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Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Cultural Roots of Intolerance

The murders of Trayvon Martin and of Narendra Dabholkar are both attributable to flaws in the cultures of the countries where they were perpetrated. Martin’s death came as a result of a culture of fear that had been exacerbated by the divisive and polarized political debates in the United States. Dabholkar’s killers were emblematic of the anxieties that many in India find themselves gripped by, as that nation continues to make its stumbling way towards modernity.

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The Trainer Wheels Came Off

I signed on to my first job the Tuesday after Labor Day 2001. I quit my last one, the Friday before the same weekend of this year.

The euphoria wore off on Wednesday. On Thursday, I decided that the biggest challenge of working for yourself was not knowing if you had done a good job at the end of the day or not. For over fifteen years – including the years I was in grad school – I pretty much knew the answer to that question every single day. If I thought that my boss (“advisor,” when I was a grad student) was feeling good about me, then I could check the day off as a success. Otherwise, I knew I had to work harder.

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It’s Funny Being An Online Consumer Sometimes: A Brief Twitter Client Review

I’ve recently decided to take my social media presence a lot more seriously, for various reasons, which includes one very good one that I’m not quite ready to reveal yet. At any rate, I’ve had to consider how I’m going to consume multiple social media feeds, to which I might quite easily add more over time. Let’s just say I’m experimenting with a lot of ideas right now, and each one might merit its own marketing channel.

I was a devoted user of Tweetdeck many years ago, and have been using it on and off recently. What caused a big change in my relationship with Tweetdeck was that I divested myself of my Windows machines and have been using only a Macbook Pro now for a few days. I’m pretty sure I’m going to stick to an OSX machine for the near future, mainly because I’m coding a lot more now, and the *nix ecosystem support you get from the OSX family of devices is what clinched it for me. Well, more specifically, it was the ease of using the Ruby on Rails frameworks on OSX, compared to struggling with Windows and Cygwin.

That’s a different story, though – this one is about being an online consumer, rather than a member of the developer community. My problem with Tweetdeck was that the scroll function seemed to have mysteriously disappeared. Now I know this is probably operator error – not only does the helpful help screen on the Tweetdeck client tell me that my arrow keys should allow me to scroll through … well, through something, it wasn’t clear what … but I couldn’t find any obvious complaints online about this functionality being unavailable on Tweetdeck’s Mac client.

What I did find though were articles making oblique comments about how the client isn’t what it used to be. A search on the Internet for the phrase “tweetdeck scroll down” revealed titles like “9 reasons why the new Tweetdeck is a step backwards,” and “How I learned to stop worrying and love new Tweetdeck.” A review that echoes Kubrick’s satire of the Cold War is hardly something to inspire confidence. This was a perfectly serviceable client, that did its job nicely. Why did Twitter break it?

Of course, I know why they did – because someone at Twitter figured they had to justify their new ownership of the product, and the only way someone can leave their mark on what they own is to change it, even if it’s a violation of the adage that what isn’t broke, don’t need to be fixed. I have been an Internet product manager too long to not recognize this urge. It hurts to be on the other side of the fence, though, to be the consumer who’s been affected by someone’s grandiose attempt at misplaced creativity.

Reading reviews of other clients only led me further into the jungle of mediocrity that Internet consumers have to face. As such reviews have to be, they were all subjective – none of them even tried to compare the clients on a somewhat-equal footing. Some of the points noted were barely passable beyond being table stakes features – Digital Trends’ reviewer notes for example that “Tweetings … offers an admirable set of features including filters, a tweet scheduler, and the ability to tweet more than 140 characters.” Really? I can tweet more than 140 characters? How groundbreaking!

The icing on the cake after I had picked my final choice – to buy a copy of the Twitterific app. $4.99 later, I realized that it didn’t have a way to line up the streams in a single window.

I then switched to Hootsuite, which at least this far appears to be free – I know there’s a premium version but my basic usage needs appear not to require that level of service. But of course, it doesn’t come as a native app and I have to load it in my browser. That wouldn’t be a big deal, really, except that now that I’m a Mac user, I can’t tab through each window of the same application. Thankfully, there are at least three browsers that run on an OSX machine, at least two of which support the Hootsuite client, so if I just designate one browser application as my Hootsuite client, I can still get to my Twitter streams with easy keyboard strokes.

I don’t know if there’s a single service/company to blame here for my travails, though I’m sorely tempted to blame Apple and Steve Jobs – not only does the Apple App Store not allow me to try apps out for a brief while and get refunded (you can do that with the Google Play Store), it’s the Tab key behavior that really kills things. And it could be that the scroll problems that started off my journey are in fact unique to the design of the Apple GUI.

But there is suffering for the typical Internet consumer beyond the confines of the Apple Inc walled garden. Products are reviewed poorly, if at all, and the freemium, tiered, pricing model makes it almost a virtue to not tell consumers what they’re getting for their money. There might always be a new pricing level lurking around the corner as you get more hooked into a product. Would consumers tolerate auto manufacturers who wouldn’t tell them clearly that, say, once they start driving past 65 mph, they have to send in an extra $2,000 to the dealership? Yet, that’s exactly what we all willingly sign up for with many online products.

For the moment, I have no solutions, other than to stay away from being a consumer as much as possible. But there’s a good lesson to be learned here in my future as a product manager and service provider!