Online Insights on FIVEaa Sunday March 7 2010

March 7, 2010

This fortnight in Online Insights, we hear about a stoush between an airline and a big man from Hollywood, access some of the world’s greatest minds as well as the world’s worst clients, and learn about whose house to burgle NOW. As always, remember to email me with website suggestions – [email protected].

A tale of two plane seats

Kevin's photo sent to Twitter
Kevin’s photo sent to Twitter

Movie director, Kevin Smith, is at the centre of a little online storm he created after being ejected off a plane because he was too fat to squeeze into one seat safely. The airline in question is Southwest Airlines in the USA and the story goes that Kevin had bought two tickets for his flight (as he usually does and as the airline policy requires for passenger safety and comfort) but decided to transfer to an earlier flight. Unfortunately, there was only one seat left on the flight and because he could not squeeze into his seat safely, he was asked to leave. So far, one has to say that when they learned there was only one seat available, the airline should have declined to allow him to board, and he should have known that unless he had taken a miracle wonder diet between booking his two seats and electing to try for an earlier flight, he should have stuck with his original flight. However, he decided to try his luck.

Now, I must say, it must be embarrassing to be asked to leave a flight because of your size, and might even trigger some anger as self esteem issues surface and along with feelings of being dealt a bad hand in life. But adding further fuel to this fire, Kevin is one of those minor celebrities from Hollywood who mostly makes the kind of films that are to the world of movies what whoopee cushions are to the world of toys – simply, base, novel, and quickly grown out of. But be that as it may, this thing called Minor Celebrity Syndrome is at play in this story, I believe. MCS works like this. Major celebrities generally have an air of entitlement about them and most people they interact with recognise them and happily kowtow to their needs because they relish sharing stories of having been in so-and-so’s company. They can get stroppy from time to time but it is temporary because the world generally loves them. Minor celebrities, on the other hand, are hardly recognised by anyone at all and so their air of entitlement is often dashed, making them nasty, spiteful and arrogant. Kevin is one of these minor celebs who is rarely recognised by anyone outside his circle of fans who like dopey movies. I think this explains why he twittered the ordeal as it took place, responded to apologies with foul, vicious language, and is milking this situation for all it is worth.  One thing that I think swayed me much closer to the airline was his unnecessary labelling of the airline as the welfare cheque airline. To me, that is evidence of MCS, when you not only put down an airline, but you put down a whole class of people just so you can elevate yourself within your own mind. I have also heard he has a movie coming out soon and this who incident is a wonderful gift for raising his profile just in time.

Anyway, if you want to listen to his side of the story, brace yourself for a bumpy ride and tune into smodcast episode 106. If you want to see some of the first coverage, TMZ covered the story here.

What do you think of the scenario? Should this be a large fuss or should Kevin just suck it up and get on with life? Have you ever been asked to leave a flight because of your weight? I would love to know how your airline handled it.

Please rob me

This is one of those quirky, “take a moral position on an issue to justify doing something controversial” sites. It has been created, apparently, to highlight the potential security risk inherent in a new breed of GPS-based social networking sites like 4square and gowalla. These new sites encourage users to “check in” whenever they move to a new location, such as an office, cafe, restaurant, airport, or home. Most of these sites are set up in the context of a game and reward users for checking in by giving them virtual points that have no value other than within the game. We talked about 4square on the show previously and I mentioned that I had become the Mayor of FIVEaa and of my main place of work, and of The BBQ. You become mayor by being the person who has checked in the most.

The problem with these services that is being focused on by Please Rob Me, is that when you check in somewhere, by default, you are not at home. What also happens is the services share an update with your friends on the service with a Google map of your location, as well as sending an update to Twitter to tell the world of your whereabouts. Please Rob Me is basically an automated search of Twitter, looking for updates from these services and compiling them into one large feed for burglars to review to determine who is not home at any given point in time. Of course, the site organisers say that is not what they want to have happen, they are merely highlighting the danger in advertising your whereabouts to strangers. And they have a point.

So far, I have dabbled with 4square and gowalla simply to keep abreast of new developments in the web2.0 field, and I must say I still have mixed feelings about these new toys.

On one hand, in lighter moments, it is fun to check in to places and also to receive updates from friends – every now and then, two of you can check in at the same place and be able to “bump in” to each other. Also, particularly in the USA, some ice cream parlour owners, restaurateurs and club owners, give free treats to Mayors of their businesses to encourage more visitation by the mayor and their friends.

On the other hand, it can be tedious getting numerous updates from people who are at the bookstore, at the chemist, or turning up to work, let alone the vulnerability of being stalked which has already happened to one Adelaidean I know.

I think we will continue exploring GPS technology but I feel at some stage we will learn that just because you CAN do certain things with technology, it does not mean we SHOULD do them.

