Email disclaimers

Today I got an email from an Australian company and noticed two things at the bottom of their email. The first was the ever-silly “Go Green – please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.” line.

Does putting this in actually make people reconsider printing an email? I wonder who started this trait? I suspect it was started with somewhat passive-aggressive intent somewhere where a lot of “technically unsavvy” folks were printing emails, and spread from there. It also wouldn’t surprise me if this is the net result most of the time:

Ironic email reminder

(By the way, I really liked the way Google knew exactly what I meant when I searched for [reddit print email irony])

The second thing I noticed, and this is something I’ve definitely seen a lot more of from Australian companies for some reason, was the legal disclaimer.

I’m sure most people have seen this. It’s something like:

“This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. If you have received this email in error please notify the system manager. This message contains confidential information and is intended only for the individual named. If you are not the named addressee you should not disseminate, distribute or copy this e-mail. Please notify the sender immediately by e-mail if you have received this e-mail by mistake and delete this e-mail from your system. If you are not the intended recipient you are notified that disclosing, copying, distributing or taking any action in reliance on the contents of this information is strictly prohibited.”

They’re all ridiculously long, nobody reads them, and they break up email conversations in an annoying way. So why do so many people have them (with whole websites devoted to them)?

At first it seems reasonable to believe they do offer some legal protection, which would explain their popularity. But do they? I think it would be reasonable to think that if they offered iron-clad legal protection everyone would have them, yet I rarely see them attached to emails from US companies, perceived as one of the most litigious countries worldwide. Even said website devoted to them, EmailDisclaimers.com says:

If you were to be so unlucky to be sued for the contents of an e-mail, it is not certain whether an email disclaimer will protect you from liability in a court of law.

I’m certainly not the first to question this.  Nor am I the first to think the content is generally ridiculous.  Slate has also covered the issue.  So given its dubious nature, I suspect it persists mainly as a way to reassure the company, without actually doing anything (just like the raptor-repellent I keep in my cube, just in case).

Google doesn’t trust us with our search queries anymore

A trend I’ve noticed lately is that Google selectively ignores and “reimagines” my search terms.

(actually, it also habitually drops my search entirely. There are bugs in both the new Google toolbar, and a bug in iGoogle that goes back at least a year, where my first search takes me back to a blank Google page in any version of Firefox)

For example, if I am looking for a verb in particular, it will often change its tense.  For example, searching for “carmack suggest” has the first result matching “carmack suggested”.

Another example is suggesting all sorts of “alternatives” in your main page of results.  Check out the results for “first person“.

3 results for “first person”, followed by three results for “third person”, then a suggestion for “first person narrative”, followed by the rest of the results.

These irritations are manageable.  The search that inspired this post tonight was the search for “irobot lighthouse instructions”.  I put in fresh batteries to my lighthouse, and the light didn’t come on, and there was no obvious ‘on’ switch.  So I had a look online to see if I could find an instruction manual (much more convenient than digging through old papers and/or boxes).

1. iRobot: 500 Series: Virtual Wall® Lighthouse

– 11:11pm

The Virtual Wall Lighthouse uses an invisible infrared signal to help iRobot Roomba® achieve the most efficient and thorough room-to-room cleaning.
store.irobot.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2821601&cp=2842706&parentPage=subcategory – 55k – CachedSimilar pages

2. iRobot: Redesign Root: 500 Series: Virtual Wall® Lighthouse

The Virtual Wall Lighthouse uses an invisible infrared signal to help iRobot Roomba® achieve the most efficient and thorough room-to-room cleaning.
store.irobot.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2821601&cp=3322463.3358508 – 55k – CachedSimilar pages
More results from store.irobot.com »

3. Irobot Lighthouse – Compare Prices, Reviews and Buy at NexTag …

Irobot Lighthouse – 6 results like the Sunbeam iRobot Roomba Virtual Wall Lighthouse, iRobot Roomba 500 Series Virtual Wall Lighthouse – 80201,
www.nextag.com/irobot-lighthouse/search-html – 73k – CachedSimilar pages

