Applications People

IFTTT v Pinboard Redux – Contracts and Condescension

When I wrote about the IFTTT v Pinboard standoff yesterday, I didn’t spend much time on the contract stuff in my article beyond this comment:

I would also have reservations about the contract they want developers to agree to as part of their transition to the new platform. Requiring developers to agree to the sorts of terms Cegłowski quote seems pretty unreasonable given what the clauses would seem to be saying.

I read through the contract terms that Cegłowski quoted. You can only really assess a contract effectively as a whole and while he quoted contract clauses in isolation, you can see why they are a concern.

IFTTT’s Contract land grab

These clauses are a sort of legal land grab. They may not have been intended that way by IFTTT (I tend to blame the lawyers for this sort of approach) but the effect of the clauses is to claim developers’ code created to integrate with IFTTT’s new platform for IFTTT with little credit to the developers. You can see that in clauses 3 (Ownership) and 12 (Patent License) in particular.

He also makes a good point about clause 11 which does, indeed, seem to have the effect of requiring him to “work for them, for free, on demand”:

  1. Compatibility. Each Licensee Channel must maintain 100% compatibility with the Developer Tool and the Service including changes provided to you by IFTTT, which shall be implemented in each Channel promptly thereafter.

I accept that IFTTT should be entitled to update its platform and, as a business which has profit generation as one of its primary responsibilities, perhaps even using a private API. Without knowing much about how these things work from a development perspective, requiring that developers bind themselves to a closed development environment with onerous demands seems pretty unreasonable. That said, this explanation makes some sense to me:

It certainly isn’t a good way to maintain constructive relationships with the many developers who help make IFTTT for its users by linking their services to IFTTT.

Who is really caught in the middle?

Shawn Roos made an interesting comment yesterday. I don’t agree with him, though. I think our tendency to leap to the defence of the lone developer facing up to the bigger corporation can skew our perspectives. For what it’s worth, I lean more towards supporting Cegłowski on this one.

At the same time, I don’t particularly appreciate his dismissive attitude towards the situation his customers, like me, find ourselves in but we don’t pay him for charm. We pay him to maintain and improve his bookmarking service. If he wants to behave in a certain way, well that is his choice even if being a little more empathetic could improve his relationship with his users and strengthen our support.

At the same time, while he is certainly affected by IFTTT’s new stance, Cegłowski is not the one caught in the middle here, we are. We are in the middle of this dispute because we made the decision to use both services and the positions both providers have taken means that we have to find alternative workflows to fill the functionality gaps the rift has caused.

If IFTTT vanished off the Web altogether, Pinboard would continue doing what it does now and would have value because of what it does. The same can be said for IFTTT. Changes to either service impact us users who have chosen to use the services together and when these sorts of services clash (the reasons don’t matter), we are impacted in varying degrees.

It’s a little like the citizens of Metropolis being caught up in the fallout of the battle between Superman and General Zod that we saw more of in the introduction to Batman v Superman. Granted, not nearly as devastating but you get the idea.

I was hoping this whole thing would be resolved in some way but it looks like that won’t happen. In my case that isn’t a catastrophe. I had some workflows running which automated a few tasks I wanted to run and I’m sure I can find another way to do them. It is just unfortunate that I need to and neither IFTTT or Pinboard seem to be particularly concerned about the effect on their users.

Anyway, moving along …

Image credit: Tug of War by Eva Funderburgh, licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Business and work Mindsets

What @picknpay Norwood can do to suck less

Women in a Publix grocery store: Tallahassee, FloridaI have a strained relationship with the Norwood Pick ‘n Pay store (its mostly on my side). I shop there because of its selection and because it is less than 4 minutes from my house by car. Unfortunately, shopping at this store is a pretty unpleasant experience. In the vernacular, it sucks. I had a particularly bad experience with this store at the end of December 2010 and while I have tried to remain constructive since then, it hasn’t been easy. I thought I’d suggest a few things the staff in the store can do to make the shopping experience there suck less. Hence this post.