Have you found a use for 4square yet that you believe is novel or helpful? Please share. Otherwise, check out houses to case here.

Clients from hell

Something I have often noticed with designers (and I must stress, not with all designers but many) is that they can seem prickly and cold towards people whose job it is to give them direction so that something can be created that will connect with the audience or market that the design piece is being created for. I think there are two things at work behind this dynamic. Firstly, design is an ethereal product and it is hard for non-designers to truly appreciate the value of the creative process and its outcomes. I work as a marketing consultant and I think we share some things in common – much of what I produce is non-tangible and therefore it is my responsibility to explain to clients the process followed and the rationale for the decisions arrived at. But, secondly, I think the prickly side of designers is drawn to the service when non-designers pick their work apart. I know they are meant to be professionals and the work is a separate object, but my pet theory is that there is still a little bit of each designer caught up in the work they produce and therefore, criticism of the work is criticism of them. It leads to defensiveness and an amplified sense of arrogance on the part of the designer as they roll their eyes at the philistine before them, to protect their esteem and value. I think that is all pretty human.

However, when I discovered Clients from Hell, I did see more of what designers put up with from clients and although I still believe there is little room for defensiveness, I can empathise a lot more with these people, many of whom have wonderful gifts the rest of us don’t have, but who are undervalued. Here are some gems:

  • I do know a lot of people who will do it for free, so please hurry up.
  • Airline Client: “You quoted us for 8 days of 2D graphics. I think that’s way too much.” Me: “It includes revisions.” Airline Client: “Well, if you do everything perfectly and we don’t want to change anything, can you charge us less?” Colleague: “If your airline flew us to London and got us there 10 minutes ahead of schedule, would everyone on the plane get a refund?”
  • Shades of Seinfeld: A client, suffering the economic downturn, has owed me almost $4000 since 2007. I have tried many things to get paid. I even stopped being nice and took him off my Christmas Card list. Well, it hasn’t stopped him from sending me one. And this year’s takes the cake. It said, and I quote: TIDINGS OF JOY In gratitude for our association with you, we’ve made a montetary gift to Courage Center in your name. Seriously?
  • “I want it to look dark and cool, like a trendy vodka bar. Also, can you make it bright and friendly like Skype?”
  • We don’t like the slideshow at the beginning of the movie. Can’t you turn the pictures into moving images?
  • When the user logs in I want there to be an animation of a bank safe opening. That way the user knows that they can trust us.

If you want to read more of these anonymously submitted quotes, make a coffee (Baristador of course) and settle back for a little read of clients from hell.

100 scientists to follow on Twitter

This is a directory of scientists who tweet. They cover a number of fields and if you have more than a passing intest in science, I expect you will find some interesting people here to add to your Twitter account.

I have plucked a couple out to highlight the sort of people you will find.

Richard Dawkins. This man has a very high profile, often in relation to evolution. His tweets are mainly links to articles which makes his twitter account an interesting source for stories from his field. One such story caught my attention, relating to the role that culture plays in evolution. It appears that cultures speeds evolution up, rather than cushion us from it (as had often been the understanding). Basically, while we are subject to famine, disease and climate in relation to our evolution, our culture (or learned behaviours) and the technology we create, seem to be working together to engender change at a fast pace. It seems that we pick up on dietary changes and other trends faster, and they fuel our adaptation.

Michael Dawson (no relation). Michael is a cognitive scientist and often tweets links to articles and to his online dictionary of terminology used in his field. There is currently a link to a BBC article about deep sea creatures eating their greens. It is an interesting story because it suggests that deep sea creatures don’t just eat other creatures, but eat opportunistically – gobbling up the spinach that was dropped in their area, 3 km below the surface of the North Sea. But also, it suggests that their appetite for such things means that they might be a carbon sink, able to consume the algal blooms that form as a result of global warming. Interesting. In a fun way, Michael also points out a link to a Canadian professor’s blog in which he slams his students – it reads: Does anyone remember being an undergraduate and spending most of ‘Reading Week’ actually reading? Well, not any more! In fact, this year, many students in my class decided that Reading Week was not long enough, so they are also taking the Friday prior to and the Monday following Reading Week off. That’s just great. I still get to prepare lectures and teach for those days, but they can come and go as they like. I cannot wait to hear all the complaints after Reading Week about their assignments, quizzes, etc.  After all, they have had a week of screwing each other and getting drunk on a ski hill, Caribbean beach, whatever whereas I have been trying to catch up on all of the other work that they prevent from doing for the rest of the semester. Am I bitter? No, not at all. I’m just tired of the self-righteousness and sense of entitlement that seems to plague most undergraduate students these days. And don’t even get me started on graduate students. (That was Dr. Andrew N. Iwaniuk).

That is just two of the scientists you can follow via this list.