these people find a way to respond, or remove the offending comment. Really, they are that scared of their users.

To cut a very, very, long story short. “Company X” opted out of the forum, and any ability to add comments to blog posts, content that would be user generated was strictly prohibited from any part of any of “Company X”‘s multiple websites. It wasn’t worthwhile, they said, to spend time and energy to follow up with any of their millions of customers who may post comments or posts on their websites.

If they could censor free speech and opinions they would.

All I have to do is turn to any one of my friends and ask their opinion of “Company X” and whether their experience would lead them to recommend their services to me (I can sure that they have had some kind of experience with them). I don’t need to go on a website to find that out.

User generated content on a corporation’s website is not something to afraid of, but only include it if you can afford the time and man-power to moderate and respond. Do Not Censor.

People have an opinion as a result of an experience. Take this chance to change that negative opinion by giving them a positive experience.

(Part one is here)

I don’t hate interviews.

Infact, I really enjoy them. Not because – as a friend boasted recently – I get every single one I go for, but because I enjoy finding out how a company works, what the people are like, etc etc. I always consider them an opportunity, and it’s as much up to me whether I feel I would enjoy the role, as much as they think they would like me.

I once had a 4 hour interview for a usability role in a very famous online poker company, it followed two 1 hour-long telephone interviews. I was introduced to everyone, they fed me (crocodile was on the menu; I didn’t have it), I did some tests (same one twice as I was given the wrong instructions the first time), I was asked the same questions twice (the woman who interviewed me didn’t take a single note on paper), and given the guided tour of a very “Google-esque” office.

It was incredibly draining and intimidating, and I couldn’t wait to be out of there. I was glad when I found out they had hired someone who had more experience than me. It was the only role I had gone for where they didn’t say that they thought “I would be bored.” Had I gone for the interview now, I would be upset that they hadn’t hired me, but at the time, it was too much for me.

So I learnt a lot from that experience, particularly when the recruiter never called me back to inform me I hadn’t got the position, and I had to call the woman who interviewed me directly.

I could write an entire blog on recruiters, I could also write a 3 part blog on that particular interview… maybe another time.

When I secured myself an interview in the 70-mile-away alley, I was excited. I knew things were coming to an end at my current position so I didn’t feel bad. We discussed Facebook, we discussed Twitter, we discussed my thesis about gender-bending. Luckily enough, I had done my research on who would be interviewing me, so I was able to ask educated questions about one of the interviewers research into affective-computing. We also brushed onto user experience topics, like user journeys, use cases, wireframes, sitemaps, card-sorting etc.

I knew about it all, but I had never really done a lot of it.

My current job had never bothered with any user experience, and only designed designs from 9 years ago, thinking they would still be in fashion today. This new company based in Poole, were ahead of the curve even, dealing with brand-new design concepts, and constantly striving to be on top of the latest techniques in design, marketing and usability. They were a London agency, only in Poole, Dorset, and beside the sea.

At the end of the interview, I was shown around the building, and then sent on my way. Things were promising when the recruiter reported back to me. I remember walking along the harbour after my first interview, and being able to see the Isle of Wight in the distance, I just knew I had to be here.

They offered me the job, and the 4 hour daily commute didn’t even deter my positive response.

I literally high-tailed it from my previous job, never had I been so glad that I was moving on. No more abuse. I would work somewhere where I would be respected. My work would actually get to be discussed without being repeatedly slapped down at the first hurdle.

I didn’t exactly slip right into the job, I certainly didn’t take to it like a fish to water, it took a few weeks for me to find my feet and understand the way in which things are done. It was scary and intimidating for my first few tasks. Due to how I had been treated in my last job, I was terrified of getting something wrong, and was extremely defensive whenever anyone questioned me. It took me 3 months to get out of that habit. It still happens every now and again.   I’m dealing with some amazing clients, and some incredibly talented people around me, as well as trying to keep my head above water.