[…snip…]

10. iRobot Roomba 535 Robotic Vacuum with Lighthouse Technology | TV News

iRobot Roomba 535 Robotic Vacuum with Lighthouse Technology – Very great deal! Everything instructions said it would do, it did, recharges fast and
www.gosutrailers.com/2009/03/irobot-roomba-535-robotic-vacuum-with-lighthouse-technology.html – 26k – CachedSimilar pages

Searches related to: irobot lighthouse instructions

irobot roomba 535

irobot looj

irobot roomba 560

irobot roomba 570

irobot vacuum cleaner

irobot blu ray

Tip: These results do not include the word “instructions”. Show results that include “instructions”.

I like that tip at the bottom, where of course you’re not looking, basically saying “we’re ignoring what you asked for”.

If what I’m searching for doesn’t turn up decent results, at least show me that if you can figure out what I mean (in this case I should’ve searched for “manual”).  “irobot blu ray”?  I wondered if I was the only one to be so frustrated with Google lately, so of course I turned to Google Blog Search, and it tried to redirect me to port 9.  What is going on?!  Suspiciously, the first result for “google poor search results” is an article about Wikia.

Between the poor search results, numerous bugs on Gmail (I enjoy sending all my emails -1 minutes ago) and Google Reader (scrolling still doesn’t work properly), the awful search wiki, and never mind the numerous reports recently of Google stealing people’s money, my opinion of Google’s previously stellar product quality is starting to get quite tarnished.

How not to run customer support

I just got back from vacation last week.  It was a whirlwind tour of Norway, Denmark, Belgium and the UK.  I had a great time, sampling a lot of beer and seeing a lot of cool places.

At the start of the trip, I was connecting from London Heathrow to Oslo.  Given I had around 5 hours to kill in Terminal 5, I decided to pony up for some airport wifi.  They have several providers in T5, and I went with the brand name I knew, which also had a decent price.  Boingo.

Everything was just peachy when I signed up. Then I tried to log in.  Complete brick wall – everything started timing out, and authentication just wouldn’t happen.  No biggie, I signed up for another provider and sent an email to them letting them know their wifi wasn’t working at that location and if I could get a refund.

Hi there,

I just tried to sign up for Boingo and it worked just fine for taking my credit card details.  However, after this I was unable to surf the internet – the client I downloaded could not authenticate me, nor did the online authentication work.  The online authentication seemed to work momentarily and then sites began timing out.  I tried restarting the computer and reconnecting, but even the unauthenticated pages wouldn’t work.  I had plenty of wireless signal.  I have screenshots of the problems if that helps.

I needed to use the net in a hurry and ended up having to buy access through another wifi provider.  Since Boingo could not provide the service I paid for, could I please get a refund?  My username is <xxx>.

Thanks,
Tim

After three days, I hadn’t heard anything.  Hmm, not a good sign.  This time I CCed service as well as support.

Hi,

I haven’t heard anything back yet, and was hoping someone could help me with this?

Thanks
Tim

This is the response I got (literally the whole email):

Thanks for contacting Boingo Wireless.

What is your username?

Irritating and unhelpful, but nevermind – I can understand that CSRs are usually busy and overworked.

Hi there,

As per my original email, it is <xxx>.

Tim

A day later I got another response…

Thanks for contacting Boingo Wireless.

It could be any number of things and your account status is active.

So that we can better trouble shoot you please call when you are at the hotspot location.

I didn’t think they could be serious. This is how you’ve trained your CSRs to help customers?  For a company that is based entirely on wireless hotspots?  You ask your travelling customers to go back to the hotspot they had trouble in and to troubleshoot from there, days after their missed opportunity?

Finally, I requested a refund again:

Hi,

I was at Heathrow Airport for a period of 5 hours, and needed the service then.  I am in the middle of a trip, and I will not be back at the service location.