Wandering around the store is an experience. You encounter all sorts of people who seem to be totally oblivious of everyone else. In fact, their myopia seems to intensify the bigger their trolley. That is pretty much what you come to expect in public life, we all pretend everyone else doesn’t exist. It helps us avoid uncomfortable social contact. That sort of behaviour is not really welcome in Pick ‘n Pay staff who are technically wandering around the store in order to render a service to customers. Pretending that customers are not really there is not a great way to render any form of service, let alone service that elicits a smile. Tip #1: Remind your staff that they are being paid to render a service to customers – those annoying people bumbling around ignoring each other.

My December experience with the store and a couple people’s subsequent experiences with store technical issues is a good reason why the store should consider some notification system in the store that doesn’t include the inaudible PA system or the apathetic cashiers. Tip #2: One idea I had which might still be a little “out there” is to have a ticker-type display with store notices and possibly even the @picknpay Twitter stream. Or the store could pipe that data flow across the screens it has all over the place.

The cashiers are the final experience of the store before exiting the store in a hurry to find some form of medication for the pain. The first challenge with cashiers is that they seem to have forgotten about that button located somewhere strategically around their till which activates that message board telling weary shoppers which cashier is available. Know what I am referring to? No? Neither do they. Pick ‘n Pay Norwood cashiers are till accessories. As operators they push the buttons, give you plastic bags if you want them and otherwise add almost nothing to the service experience in the store. Here are a couple additional suggestions:

  • Don’t make me peer over tills and displays to try figure out which of the dozen or so cashiers in the “10 items or less” queue are available, counting change a little too obsessively, reading a newspaper or are actually in the process of making another customer miserable – push that stupid little button and use the display to let me know;
  • Once I am fortunate enough to wind up at a till personed by a cashier, it would help if the cashier inclines his or her head in my general direction and acknowledges the possibility that a customer is there;
  • When or if offering plastic bags, it really doesn’t help to just peel them off the pile and add them to the chaos that is my shopping list on the counter – try opening the bags and placing the items into the bag while I dig around for money to pay for it all and, I don’t know, the cashier’s salary to some degree (while helpful, advice which item to place into which bag isn’t the same as actually extending oneself beyond operating the till to packing stuff into bags); and
  • If an electronic malfunction or some other calamity strikes, cashiers should ideally assume that sorting that stuff out and making it possible for me to complete my purchase and leave the store without tears and/or a migraine is the cashier’s job, not mine (certainly don’t ask me what I intend to do about the mess I find myself in when the store’s speedpoint network crashes).

In Pick ‘n Pay’s defence, whoever is handling their Twitter account and is liaising with management works pretty hard to stay on top of rants like mine. That a store manager called me in late December/early January to discuss my Twitter bitch session is definitely a sign that someone is listening. Its just a pity the floor staff (and the very people who expect my sympathy when they go on strike – usually an event which escapes my notice because the service levels remain fairly constant) didn’t see those memos and tend to treat customers as interruptions in an otherwise tranquil day.

While I have a tendency to be somewhat negative when entering the Norwood store, I hope this post has some positive and constructive feedback. I, for one, would very much like to have a shopping experience which doesn’t leave me in a bad mood and the strong urge to wash my hands a lot afterwards.

Business and work

Feedback from Dis-Chem after our incident

I just received a call from Stan (I forgot his last name), a Dis-Chem director, after some intervention by Kerry Haggard who had her own experience with the Norwood Dis-Chem last week. The call was to find out about our terrible experience at the same Dis-Chem store a little while ago. I explained what happened and Stan was pretty understanding and concerned about our experience.

He mentioned Dis-Chem’s approach to complaints to me and I thought it was worth sharing. Apparently virtually all complaints Dis-Chem receives go to Dis-Chem’s MD, Ivan Saltzman, who reads them and passes them down to whichever director is responsible for the issue (as I understand it). He assured me that these complaints are received and considered. The channels they hear about seem to include sites like Hello Peter as well as their own complaints channels. Dis-Chem could probably benefit from using ORM solutions too considering that connected customers are using Twitter, Facebook and blogs to voice their concerns.