The 4 hour commute wasn’t easy, it was a real killer. I didn’t get home till 10pm some nights, and I would be up at 6am the next day to go back into work. I felt like a zombie some days, and it was very difficult some days to complete work which was presentable. This was the career I wanted, so I was going to stick at it. My skills are random – which is what previous employers have struggled with. My new job also struggled a little too, they wanted to know where I fit into the company, and they are pushing me towards Information Architecture. Seems to be something which I can work at.

I have learnt that usability is definitely not the same when you’re out in the Real World.

It’s far more difficult, with a huge amount of random considerations that need to be accounted for. Clients have different needs, as well as different budgets, and that all needs to be taken into account when deciding whether or not to include a “use case” and how many “personas” need to be composed in order to fully represent the audience.

I’m not sure whether this is what I expected it to be, but I do know I am actually enjoying my role. My first job role to really enjoy, it’s challenging but doable, and I’m responsible for my own work as well as having other people to refer to. It also helps that my 4 hour daily commute has finished, and I’m now living 5 minutes away from work, so I actually have a life now.

So, what is a User Experience Designer?

In my case, a User Experience Designer designs the most optimal experience for users when navigating through a website.

What do I do?

I create (not necessarily in this order) personas, user journeys, concept maps (we call ontology diagrams), sitemaps, use cases, wireframes, interaction-pattern documents, and potentially a whole lot more. I am also involved in usability testing.

userlifexperience

I enjoy it because I’m easily bored, and so quickly distracted. There’s something new all the time, something challenging too. When I look back on my previous job in particular, it makes me embarrassed that a company like that still exists in this day and age, and that I worked for them! If I felt I wouldn’t be sued, I would post the name of the company up on this website, but to be careful I’ll keep quiet for now.

I’m still young-ish and I’ll experience miles more in my job-filled lifetime, and I’ll blog about those too.

I’m still working out my own life experience, and I have much more to do :)

User (Life) Experience

July 23, 2009

I am a User Experience Designer.

So what is this supposed to mean? What does it encompass? What does it involve? These are questions I frequently get when telling people what I do.

I could have had an educated guess 4/5 months ago as to what this would involve, and I was mostly correct. Mostly.

Now, after 4/5 months in my role now as a user experience designer, I’m starting to comprehend everything that it involves.

My usability based academic background has involved various topics, such as user journeys, the UCD process, wireframes, storyboards etc etc. I don’t think in academia you will ever fully 100% understand in what way these things work in the real world, and why they are important and in what order.

I suppose that’s why I decided to forgo the unrelated job offers after my under-grad, and stuck around for something that was low-paid but extremely related to my degree. If I was going to make a career out of my life, I had to sacrifice the job that was quite well paid and easily accessible to me, to something that was 1 hour 30 minutes away from me, and paid less. Relevance was key to me when I eagerly walked out of college with my degree in my hand.

A year in a junior web designer / developer role, with a key focus on usability practices really increased my attractiveness to potential future employers. I gained XHTML, CSS, Javascript skills as well as general layout, usability and design skills in that position without even realising I was learning. I went from thinking that CSS was a music band, to being able to code an entire site using it. My gentle prod for a salary raise went unnoticed, and a two month job hunt yielded nothing of interest or suitability. My main desire was to work in a primarily usability role, with web design / developing as a secondary role, most roles were the opposite way around.

Thus began the UK job hunt.

Seems the UK was further ahead than Ireland for general web design practices and put actual money into making sure websites were usable, some companies hired in-house usability experts to ensure that their website was consistently usable. Some companies existed purely for selling their usability testing services, agencies hired usability experts to work on projects and to provide depth in respond-to-tender briefs.

A couple of flights later, I had secured a job role in Camberley, UK. The interview had gone well, I had ensured I understood all of what the role encompassed and within 6 weeks of me moving across the water, I started my first day. Really, I should have seen the warning signs when they gave me a title of “Design Engineer.” My inexperience showed as I was excited at being titled something which sounded so professional and important, when really it showed they had no idea what my skills were.

The next warning sign was obvious when they asked me to learn everything about Google AdWords in the two weeks before I was to start. Again, being inexperienced and eager, I did it.

When I started, it transpired I was head of all things Google! AdWords, AdSense and Analytics. For in-house, for clients, for the bosses friends. Nothing like the usability role I had been promised during my interview and conversations with the recruiter.

