What's a blog if not a vehicle for an occasional rant?
I used to have a mobile with Soul Communications, and recently
changed to another provider because Soul cancelled the plan I'd
been on with them for 3 or 4 years. I ported my number, and
gathered that that would close the Soul account, and all would be
good. Soul has a credit card on that account that they've billed
for the last 3 years or so without problems. I've had nothing
from them to indicate there are any issues.
And so today I get a Notice of Demand and Disconnection from Soul
advising me that my account is overdue, charging me additional
debt recovery fees, and advising that if I don't pay all
outstanding amounts immediately it'll be referred to debt
Nice work Soul.
So let's recap. I've had no notices that my account is overdue,
no contact from anyone from Soul, no indication that there are
any issues, and then a Notice of Demand?
I go and check my email, in case I've missed something. Two
emails from Soul since the beginning of the year, the most recent
from a week ago. They're HTML-only, of course, and I use a text
email client, but hey, I'll go the extra mile and fire up an HTML
email client to workaround the fact that multipart/alternative is
a bit too hard.
The emails just say, "Your Soul Bill is Now Available", and point
to the "MySoul Customer Portal". (Yes, it would be nice if it was
a link to the actual bill, of course, rather than expecting me
to navigate through their crappy navigation system, but that's
clearly a bit too sophisticated as well; but I digress.) There's no
indication in any of the emails that anything is amiss, like a
"Your account is overdue" message or something. So no particular
reason I would have bothered to go and actually login to their
portal, find my bill, and review it, right? They've got the credit
So let's go and check the bill. Go to "MySoul Salvation Portal",
or whatever it's called, dig out obscure customer number and
sekrit password, and login. Except I can't. "This account is
So let's recap:
account has been cancelled due to move to another carrier
can't login to super-customer-portal to get bills
emails from Soul do not indicate there are any problems with
no other emails from the Soul saying "we have a problem"
maybe they could, like, phone my mobile, since they do have
the number - no, too hard!
Epic mega stupendous FAIL! What a bunch of lusers.
So now I've phoned Soul, had a rant, and been promised that they'll
email me the outstanding accounts. That was half an hour ago, and
nothing in the inbox yet. I get the feeling they don't really want
to be paid.
And I feel so much better now. :-)
Today I've been reminded that while the web revolution continues
apace - witness Web 2.0, ajax, mashups, RESTful web services, etc. -
much of the web hasn't yet made it to Web 1.0, let alone Web 2.0.
One of this afternoon's tasks was this: order some graphics cards
for a batch of workstations. We had a pretty good idea of the kind
of cards we wanted - PCIe Nvidia 8600GT-based cards. The unusual
twist today was this: ideally we wanted ones that would only take
up a single PCIe slot, so we could use them okay even if the
neighbouring slot was filled i.e.
select * from graphics_cards
where chipset_vendor = 'nvidia'
and chipset = '8600GT'
order by width desc;
or something. Note that we don't even really care much about price.
We just need some retailer to expose the data on their cards in a
useful sortable fashion, and they would get our order.
In practice, this is Mission Impossible.
Mostly, merchants will just allow me to drill down to their
graphics cards page and browse the gazillion cards they have
available. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to get a view that only
includes Nvidia PCIe cards. If I'm very lucky, I might even be
able to drill down to only 8000-series cards, or even 8600GTs.
Some merchants also allow ordering on certain columns, which
is actually pretty useful when you're buying on price. But none
seem to expose RAM or clockspeeds in list view, let alone card
And even when I manually drill down to the cards themselves,
very few have much useful information there. I did find two
sites that actually quoted the physical dimensions for some
cards, but the in both cases the numbers they were quoting
Okay, so how about we try and figure it out from the
This turns out to be Mission Impossible II. The manufacturer's
websites are all controlled by their marketing departments and
largely consist of flash demos and brochureware. Even finding
a particular card is an impressive feat, even if you have the
merchant's approximation of its name. And when you do they often
have less information than the retailers'. If there is any
significant data available for a card, it's usually in a pdf
datasheet or a manual, rather than available on a webpage.
So here are a few free suggestions for all and sundry, born
out of today's frustration.
use part numbers - all products need a unique identifier,
like books have an ISBN. That means I don't have to try and
guess whether your 'SoFast HyperFlapdoodle 8600GT' is the
same things as the random mislabel the merchant put on it.
provide a standard url for getting to a product page given
your part number. I know, that's pretty revolutionary, but
maybe take a few tips from google instead of just listening
to your marketing department e.g.
keep old product pages around, since people don't just buy
your latest and greatest, and products take a long time to
clear in some parts of the world
include some data on your product pages, rather than
just your brochureware. Put it way down the bottom of the
page so your marketing people don't complain as much. For
bonus points, mark it up with semantic microformat-type
classes to make parsing easier.
alternatively, provide dedicated data product pages, perhaps
in xml, optimised for machine use rather than marketing.
They don't even have to be visible via browse paths, just
available via search urls given product ids.
include manufacturer's part numbers, even if you want to
use your own as the primary key. It's good to let your
customers get additional information from the manufacturer,
provide links at least to the manufacturer's home page, and
ideally to individual product pages
invest in your web interface, particularly in terms of
filtering results. If you have 5 items that are going to
meet my requirements, I want to be able to filter down to
exactly and only those five, instead of having to hunt for
them among 50. Price is usually an important determiner of
shopping decisions, of course, but if I have two merchants
with similar pricing, one of whom let me find exactly the
target set I was interested in, guess who I'm going to buy
do provide as much data as possible as conveniently as
possible for shopping aggregators, particularly product
information and stock levels. People will build useful
interfaces on top of your data if you let them, and will
send traffic your way for free. Pricing is important, but
it's only one piece of the equation.
simple and useful beats pretty and painful - in particular,
don't use frames, since they break lots of standard web
magic like bookmarking and back buttons; don't do things
browser fashion; and don't open content in new windows for
me - I can do that myself
actively solicit feedback from your customers - very few
people will give you feedback unless you make it very clear
you welcome and appreciate it, and when you get it, take it
End of rant.
So tell me, are there any clueful manufacturers and merchants
out there? I don't like just hurling brickbats ...