I try not to exploit my role as a blogger to promote products or businesses (unless there’s an exceptional customer experience or innovation I really believe is worthy of note). Nor do I use it to vent frustrations about bad customer experiences (except in rare cases.) I can’t fully explain my internal compass and guidelines for these principles, or even justify myself – when I promote or chastise, I do so because it feels right and appropriate at the time. (As it happens, I think a great site for addressing product and vendor issues is at Get Satisfaction.)
With the caveats out of the way, I’ve recently been “upping the ante” on myself in terms of better organizing my online experience. For example, as my bookmarks have expanded over the years, the way I originally had them organized no longer reflects how I actually need to use bookmarking. Also, there’s just so much stuff to keep track of, so I decided to get into social bookmarking. I had dabbled in the past, but determined that I needed to get beyond dabbling into some more serious usage.
Based on colleagues recommendations I tried Delicious – the new version. Delicious is a rich and powerful tool. I like the fact that I can use it in its simplest form (personal tagging and bookmarking) and grow into the more valuable social bookmarking dimension as I gain comfort with it. Like most powerful tools, there’s a learning curve, and therefore I won’t feel the real value until I’m “past the hump” in terms of learning (my own personal ‘speed bump’).
But I’m increasingly finding some Web 2.0 tools have really rough edges – strange user interfaces, erratic performance, and little meaningful guidance on how to get the best from them. Now admittedly, I have a low threshold of pain in terms of learning. If I can’t get a sufficient hang of a tool, and some level of instant gratification in 10 to 15 minutes, I tend to give up. Sometimes the issue turns out to be unfortunate interactions between tools. I’ve had a couple of such instances with Google Web Accelerator conflicting somehow with other web sites. I was getting very erratic behavior with YouTube until I disabled Google Web Accelerator. I believe I just found a similar incompatibility between Google Web Accelerator and Delicious. The manifestation of this was both amusing and annoying. I would frequently get the message:
Hmmm… you have been blocked… Sorry, you’ve been temporarily blocked for accessing Delicious too rapidly. This could be the result of using a buggy, misconfigured, or malicious program. It could also be accidental on our part. Please hold off for a few minutes and try again later, in a gentler fashion.
For a first class (and free!) product, this message from Delicious confounded me! The implication that it’s my fault that I got an error message – I’m accessing the service “too rapidly”! I should return later “in a gentler fashion”! I tried typing slower, and hitting the keys with a little less vigor, but I still got the error message. Fortunately, I discovered the Google Web Accelerator glitch, but someone else in a similar situation might have given up, or lived with this annoying glitch forever.
Again, this is not about Delicious, or even Google Web Accelerator. Weird interactions aside, these are great products that work well (mostly) and have value. I raved recently about MindMeister. The more I use, the more I love it (as does my team as we now use this as a team support tool.) But I’ve also wasted time and effort with some total rubbish! I get the idea of beta versions and having users debug products, but some of the tools out there really are not ready for prime time. One I tried recently (at a colleague’s suggestion) had no real guidance as to how to use it, a help system from the 1960’s, and when I gave up and tried to delete the things I put on it, gave me no way to do so. I then decided to delete my account, and again there was no way to do so. A search of the support pages showed me that this was a much requested feature they would work on some day. In the meantime, “tell support you want out, and they will cancel the service within 24 hours”! That’s not what Web 2.0 is all about!
I guess the punchline is – caveat emptor. While there are some wonderful (and free!) tools out there that really do help with productivity and making you “smarter”, there’s many that just don’t cut it!