Virtually rational?

One of the most fascinating angles to emerge from the LA Fitness story is the differing perceptions people have of the value of goods and services.

Specifically, much of the public support for the contract holder undergoing hardship seems to be built on the premise that “they haven’t used the service yet; why shouldn’t they be able to walk away without penalty?”

It’s an interesting point. If they’d stopped making repayments for a car, there is a clear link to a tangible asset that they’d have to give back. Similarly with a mortgage and a property.

If you stop a handset-included mobile phone contract early, you can argue that you’re not consuming any more services, but you have of course got the benefit of the handset in your hand (the costs of which have been met by some of the projected revenue take over the life of your contract).

And what about a loan? The recipient has had the benefit: the lump of cash up front–would a massive interest burden in some way justify their cessation of repayment? It gets harder in this case, maybe because the defensible “asset” becomes less tangible?

And the point which I think was largely glossed over with LA Fitness was that although the customer might not be consuming any more of the service (which in any case seems to be common with many gym memberships) this forms part of an overall price/usage/investment/repayment model on which the business is founded.

If contract providers face a greater risk of early termination without penalty then they will adjust their model by raising prices to account for that greater risk. We know that 24 month contracts are cheaper than 12 month ones: it’s not as if we can really make an assumption of consumer naivety on that general principle any more.

And the “projected value of the contract” is just as real as a physical asset in other ways: for example to the sales rep whose commission is pegged to ongoing “good” business. Try telling them that early termination without penalty is an action without effect.

Similarly, to accountants and investors, a stream of known future revenue is as real an asset as a car in a showroom. That’s how businesses work.

None of which means that discretion can’t and shouldn’t have been exercised in this case. The company’s initial refusal to recognise the impact that their blunt decision would have (perhaps magnified by the “not a real consumer service” points above) was foolish, and eventually they had no choice but to cave in.

They would have had all sorts of discretionary powers: in case of contract holder death or disappearance, for example, and should have used them.

But I am left with the question: would we be as consistent with support for a hardship case where other services (or even goods) were involved? And is this rational?

Or was a collective folk-feeling of frustration–with all those thousands of gym memberships that are paid for and never used–in some way acting as an accelerant for this fire?

Tower Bridge has fallen down

It’s so sad to see that one of the iconic London Twitter accounts, @towerbridge, has been grabbed claimed by a marketing outfit promoting the Tower Bridge Exhibition. It’s not so much the fact of the grabbing claiming–in a world where you don’t pay for membership, your rights are always going to be rather flimsy–but the manner of the switchover, facilitated by Twitter.

No notice (see update below), no courtesy, no archiving. Just taken, changed, and the new “owners” no doubt hoping it will all just slip by unnoticed. Bad luck.

Because people loved that account. Quite a lot of early adopting, influential, internet-savvy people, I suspect. The hashtag #givetowerbridgeback has already sprung up, and as I write, it’s gathering pace.

The old account, put together as an automated bit of fun by @infovore was not only whimsically, Britishly, entertaining, it also had its own rhythmic beauty–a heartbeat for the river, in some ways. It would tweet when it opened, and for which vessel, and when it closed. Open, shut. Open, shut.

Tom Armitage tells the story here about its creation, and sudden demise.

It provoked the ire of its neighbour @imlondonbridge and the resulting tussle made the columns of the Telegraph–spinning out into a whole meme about London landmarks setting up Twitter accounts to bitch about each other. (Confession: I briefly ran a foul-mouthed skyscraper which got soundly told off by an ancient stone.)

It attracted comment in the last meeting of the Mayor of London’s Digital Advisory Board, with delight voiced from the Mayor’s top-level team that such things were going on in London.

And they aren’t now. Just like that.

There’s form here: a couple of years ago I was approached by a candidate for one of London’s oldest ceremonial roles to contribute some ideas on how social media might have a part to play were he to come into office. Very progressive for an 800 year old institution, really.

I set up a Twitter account, ready for use at the right time. Sure enough, a few months back, I noticed that it had been taken into new ownership, and now sits as a blank account with zero activity and no profile picture. I’m sure it’s “official”, but that’s not really the point. It would have been nice if someone had let me know.

I let it go, but seeing what happened today, I thought I’d mention it. I won’t name it as this post is about Tower Bridge. It’s not something that came to be anyway, but it’s fairly easy to work out what it was.

Make a fuss, a small, polite, British fuss, about this one, if you will.

It’s not the way things should be done.

And information revolution or no information revolution, etiquette still matters.

UPDATE: 13 June

Tom has posted some more information: he had been contacted by Twitter, but hadn’t seen the email. There still seem to be some technical questions about the detail of the “trademark” claims, but the communication picture from Twitter doesn’t look as bad as originally painted.