Bulletin boards, nobheads and good people

There’s a very niche car forum I inhabit, full of grumpy old men. It’s my favourite place online.

This contributor summed up his experience of the internet since 1993. I can only imagine, but it sounds about right to me.

And it’s a a nice reminder of how the first generation webbies I meet through work often feel.

Years ago the “proper internet” was just obscure bulletin boards and stuff on usenet, and the general public were absolutely ignorant of it – It was mainly used by intellectuals, hobbyists etc. A good place, unsoiled by the general public – If you wanted access to it, you had to work for it.
One day in September 1993, AOL included Usenet access in their internet package for the general public, and this basically ruined the place.

Car forums experienced a similar thing in the mid/late 2000s, where loads of idiots turned up and ruined the game. Before then you could safely presume anyone you were talking to on a forum was probably a decent person, but once word got round to the nobheads, it dragged the whole place down.

I really can’t stand facebook, but all the dickheads who ruined forums are now on facebook instead, and forums are slowly falling back into the hands of mostly good people, and I’m really happy about that.

If not social media then where?

This is a particularly good blog post from Martin Belam.

There’s a paragraph that says:

I think part of the problem for – yes, I’ll bite – the mainstream media is that “what happens on the internet” is still not regarded as a specialist beat to be covered like you would healthcare or science. And when it is, it is usually more along the lines of “Here’s 10 jokes that made people laugh about recent event x”

This really resonates with me, because any time I read or hear mainstream media coverage, phrases such as: ‘news spread overnight on social media’ appear.

Clipping from Daily Mail citing online speculation on Prince Philip

‘on social media’. Where else was it going to spread?

As Martin says, audiences miss general coverage of internet developments through lack of widespread reporting. But worse, the internet itself is regularly cited as if it is an occasional or optional method of communication, rather than the central route by which all information is published and shared.


Buying from real people

This idea has been consuming my thoughts for months: I only want to buy things from real people.

As a consumer, and an employee, these lines from the Cluetrain Manifesto haunt me:

64. We want access to your corporate information, to your plans and strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.

65. We’re also the workers who make your companies go. We want to talk to customers directly in our own voices, not in platitudes written into a script.

Simply put: I no longer believe in call centres, anonymous email and corporate social media accounts. I only want to buy, or deal with, people who are passionate about their work.

Looking back on my expenditure for 2014, I can recall seven unsatisfactory online transactions, where systems failed, questions were not answered properly, and I ended up having to make a phone call or email an anonymous account. That’s a total of £3,249 in, at best, tedious and protracted ‘online’ purchases, and a wasted 4.5 hours to boot.

Insurance, pensions and broadband are difficult to buy and totally impersonal (ironic, given their impact on how I lead my life). Coffee, car repairs and bikes are the opposite. I’ve found fun, expert people to sell me these things, on- and offline.

Tell me why I can’t buy pensions, insurance and broadband from fun, expert people, online, and save some time as well?

Maybe I can.

GiffGaff is an obvious example, where an online community can provide advice and help you buy goods and services. Train companies are pretty good too. I had thought car insurance would be a problem, until I found this company. The call centre experience was terrible but fortunately some of their staff are online, openly. It took a bit of digging, because the team’s enthusiasm is largely hidden behind a big ugly phone number:

Adrian Flux staff on Twitter

And they produce this interesting blog, which is far better than any of their corporate social media activity:

Adrian Flux blog

This is just one example, but my experience as a consumer is littered with others.

My patience is running out with organisations pretending they are on social media, while hiding their staff and all that personality and knowledge behind a corporate Twitter profile, or a lame blog.

This is where that niggling idea becomes a plan. I will start 2015 with just one resolution: I will not buy anything from organisations who pretend to use digital channels.

Rules of engagement

  • If I can buy a product online or in a shop, successfully, then I will
  • I definitely won’t buy or deal with an organisation that insists on directing me to a call centre
  • If an online transaction fails, I’ll try to find someone – a real person – elsewhere online, who can help me complete the transaction. If no-one is there that can help, then I move on to another provider.
  • No corporate Twitter accounts, unless tweets are attributed
  • No call centres**

This isn’t a hollow commitment. I have some big and important purchases to make in 2015, including moving my pension, a new mortgage and buying home furnishings. In some ways I am more nervous about the smaller purchases: flights, for example. Let’s hope those online booking systems hold up.

If you’ve read this far, I’d like you to hold me to this resolution and I’ll report back on how easy (or not) this is. I will celebrate those organisations that do it well, and name and shame those that are pretenders to digital.

*With the exception of emergency services