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  • VA2SFX 12:23 am on June 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Business, , , ,   

    I know it sounds super boring, but here’s why the GDPR is actually really revolutionary af 

    Data Protection

    I figure the next step after passing my EU GDPR F course would be, you know, actually reading the regulation. Because why not, right?

    So yeah, it’s important to preface this series (yes, this will be a series — so unfollow me now) with a strong disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. But I am pretty hardcore into “citizen” style DIY research — so, I figure, this is as good a reason as any to explore the themes, articles and questions around the regulation here and maybe generate some conversations around it. The principles it builds out on are fr*&cking huge.

    Anyway, this is the hard copy book I have (if for some reason, you’re a psycho like me who needs to have a copy of this in print), which for some reason has suuuuuuper small type, but oh well:

    I’m still in Chapter I — General Provisions. But these two Recitals are, in my humble opinion, amazing af. af. af.

    Article 1: Recital (4) begins:

    “The processing of personal data should be designed to serve mankind.”

    I mean, is the hair on your arms tingling? Cause mine is!

    Tbh, I’m not 100% sure yet what the role of the Recitals is: they seem to guide somehow interpretation of the articles of the regulation (according to source linked above). But either way, the above is still pretty amazing as a principle to include, even if it may be (?) “aspirational” to some degree.

    Also fascinating is this Recital 7, which includes (excerpted):

    “Natural persons should have control of their own personal data.”


    I know…

    I know there’s an argument to be made that the EU regulation is crazy/naive/unrealistic because it doesn’t take into account how the internet actually works. But as prominent voices are saying, it might be time we admit that how the internet works is fundamentally broken.

    And though I’m still in diapers when it comes to learning about emerging global data protection and privacy laws, regulations and business trends, it’s impressive to me that the European Union has been busily re-envisioning how an internet and tech economy that actually protects its citizens not just might work, but how it will work: a legally binding playbook even companies outside the EU (extra-territoirality) will be obligated to comply with if they target EU citizens as data subjects, whether or not they are paying customers. Or face a huge fine! [Europe is juuust getting warmed up with its fines against tech companies — GDPR isn’t even in force yet.]

    Let me ask you straight out —

    Is this what it will take to fix the internet? Or at least part of the puzzle… Putting technology at the service of humankind, instead of the other way around. So crazy, we might just give it a chance.

    But don’t take my word for it, America. Here’s how Walt Mossberg in his final weekly column for Re/code put it:

    “My best answer is that, if we are really going to turn over our homes, our cars, our health and more to private tech companies, on a scale never imagined, we need much, much stronger standards for security and privacy than now exist. Especially in the U.S., it’s time to stop dancing around the privacy and security issues and pass real, binding laws. […]

    The tech industry, which has long styled itself as a disruptor, will need to work hand in hand with government to craft these policies. And that might be a bigger challenge than developing the technology in the first place.”

  • VA2SFX 6:38 pm on March 31, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Business, , Help Center, ,   

    Write quality help center content 

    Getting started guide

    I wrote my first Help Center (or “Knowledge Base,” depending who you ask) without any on-the-ground experience working in Support. It probably showed.

    It was written through the lens of a power user wanting to document every aspect of the product thoroughly. A noble intent, to be sure. This meant not only tons of screenshots and walk-throughs of all states of UI flow, but also big walls of text with elaborate explanations, and an enormously high number of pages (well over 400).

    It made sense at the time to pick apart the product this way, but over the following year and a half interacting with both users and the product team, I came to gradually realize how backwards I was approaching it originally.

    Less is more.

    People don’t go searching for help articles because they have an hour they want to pleasurably spend parsing through a technical treatise to solve a fiddly problem they should not have in the first place.

    Users are simply looking for the shortest path to satisfy an intent.

    • Give it to them ASAP, and get the hell out of the way.

    Satisfy user intents.

    At its best, software enables you to do things. To achieve some over-arching objective, by actualizing smaller intents along the way into achievable steps with the tools at hand. The user might stumble in that process for a variety of reasons:

    1. Users don’t understand how the product works.
    2. Required steps to satisfy a given intent are non-obvious (e.g., hidden or poorly-designed).
    3. The intent is outside the scope of the product. (e.g., you_can’t_do_that).

    → This is where Support lives: in that grey-world of either misunderstanding leading to frustration and insanity — or the smooth routing of questions to answers (like in an old-timey switchboard) invisibly serving the actualization of human intents via a product in harmony with its user community.

    What can I say, I’m still a Support Utopian at heart!

    View story at Medium.com

    With that vision in mind, here are a few other guidelines I’ve been operating under in my second go-round at writing a help center.

    Title using active verbs and fewest words possible.

    Every microsecond someone has to take parsing your help content is multiplied against the sum of their existing frustrations. Use fewer words to reduce their Time To Solution to almost zero so they can get on with their life…

    As someone on the computer all day, text also can become very fatiguing. Reducing word counts and even character counts wherever possible can make a help center a place of visual as well as psychological relief.