This is getting very frustrating – I would really like a refund, otherwise I will need to request a chargeback from my credit card company.

Thanks
Tim

This was the response:

We were unable to locate an account for you, with the info provided below. You should not be charged.

At this point (a week after first requesting the refund), it seems like a customer care supervisor saw our back and forth, and thankfully intervened.  I can happily say I then received the refund:

Dear Tim Cederman-Haysom,

Thanks for contacting Boingo Wireless.

This is to confirm your refund of 5.95 to your credit card and we do apologize for this inconvenience.

If we can be of any additional help, please don’t hesitate to contact our Customer Care team.  We’re available 24/7.

Warm regards,
Brenda Cooper
Online Customer Care

It is safe to say that I stuck to Boingo alternatives for the rest of the trip.  The worst part about providing sub-par support like this is you don’t lose a single customer: you lose the word of mouth from them as well.  I’m still not sure why people skimp on providing excellent customer support when companies like Amazon, Fog Creek and Zappos have used customer support to as a way to get talked about, in a good way, and this word of mouth brings an incredible amount of business.

Incidently I had great service from The Cloud, the alternative I used, and T-mobile wasn’t bad either when my wife used it with her roaming account.

How to name a startup

Since I started working in the Silicon Valley, I’ve been exposed to a huge number of companies which would not normally show up on my radar. One thing I’ve noticed is the naming conventions seemingly followed by everyone. Startup name choices seem to be strategies to get unique domain names, so I guess it’s not surprising that people are following them, but I did expect a few longer/nonsensical/obscure names rather than the similarity I’ve seen.

Numbers

You can start with the kind of boring variation of using numbers in the domain. There’s 23andMe (genetics), 30Boxes (calendars), 37Signals (webapps), 280 North (PowerPoint clone), and 1000 tags (tag clouds). Kind of memorable, but meh. Too many of these and it will just end up being too confusing – perhaps 26components.com for a dictionary website? (Apparently available too! My free tip for the day).

Double letters

Of course the original contender in this section is Digg. However I first properly noticed the naming trend on the Freakonomics blog. Steven Levitt was pimping his friends’ (Ian Ayres and Dean Karlan) new site StickK. I’d already read about Mixx on TechCrunch at that point and I knew a new pattern had been born. Since then I’ve also seen Jott, Kwiqq, Pligg and the triple-lettered Spottt.

This is an approach I used when I was 15, and my online nickname stopped being available everywhere I went (I managed to get a 6 letter common word for my Yahoo email account in 1997. That lasted only 6 months before spam destroyed it, even back then). So I started with a double letter. Then that got taken so I tried a triple. That got taken, so I tried a double at the start and end. Boom, gone. My final effort was to mix numbers and double letters – something we’ll no doubt soon see from startups.

Names ending with “o”. Bonus points: ending with “bo”.

I remember discussing Meebo (the online IM solution) with a work colleague who used to work for Migo and laughing out loud at the names (we both currently work for Trovix, which I’ll get to below). Thinking about it we realised we knew Bebo, Akimbo, Ameego, Vimeo, and Quigo amongst others. So I did a quick scan of TechCrunch and found the following honourable mentions: Amigo, Billeo, Eskobo, Pikeo, Quaero, Zipingo, Zlango, Zudeo, Retrevo, Teqlo, and Zoozio.

“-ix” is the new “-ama”.

Like “futurama” and its ensuing effect on naming things with “ama” at the end, putting an “ix” on the end of names is the new way to sound like we’re in the future. I work for a startup called Trovix, so we fit this particular mould (however we are five years old and our naming comes from the French word trouver, meaning “to find”). I’ve recently been interested in what Topix have been doing for providing local news feeds. MeeMix should technically come under the double letter listing given its meaning, but for even distribution I’ll include it here. Other notable mentions are Bix, Blogtronix, Kosmix, Asterpix and Nirvanix.