Anyway, he promised me a follow-up and I received a call from a lady responsible for store nurses about 5 minutes later. She is going to engage with the nurse who Gina dealt with and take appropriate steps.

I think our biggest issue in all of this is how Gina’s concerns were dealt with at store level. The Norwood Dis-Chem, in particular, seems to lack a decent service culture at the pharmacy and clinic at the back (although the old man who works at the over the counter side is generally very helpful).

Business and work

Quiet moment @cerebra

I’m working at Cerebra this morning. The power went out just after a storm and, for a short time, the office was almost totally quiet. I looked up and saw this (the PR team in the foreground).

Business and work Mindsets Social Web

Shopping malls and limitations of social media

I recently published a post about what I regard as silly rules about not being able to take photographs in shopping malls/centres. I have been reprimanded for taking photos in Melrose Arch (a very photogenic centre/complex), Balfour Park and Killarney Mall. The response (or lack thereof) which I received to my posts/tweets has been an interesting case study in social media adoption locally.

While I am vain enough to believe, not so deep down, that these malls should pay attention to what I write about them and respond in a meaningful and constructive manner, this is perhaps wishful thinking and suggests that not everyone subscribes to my notion of effective use of social media. It also points to a limitation of social media: if the person in my position making comments about a product/service/organisation is not influential enough to have a real impact on that product/service/organisation, ignoring that person (in this case, me) is a pretty low risk exercise.

Sure there was a little buzz on Twitter when my post was published and Melrose Arch replied saying it would get back to me but there is no real incentive for them to actually reply to my questions about the policy on taking photographs in their centre. The controversy was a flash in the pan from their perspective. It barely occurred from other malls’ perspective. As much as we talk about social media’s power, it is an abstract for many companies who deploy a social media marketing campaign as yet another channel to push commercial messages to consumers rather than an opportunity to truly engage with us plebs.

The unfortunate reality is that unless you have significant, real-world impact on an organisation, it can ignore you online with little fear of any measurable consequence. Social media is a powerful force for change but it depends on numbers of people participating in that process. If you represent a small movement, the risk is minimal, academic even, and not worth responding too.

This is also where truly consumer-centric organisations will shine. They will listen to the little people because their business is based on one person at a time and an investment in each of those people is worth making. One company that is doing fairly well in this respect is First National Bank. The @rbjacobs persona may not be a real person within the bank but the person behind that persona seems to be making a sincere and effective effort to respond to the little people tweeting about FNB. It is the sort of attention that makes a world of difference to little people like me, even if my thoughts don’t have a material impact on the bank.

Companies that take social media seriously will shine in their customers’ eyes. One day that attention could pay off when some of those customers become truly influential. And if they don’t, they will still have a few more loyal and passionate customers and all it will have cost them is a message here and there which says that they are listening, they care and they are engaged.

Business and work Photography

How the Seattle Coffee Co. (Killarney Mall) ripped me off!

I’ve been a Seattle Coffee Co. fan for years now. My favourite store is the Hyde Park Corner store followed by Rosebank, Nelson Mandela Square and Killarney Mall stores tied for 2nd. I’ve probably been a Seattle fan since the chain opened in Joburg and I have had pretty much the same thing for most of that time. I had an experience at the Killarney Mall store this afternoon that really pissed me off.

I popped into the Killarney Mall store for a tall, harmless, Sugar Mommy latte (my favourite drink) after a little shopping for supper tonight. My first shock was the price. I am used to paying around R25 for one of these latte’s and this one cost me R30 (R16 for the latte base and R14 for the two syrups that make it what it is). I mentioned that this was more expensive than I was accustomed to and the guys mumbled something about a price increase. That may well be true and I have suspected that the cashiers at other stores haven’t been too familiar with what goes into one of these lattes and may have been undercharging me. Anyway, I paid for the coffee and dropped a few bucks into the tip bowl like I usually do and sat down.

