Disastrous Fire

The phrase “disastrous fire” is perhaps best typified by The 1973 Fire at tha National Archives and Records Administration in St. Louis. Approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files were destroyed in the fire. No copies nor microfilm were ever produced, and no indexes created before the fire. This is the kind of thing that keeps archivists up at night, I imagine.

Good-bye Island Tel

It’s seems as good a time as any to write the eulogy for Island Tel: the new telephone books are out, and they’re quite clearly Aliant-branded, with the old Island Tel name having shrunk to a tag-line along with the names of the other old-line telephone companies.

You can’t really blame Island Tel, err Aliant, err BCE for making themselves bigger and bigger and thus less and less local: everyone else is doing it, after all. From Home Depot to Verizon to Air Canada, our service corporations are expanding and becoming more generic and distant.

I can’t help wonder, though, what would happen if Island Tel’s shareholders had decided to be brave, buck the trend, and reinvest themselves in being a local telephone company, managed and controlled locally, responding to local needs, driving the local economy, employing local people? Surely, if nothing else, to do so would have been to leverage the company’s (and the Island’s) natural strengths: strong local brand, unusual customer loyalty, and the uncanny ability of Islanders to be nimble, flexible and wily as a compensation for small size and fewer resources.

The sad thing is, we’ll never know what might have happened. What we do know, with some certainty, is that as we become aliantienated over the months and years to come we’ll no doubt have access to a broader range of services, more attractively priced. Offered by a generic company controlled from Halifax, essentially indistinguishable from any other telco in North America.

It’s not so much that things will get worse: it’s that we’re left to wonder how much better things could have been.

Good-bye, Island Tel.

Annals of Vision, Part II

I wrote earlier about the problem I have distinguishing between shampoo and conditioner while in the shower without my glasses.

There’s another problem like this: lens cleaner fluid. I need to take off my glasses to spray lens cleaner fluid on them. If I don’t orient the lens cleaner fluid bottle properly, I will spray lens clean fluid into my eyes rather than onto my glasses. However without my glasses on it’s difficult to tell which way the spout is pointing.

There must be a simple solution to this. It makes me wonder, though, if the people who make lens cleaner fluid bottles ever try and clean their glasses.

Don't pretend you know who I am...

Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to a friend of mine who is involved in the redesign of a website at a large university library in the U.S.:

Another one of those “things that people think will make websites easier to navigate but almost never does” is the “let’s have a different doorway for different types of users.” In your case this might manifest itself as “Students,” “Faculty,” “Alumni” and “Visitors.” In my world it often comes up as “Canadians” and “Americans” or “From Prince Edward Island” and “Visitor to Prince Edward Island” or “Business” and “Consumer.”

The thinking goes that you can “custom target” each of these for the “particular needs” of each “user community.”

The problems with this are: (a) hardly anybody fits neatly into one “user community.” At Trent University, for example, I was, at various times, in each of these categories, sometimes all at the same time; (b) your assumptions about what is interesting or relevant to one group will probably leave out a lot. For example there’s probably a lot of interesting stuff that you would target at faculty that would also be useful and relevant to students and alumni, even if it doesn’t technically fall into the “information for students” category; (c) this stratification means that you have 1/3 (or 1/4, or 1/5) of the energy needed to properly organize each section and this usually means that this organization doesn’t get done properly. In other words you end up relying too much on the initial doorway categories, and just dump in a whole mess of stuff afterwards and finally (d) some people get turned off by having to make an initial “this is who I am” distinction. I will leave any e-commerce site that asks me, before I even look at their catalog, whether I am American or Canada; partly this is irrational, but partly it’s a suspicion that the other guys (i.e. whatever I don’t choose) is going to get better pricing.

In the end you are far better to place your energy in coming up with a well-organized site that works for anyone than to try and figure out who your users are and custom-fit your website around them.
As their site builds out, I’ll keep you up to date on their progress.