Monday, 6 April 2009

Stockholm Syndrome 2.0

(Or, "In the New Economy, Downtime is Cool.")

One of the things that I find entertaining about Twitter is the way they've made downtime cool. Right now I'm looking at a picture of an ice cream cone, telling me that it's okay that I can't update my profile. "I can chill."

Man, that's a nice error page. It's cool.

It's so cool that it makes me feel cool that I'm using an app this cool. In fact, soon someone's going to tell me what this ice cream cone is called, and then I'm going to be even cooler, 'cause I'll be, you know, in the know.

By the time I've figured all this out, I'm not even upset that it lost my edit. I don't know whether this was intentional, but I'm sure they're on to something.

An editor at once remarked to me that managing his pool of writers, divided between PC users and Mac users as it was, had led him to believe that Mac was a kind of cult. When the PC users had problems, they'd swear and groan; theirs was a bond of shared suffering. When the Mac users had problems (which, in his view, was about as frequently*), they would calmly take it and continue working, apparently grateful to be using a computer this cool**.

"Any problems?" he'd ask.


My favourite example of this sort of is not as slick, not as Web 2.0 - it's simple but clever.

I've had to do business on an unfortunate number of occasions with the City of Toronto parking authority, which lets you pay your tickets through an IVR system. Each time, after typing in my eight-digit ticket ID number, the recorded voice says pleasantly:
Please wait while that information is looked up on the computer.
Sure, I know how you feel. Don't you hate slow computers? One time I was in line at the - hey, wait a second!

This app is wasting my time, and yet I'm feeling sorry for it having to wait some other computer is putting it througgh, like some Web 2.0 version of Stockholm Syndrome.

In a way, this is a lot like like the so-called Higher Authority tactic in negotiating. "My manager is very stingy," says the front office sales guy, "but I'll see what I can do for you."

I should try that in my apps.
Please wait while I talk to the app server tier, this takes a long time. I mean forever. We'll be lucky if the results come back before the connection times out. ... Oh, here you go, here's results 1-100.
Anyone out there deliberately put this to good use?

* This was in 1997.
** They're even cooler now.