The barista brought me my latte in a takeaway cup and set it down on my table. I looked at it and thought it looked too small. I have ordered tall latte’s many times in the past and I almost have muscle memory in my right hand based on a tall takeaway cup. I asked the guy if that was supposed to be a tall latte and he looked me in the eyes and told me it was a tall and went back to his spot behind the counter. I picked it up and it definitely felt like a short cut, not a tall but instead of challenging them, I just had my drink, picked up my stuff and left. In retrospect I should have challenged the guy but I just wanted to have a quiet 10 minutes or so while I had my latte before returning home to continue working.

Barring me having a substantial change in how I perceive the sizes of things, this really pissed me off. Its one thing for a barista to make a mistake but to tell me that it is what it really doesn’t seem to be is just not cricket! Now that I am typing this I times when I get caffeine in my coffee when I specifically say I don’t want caffeine and I don’t get the lattes I order even though I seem to be paying for them. This is probably just about training and if it is, it needs to be sorted out. The Vida e Caffe guys certainly seem to be rocking when it comes to making their drinks. I’d probably defect to Vida except they don’t have the lattes I’m used to at Seattle (ok, I know that sounds a little camp but I do spend a fair amount of time in these coffee shops and I am a little averse to change).

Update (26 August 2009): I just received a call from Barry Parker at the Seattle Coffee Co. about this post. His comment is below and he has undertaken to look into this and make sure that no-one else has had a similar negative experience. Once again an example of social media helping businesses improve.

Image credit: “Look, Seattle Coffee Company in Pretoria!” by firesika licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 2.0 license.

Business and work Mindsets Photography

All are welcome at Mugg & Bean – repost

My wife and I had breakfast at the Mugg & Bean in Killarney on Sunday.  We overheard an anti-semitic comment from someone we thought was a Mugg & Bean person and I published a blog post about it on my personal blog which I have subsequently updated for reasons that will become clear when you read the post.  I am impressed with Mugg & Bean’s management and how they dealt with this complaint.  If anything, that is a good reason to visit not just this Mugg & Bean, but your local one too.

A couple people wanted to comment on the post but are not members of Vox so feel free to comment here.  As always, I recommend that you post something about this yourself.  We are so used to talking about companies that don’t even listen and this is a good example of a company that listens and does something about it.  That is something worth talking about.

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Business and work Mindsets

Crazy talk about employers

I have been having crazy thoughts about employers (in the broad sense considering I am not employed by anyone – I am self-employed) lately. Many of these thoughts are similar to other crazy thoughts I have had about being a customer so maybe there are some parallels here …

Wouldn’t it be something if the company I did work for listened to me, let me know it was listening and then did something about what I was saying? I do work for a company and for the most part things have been going well. Lately we have been getting a little ratty at each other and this week I found out there may have been a little issue I am uncomfortable about. So I wrote a note to my notional boss/supervisor expressing my concerns. No response yet. I’m not sure if one will be forthcoming and all that is likely to happen is that I’ll be less and less enthusiastic about working for this company and that isn’t great.

I have a similar gripe with a company I buy techie stuff from. I have been waiting for some software for a month now and the only time I know there is a delay is when I phone after the latest promised deadline has passed. Ultimately not having the software doesn’t mean I can’t do what I need to do. It just means that my enthusiasm for the software has been waning to the point where my passion for the company itself has dimmed. It is just like any other company that couldn’t bother to drop me an email and let me know my order is still being monitored.

Why do companies do that? Is it a South African thing? Are South African companies just generally crappy when it comes to customer/hired gun service? Is it too much to ask for a company to communicate? This reminds me of a quote I heard in a Guns ‘n Roses song and which is from the movie Cool Hand Luke (never seen it):

What we’ve got here, is … failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week. Which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men.

If a company can’t be bothered to communicate with its customers/hired guns then all it can expect are diminished returns in terms of enthusiasm for the company and a desire to get back in the saddle and do more for/with the company.

(Image: “What does this picture mean to you?” by chema.foces licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license)

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