Friday, April 23, 2010

The LA Times uses Facebook and others for registration

I received an email from the LA Times saying they were cancelling my online registration in nine days. But, not to worry, I could register on their new, improved site, which was also free.

I wondered why they did not just transfer my old registration and carry on without bothering me, but clicked on the link to register for the new site. That took me to a page that asked me to register using my Gmail, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, AOL or Myspace account for authentication.

It said that if I did not have an account with one of those services, I could still register. But, when I tried to do that, it took me to Facebook so I could open an account there. I had to join Facebook if I wanted to access to LA Times articles and newsletters.

What's up with that? Does the LA Times get a kickback from Facebook and the others? What does it cost Facebook to be the preferred subscription agent? Does the LA Times get access to things I tell Facebook and vice versa? This all feels a bit creepy.

Newspapers are hurting financially, but this seems like a bad idea even if does generate some revenue. What does an association with Facebook (Spambook) do for the LA Times brand? What happens if I never log onto the Facebook account they forced me get? What if I want to get LA Times feeds through my email or RSS?

Will Facebook or Google or Twitter or one of the others end up being your primary Internet identity point? Do you mind having the choice made for you?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Good support from Zoho

My last post was about a bad customer service experience with my ISP, Verizon. This is a story of good support by the folks who run the Zoho Creator database service.
I wanted to add two capabilities to a database I had created using their service, but could not see how to do either. I posted queries at their technical support site, and had answers to both within a couple of hours.
The answers came from Zoho employees, not contractors, and both were perfectly responsive.
One of my problems was solved with a somewhat obscure workaround and the other could not be solved at present. They said they were planning to add a feature to take care of the second problem, and I suggested a user interface change to make the first clear.
It felt like a conversation with a knowledgeable employee of a responsive company.
Have you had some good experiences with customer service or support at some Web sites?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Government AND private industry can be inefficient and bureaucratic

As a California State University professor, I see a lot of waste and bureaucracy -- government organizations can be very inefficient. But so can private companies. Consider my experience with my ISP, Verizon.
Last week I ordered 7 Mbps service from Verizon, but, after they switched it on, I was only getting about 1.5 Mbps. I assume there were tons of re-transmission errors due to an overly aggressive modulation scheme.
When I called to complain, a Verizon "technician" kept me on the phone trying one thing and another for nearly an hour before he gave up and got his bosses permission to schedule a "truck roll" to come to my house and fix the problem.
The minute the driver arrived, he told me that, at 9,000 feet from my central office, there was no way I was going to get 7 Mbps. He checked the line, and concluded that I could reliably run at 4.2 Mbps, but, unfortunately, Verizon only offers 3 and 7, so I could only get 3 Mbps.
They could have easily told me at the time of the order that 7 Mbps was not available at my house, saving an expensive truck roll. The technician who scheduled the truck roll when I called customer service to complain could have done the same.
The driver told me he does about five calls per day and three are typically fruitless. He added that he was happy with the system because it gave him job security. What a guy.
When he left, I had to make yet another 30-minutes-on-hold call to Verizon to change my order to 3 Mbps. The driver could not change the order automatically.
Verizon information is walled off in "silos." The truck driver can determine the distance of my house from my central office, but cannot change my service order. The ordering system can sign me up for a service, but cannot determine my distance to the central office to see if it is feasible. The customer support technician cannot do anything except, eventually, order a truck roll.
In chatting with the driver, he also confirmed the Internet rumors and leaked memos saying that Verizon was not installing new FIOS fiber, but focusing on increasing the take rate on what they have installed already. So much for me getting fiber from them any time soon.
(I wonder how much Verizon has extracted from the California Public Utilities Commission in return for "promises" to install fiber. For more on Verizon's broken promises, see this book by Bruce Kushnick.)
What has been your experience with customer service from your phone company or ISP?



I continued limping along with 3 Mbps service, hoping for FIOS, when my bandwidth dropped to just over 1 Mbps. When I called to complain, I was told that I was so far from the central office that I could not get 3 Mbps service, so my rate was lowered. I explained that it was working fine at close to 3 Mbps, but that did not sway them.

I gave up on FIOS and switched to Time Warner cable. FIOS is still not available in my neighborhood.