Nonsensical “b” words

These ones just leave me scratching my head. I saw the Blinkx.com billboard driving into San Francisco one day. The site’s not bad, and I suppose the address is somewhat memorable, if grating. Others include Blyk, Boomj, Buxfer and Buzka.

Verb without the e (or similar variation)

Here we’ve hit the motherlode. I had thought Flickr (2004) kicked this off, but it is likely that they were influenced by the Razr mobile phone from Motorola which was released in 2003. Flickr has to be one of my all-time favourite Web 2.0 apps (and just seem to be getting better), followed closely by Google Maps and Gmail. However the naming convention they spawned is inexcusable. I’m not even going to discuss the sites, just rattle them off so the sheer bulk doesn’t lose its effect.
Ampd, Blogrovr, Bookr, Blufr, Browsr (not to be confused with browzar), Bullshitr, Buzzd, Cluztr, Coastr, Tumblr, dopplr, FiltrBox, Flagr, Frappr, Graspr, Gtalkr, Grazr, Isolatr, Livecastr, Mixd, Wundrbr, Pluggd, Portrayl, Preloadr, Prerollr, Priceprotectr, protomobl, Raptr, Readr, Zoomr, Resizr, Retrievr, Scanr, Scribd, Shifd, Simkl, Skreemr, Socializr, Soonr, Stockpickr, Talkr, Trezr, Twixtr and Wrickr.

Everyone loves Tuvalu

While Tuvalu slowly gets engulfed by waters (thanks global warming!) we can at least thank them for their domain name – .tv. I’ll also include .fm, since Micronesia is close enough. If you have a video-related product, you’d better snap up a .tv domain! The first domain to bring this trend to my attention was Justin.tv. The fantastic last.fm also snagged a great domain to start the music related domain trend. Speaking of last.fm, I have to say – they got this site right. The viral nature of it, the UI, the licensing, everything. The experience is fantastic, particularly the social nature of it. I tried looking up some old bands that I enjoyed and it instantly connected me with some other die-hard fans. Music-lovers’ nirvana. Honourable mentions in this category: Blip.tv, Brightspot.tv, Chime.tv, Click.tv, Cozmo.tv, Tubecast.tv, Fastcompany.tv, Syndicaster.tv, intunes.fm, me.tv, social.fm, syndicaster.tv, tripr.tv, Next.tv and social.im (okay, so .im is Isle of Man, but it follows the same idea as the others).

Let’s split a word (or words) with random dots

What I find incredibly frustrating with this category is trying to remember where the dots go. I’m always scared as to where I’ll end up if I get this wrong. The most famous is of course del.icio.us, and another early entry was grouphug.us. Through TechCrunch I keep reading about more and more that follow this. Some are kind of interesting, like outside.in, while others such as ma.gnolia.com are relatively pointless. Honourable mentions include Co.mments.com, Competito.us, Fav.or.it, g.ho.st. overhear.us and SingleStat.us.

“q” instead of “c” is the new black

On some primitive level this one really bugs me. I guess it’s because it’s hard to automatically read a “q” as a “c” sound. It just looks like something is wrong and makes your brain stop and think for a minute. No matter, it’s an alternative, and the domain names are available, so here we go. Disqus is the one that’s all over the blogs at the moment, although I had previously come across Seeqpod. I was surprised to find the following startups out there as well: eqo, Fiql, Fliqz, Plasq, Qik and Talqer.

Bonus category: “z” instead of “s”

I think I’ve noticed this type of naming pattern because reading the name just jars something in my brain. It doesn’t help that I associate sites that do this with brokennewz.com. Or maybe I unconsciously associate the “z” with amateurism, which is why I was surprised to find out that a competitor to Trovix is Itzbig.com. And maybe sites like Payloadz and Utterz have been influenced by Orbitz. Who can say for sure? All I know is that they still read like names your kid brother might come up with… sorry guys.