False advertising, but in this case, I couldn’t take it back to the shop to return it.

returns

Instead, I knuckled down, inhaled anything AdWords related that came my way, determined to make the best out of my situation. The designs I did deal with were created using tables, not CSS or web standard XHTML. One website I worked on for 6 weeks, 1 week away from being published the plug was pulled. Three months went by; probation time. Having not put a foot wrong, and having learnt an amazing amount of information in a short time, I was convinced they didn’t have a bad word to say about me. Sitting downstairs in the bosses “Mobile Boardroom” (tatty old camper van), I was informed I had been late to start work too many times over the past three months, and consequently, would not pass my probation this time. My next probation meeting was in another three months time.

Upset, but determined to improve, I soildered on.

A friend in work informed me that in the three months I had been late three times. Two of which I had genuine excuses for. I had worked through my lunch on these days, and during the past three months I had stayed late many a time. In my mind, this is not something worth failing my probation for.

I could now see clearly that the end was indeed nigh, and I needed to look quickly if I was only guaranteed a position for three months. The operations manager began to take a particular disliking to me, being obtuse and argumentative, my reasoning was ignored and overlooked, my work was continuously sent back. There were times I would cry as soon as I got into my car when I left work. Being defensive without wanting to appear as though I was being defensive was hard work. Continuously being knocked back when I would put so much effort into my work, was soul destroying.

Hundreds of sneaky recruiter phone calls later, one seemed to come along that was right up my alley, only this alley was 70 miles away from me.

(Part Two is here)

Zopa – Social Lending

June 25, 2009

If you, like me, are sick and tired of hearing about your hard-earned cash going to fund someones pension who doesn’t deserve it, or how about paying for a dirty movie, or paying for a duck island, well try out Zopa.

zopa_logo

Zopa is a way of avoiding banks altogether, and is known as the “Human way to get a low cost loan.” You can stop putting your hard earned cash into the banks, and instead, directly help the economy by reaching out to people who need it the most.

I believe that this website has been out for a while, but I only recently came across it myself. It’s unique and different to see a financially based website be so outwardly “web 2.0″ with bright colours, round bouncy writing – basically a website that you enjoy to look at. None of this corporate imagery, blues, greys, big words… instead a totally user friendly website. It is completely unique in the services it provides, with an idea that is so old and has been adapted to the internet.

Obviously they have to do a credit check, you can’t have CCJs, loads of defaults on credit history… standard things. But once you’re in the clear you can lend, or borrow, to your hearts content.

Last month I went into Barclays to apply for an overdraft of £100, not a lot when I have much more than that going into my account monthly. The assistant was wonderfully helpful, very nice, put all the details into her computer, waited 5 minutes, then informed me that the computer had, in fact, said no. Minus the cough. I was horrified. The overdraft was to see me through to the end of the month, preventing any payments that may bounce, and in turn, give me a bad credit history, and in turn, deny me from applying for overdrafts in future. So you see, circular issue, and not going to be fixed.

No longer do we have the chance to negotiate with bank managers on loans, rates… all those kind of things. Now we have the cold, corporate, unfriendliness, unnegotiable computer program to deal with, who doesn’t have emotions and therefore can’t care about my predicament.

Now, lets take a look at Zopa.

I can do a profile all about myself, why I need a loan, why I am a respectable human being… and that I will definitely pay it back.

Or, I could read people’s profiles, and decide based on the information before me whether I want to lend to their cause or not.

Zopa has re-humanised the process of lending and borrowing, I mentioned earlier that Zopa is a step forward… infact it is really a step backwards away from the computer-run worlds of banks today. Giving something a face makes it much easier to part with your cash.

It’s like being angry at a car who has cut in front of you on the motorway; when you drive by them and look in to see a mother driving her two young children to school, and they’re singing along to “Piano Man”, tell me you don’t calm just a little bit. All part of the humanisation process.

There are fees involved so Zopa can make their way, so read up, but the concept is terrific.

Note: Shout out to Dave for contribution of inspiration for this post.

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