The unstructured conversation

The old service dilemma – do a good job or do a cheap job. We often try to pretend that both are achievable. But they’re not. Ask a group of consumers what service they’d like, and – without giving a hoot about cost – the inevitable answers come: “make it more about me” – “talk to me like a human being”. And, crucially, “take on my problems as your own, and come back to me when they’re sorted”. The closer one gets as a service provider to offering this latter state of bliss, the less structured the interaction becomes. If I make you fill in some really complex forms, and offer very limited ways of capturing your information, it’s a pretty good sign that I’ve thought a bit more about me (and my costs), and less about you. Here’s a couple of little giveaways: >

Floppy logic See this? It's the old favourite. Those stupid, stupid people who just don't get it. Well, sorry dear journalist. I know you get a big giggle every year out of this story: the crazy things people call 999 for (stuck toaster, broken hairbrush, and this year, rabbit-not-sold-like-I-was-expecting). But, really, you patronising tosser. Don't you see that perhaps this is a real emergency? The person that called 999 over this - did they think "oh, I fancy a bit of a laugh today, and diverting responders from real emergencies, here goes..."? >

The dark side of citizen empowerment (Part 2) – a cautionary tale

Johnny was a rebel. A real maverick of a man. Show him a system, and he’d find a way round it. All the little get-outs, he got out through. He opted out of all opt-in mailings, he had his number put on the list to avoid junk calls, he made sure as hell he wasn’t on that electoral roll that’s for sale. His email address was a miracle of concealment to fool the bots, and you’d be bloody lucky to get it. And almost nobody got anywhere near his ‘real’ online identity. If he was a bit naughty in his car, he’d make a real song and dance about ’fessing up to who was actually driving. There had to be pictures. Of his face. If not, he’d write long letters inevitably quoting the Human Rights Act. Stopped by the coppers in Waterloo? Same thing, knowing all the right responses to give to stay just the right side of the law, and exactly what would press the frustration button of the guy in the yellow jacket. Junk calls? He loved those – playing right into the hands of his call centre victim – baiting them further and further into revealing who they worked for, and where, while tapping away merrily on his account and his Google Maps (and other, darker sources). Until he could surprise them by telling them the name of their wife. >

The dark side of citizen empowerment (Part 1)

Game Theory fascinates me. How one’s own choices interact with those of others – sometimes with quite perverse results. This isn’t the place to give an entire take on the theory; but let’s just work with one of the core concepts: cooperation and defection. Cooperators work the way the system says they should work. Defectors don’t play by the rules. Cooperators follow conventions, patterns, structures. Defectors deliberately ride roughshod through them. Typically, the Defector’s short-term gain from ‘cheating’ can be shown – at least in theory – to be completely unsustainable. Very often it’s possible to create a sort of morality message which shows why the rules are the way they are. And yet Defectors very often do very well… >

Lift your spirits

There’s a lot to a lift. If you fancy yourself as a bit of an analytical thinker, go and get a piece of paper and a pencil. Think of a lift you know. It doesn’t matter whether you love it, hate it, or have no particular feelings and just think of it as a means of changing floors in a building. Now, for exactly 10 minutes – time yourself – make as many notes as you can about the factors involved in answering these questions: “What has made this lift like it is?” and “How should this lift be?”. >

Imperfect harmony

(Or why the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic means we shouldn’t get so stressed when big projects go tits-up. A journey via the physics of music, the ingenious Bach, and a whole lot of faking.)

The end of the affair

Promised much, delivered a bit of it…. Where did it go wrong, Mistress Mac? Was it your huge screen that wasn’t really, pin-sharp graphics that seemed to blur the more I looked at them, ever-so-unexpected crashes when you promised you wouldn’t, wilful absence of a delete key or my shock at realising just how much the rest of the world hated you as well? You were gorgeous though, even if far, far heavier than you should be. It’s been a while (over 15 years) since I flirted with your sort. I’d expected the operating system to have changed. But not always for the better, huh? The dock is clever, but how am I really supposed to use stacks? Why do some applications produce a lurking icon that’s-sort-of-like-a-disc that I have to ‘eject’ (but others don't)? You Macfans are grinning here, thinking, Windowsdinosaurboy, you have to accept some things Are. Just. Different. >

How will we die online?

The first post - and straight to the last rites... It's well over 10 years now since I've been part of online communities of one sort or another. Support, discussion, campaign, "special interest"... Some of the cheery older souls I've known are in their 70s now. One or two may even have died. In fact, statistically, quite a few must have. But these are still early days for this end of the market. Logging on and popping off is only going to get more popular, inevitably (in the most literal sense of the word). Many of the departed have already publicly documented their decline and demise, of course - in some cases movingly and memorably ( Blogging off into the sunset has so far only been open to those who have a bit of notice: perhaps tragically young, perhaps angry, always compelling. What of the rest of us, declining at a greater or lesser rate? >