The original – <name>ster

Napster came out in 1999 and set a standard for naming that has only been beaten by dropping vowels. Friendster came in 2002, while Jobster showed up in 2004. Since then we’ve also managed to have Feedster, Browster, Dogster, Eurekster, Famster, Flixster, glogster, Jookster, Kluster, Loopster, Snubster and Talkster all show up as well.

My future predictions

So it’s all well and good to identify existing trends, but I’m sure you’re all asking, “but what’s next Tim?”. Well, I’ll tell you. Two categories:

1 – “al” words

and

2 – Ripping off other names

For the first category, we see distal and drupal as the up and comers, both making decent amounts of noise in the blogosphere. In the second category, it’s been quite quiet, but I was surprised to see Prospero taking on the well-known Prosper (a great idea, and a well-executed site by the way), but at least they were in different industries.

When geeks bite back

Very interesting article on news.com about Sarah Lacy’s interview of Mark Zuckerberg, from Facebook. I’ve seen some pretty atrocious interviews, keynotes, panels and presentations in my time, but this is right up there when you think of the scope. Interviewing the world’s youngest self-made billionaire (is that title accurate?) at a conference like SXSW…well, I can’t but help think she was a little blase about it all, even by her own self admission in a post-interview discussion with Valleywag.

Edit: Found the interview in question. Suspicions confirmed! Sometimes the arrogance in the Silicon Valley can get a bit much… Haha and Mark’s rising inflection at the end of almost every sentence is kind of irritating.

Edit 2:  Jeff Jarvis has a great post going into detail what went wrong in a far more insightful manner than what I could muster.

Google Reader and other Google products

Miles has been a long time fan of Google Reader, but it’s only been recently that I converted to using it full time.

I found that I was visiting the same blogs several times a day to see what was new. Once every week or two I was stopping by the less frequently updated blogs, but invariably I’d forget and miss something. In addition I was trying to manage all my concert updates via email, and using sheer curiosity to check Woot.com each day.

So after much cajoling I finally tried out Google Reader – and I love it! I tried it briefly several months ago but didn’t find it at all useful. I suspect it was the typical Google product experience – try once, yeah – it’s okay, then come back a year later and it’s amazing. I went through the same thing with Google itself in 1999, Google News in 2002, Gmail in 2004, Picasa in 2004, and I’m hoping PicasaWeb will be the next one I come back to, because frankly Flickr is kicking its arse. Google Groups and Google Maps were two instant hits in my opinion. Actually that reminds me, the other product I’m loving at the moment is Google Finance which has some of the best visualisations I’ve seen with a supersmooth interface.

Actually now that I think about it, there are still some misses in there. Google Apps is about 6 months down from when I started trying that out, so I’ll give it a bit more time, but Google Calendar has been a disaster. I know that a sync tool must exist, why don’t you release it Google?! Actually it’s interesting to look over the full list – many applications that I had tried and forgot about – Google Sync, Notebook, Page Creator, Base, and Orkut. Plus a whole bunch more I peripherally use.

My favourite feature in Google Reader is the ability to share links. It’s great that you can give them tags, but what I would really love is the ability to post a full comment about each article. I guess that’s what I’m doing on my blog though! To see what I’ve found interesting have a look in my sidebar, or click here.

Passengers to start getting fingerprinted at Heathrow

In another life I was an information security tutor. Security is such a fascinating topic, both to teach and learn. I can’t get enough of it, and routinely end up taking part in security decisions at my company, just because it’s a startup, and I can. I have a background in usability and user experience research, and I love trying to solve the problem of the balance between user frustration and protection.

Anyway, I digress. Security theatre is such a problem at the moment, 6.5 years after September 11th. Cory Doctorow from BoingBoing has posted the latest ridiculous element of “security” to be enforced, with some excellent commentary.

Britain’s breaking new ground in the slide into a total surveillance state: as of the end of this month, domestic passengers at the new Heathrow Terminal 5 will be fingerprinted and photographed twice, to “ensure the passenger boarding the aircraft is the same person.”

Well, I suppose that if you’re the kind of lazy suicide bomber who believes in dying for the cause — but not if it means rebooking your ticket or, you know, driving to Stansted or Gatwick or East Midlands or Manchester, this’ll work. And that sounds like a pretty good adversary analysis. We all know how easily dissuaded suicide bombers are.

Steve Job’s cancer went unreported for 9 months

Why? Because he was busy trying new age garbage to try and treat it. Guess how that worked out for him.

It turns out that doctors found the the tumor in October of 2003 during a routine scan. While a biopsy revealed that the cancer was a rare but treatable form, Jobs opted to try and treat the cancer with a special diet. Jobs is a long-time Buddhist and vegetarian, and though research has shown diet to be effective in reversing coronary disease and even slow prostate cancer, surgery is so effective for this type of cancer that most patients live 10 years or more after treatment. Jobs tried treating the cancer with the special diet for nine months until follow-up scans showed the tumor was growing. He then had the surgery in July of 2004, when most of us found out about it, and after a relatively short recovery was back at Apple.

This is exactly why I hate woo-woo stuff with a passion. It can not only offer false hope to people but it can actually hurt or kill them. Rational thinking is underrated.

Kicking myself over the new NIN album

Nin album cover

The other night I had the opportunity to buy the $300 superdeluxe edition of the new NIN album, Ghosts I-IV. I had my credit card details entered and everything:

Deluxe edition plus a four-LP set on 180-gram vinyl, which is packaged in a fabric slipcase. Two limited-edition Giclee prints are included; package is numbered and signed by Trent Reznor. Limited to a run of 2500, and one piece per customer.

Ultimately several things put me off. I paid $100 for a limited edition Icky Thump album and it was disappointing. I also felt it was too high a price, which I potentially couldn’t get back if I needed to (Icky Thump limited edition still remains on sale, and people are undercutting the official price).

Sadly it sold out within 24 hours and now I’m left with a yearning sadness deep within me. Curse you frugality.

Awful baby names

One of my pet peeves is the terrible “unique” baby names people give their children, ensuring a lifetime of confusion and taunts.

As much as I dislike linking to news.com.au (for reasons I am sure to go into in another ranty post), they have a story online that discusses the issue (and an unlikely cause, but hey, they need to make tenuous links to create news):

Parents are shunning traditional spellings for versions such as Alex-Zander, Cam’ron, Emma-Lee, Ozkah, Thaillah and Ameleiyah.

“The use of a ‘y’ instead of an ‘i’ has hit epidemic proportions, as has the use of ‘k’ over ‘c’ like in the names Jaykob and Lynkon, double letters like Siimon and Chriss and hyphens like Emma-Lee,” said Mr McCrindle, of private research agency McCrindle Research. The trend was due to the phonetic spelling in email and text messaging.

I honestly would love to have a discussion with one of these parents as to why they are doing this to their kids. I had it bad enough growing up with a hyphenated last name, let alone some crazy first name. It’s just selfishness in my opinion – but could it also be a sign of a hard-wired Lake Wobegon effect?

The best bit is of course an interview with said parent:

Jacquelene and Ashley Wilkinson named their daughters Briarna, born on February 15, and Maddisen, 16 months, in the hope of influencing their nicknames.

“We wanted conservative, girly names for our children. I don’t like some of the more out-there names people are giving their kids,” Ms Wilkinson, from Bulleen said.

“We liked the sound of the name Brianna, but I didn’t want her be an ‘Anna’ because we like the nickname ‘Bree’, so we decided on Briarna.”

Ms Wilkinson had wanted to call her first daughter Madison, but a friend wasn’t so sure.

“She said, ‘God I hate names that rhyme. They must get so teased at school’ off-handedly once and I thought, ‘Oh no, what am I doing with Madison Wilkinson?’ But I’ve loved the name forever and didn’t want to give it up, so my husband and I were on the internet one night and saw the spelling Maddisen, and knew that was it.”