    How-to articles begin with ‘To…’

    Call me old-fashioned, but I think a good rule of thumb is: how-to articles begin with ‘To…’

    So, let’s say your short page title is “This thing.” Not Shakespeare, but it will do. With rare exception, then, the first words on the page should be:

    To do this thing…
    • It’s basic.
    • It gets to the point.
    • Immediately useful.
    • You know why you’re there.
    • It can be linked out to from product for really specific usages.

    More broadly: the article acts a link in a tool chain to achieve an intent for the user in your product. Not as a further blocker or source of confusion for users who never wanted to go sifting through your help center for a solution in the first place. Help them get done, and leave.

    Minimize surface area to reduce maintenance.

    The first time I wrote a help center, I thought documenting every little thing visually would be a great aid to customers. Maybe for some it was, but then I learned what “continuous innovation” means in the SaaS industry. It means your product is literally always changing. From week to week, or even day to day.

    In a practical sense, then, the more material you include in your help center content, the more you will have to constantly monitor and update as the moving target of your product changes.

    Not just that, but the more images you have, the more images you potentially have broken. The more links, the more dead links. And so on.

    It sounds counter-intuitive to the old me, but now seems better to:

    1. Minimize images.
    2. Minimize cross-linking to other pages.
    3. Minimize repeatetion content on multiple pages or sections.

    And anyway, if your product is good, nearly every operation performed in it should be easily describable in words. You shouldn’t need umpteen-million screenshots.

    View story at Medium.com

    So, only include a screenshot with arrows in an article if it’s a complex operation and words alone aren’t sufficient to convey the user action required.

    Write for Google Rich Snippets.

    When people search “how to” information on Google, Google tries to automatically excerpt relevant information from websites. I made a big collection of these as reference here:

    View story at Medium.com

    Google refers to them as “Rich Snippets.” They look like this:

    Google finds a well-ranked page in its index whose title matches the user intent, and tries to yank out relevant step-by-step information, with a single small picture if available.

    I did some tests with character count on these snippets from a variety of how-to searches on Google and came up with an approximate count of ~360 characters.

    Given the direction automated information extraction is going, write expressly with the goal of having your how-to information accurately picked up and re-transmitted by Google to the user.

    It used to be that you wanted people to visit your help center. And that may still be all well and good for certain things… But if a user can now get the answer to satisfy their intent right in the search results page, there’s literally no reason for them to ever go to your help center.

    And in fact, that’s better for everyone. Their frustration and TTS (Time to Solution) drops to almost nothing. They can close the tab and bounce back to the task at hand. They don’t even have to *think* about navigating around looking for answers, getting more frustrated, and finally opening a help request.

    So how do you write for Google Rich Snippets? Allow me to demonstrate:

    To write help center articles for Google rich snippets:

    1. Choose a short relevant title for your page, focusing on the user intent served.
    2. Begin how-to articles with “To do ____” and answer that question as concisely as possible.
    3. Use numbered lists.
    4. Break everything into short singular, but substantial steps.
    5. Aim to deliver your information payload in under 400 characters.

    If your information can be conveyed in one or two sentences, answer it immediately first and explain it or support it with details after.

    An alternative or supplement to numbered lists, especially for very short answers with few steps is to use a right-bracket ( > ) between linked steps. Like:

    Click on the bubble > click the field > start typing

    It’s clear. The clauses are short. It’s easy to parse that they are sequential steps. I personally find it preferable to a more “correct” English sentence which might read like:

    First click the bubble, then click the field, and then start typing. 

    Both have their advantages, appropriate audiences and contexts, but I’m a big > guy. Seems more “Support-y” to me. Makes me feel like I’m a robot.

    Speaking of robots… 🤖

    Automation is radically changing Support.

    Google Rich Snippets is the tip of the iceberg of the tidal changes that are underway beneath the surface of Support.

    If we think of Support as routing questions to answers with the aim of satisfying user intents, human agents may soon be both augmented and eclipsed by bots, natural language processing and integrated automations.

    Yes, Support should be about empathy, and your agents shouldn’t rely solely on macros and shortcuts. But if they don’t use automation tools at all, they’ll be reproducing work for no reason — work that can be easily handled by bots as they improve.

    Basically, I’m thinking of Support nowadays as a process and mechanism of wiring together some combination of the following:

    • A source of questions
    • A bank of answers
    • Identifying user intents
    • Product feature map
    • What capacities Support agents have

    Most problems users face aren’t unique. Most problems express themselves as repeating patterns with one or two preferred solutions.

    I look at it almost like the I Ching: there are (figuratively speaking) approximately 64 possible outcomes, configurations, or arrangements users can get into relative to your product which cause problems. And for each there is a fix, a workaround, a linked work-flow or a big fat “No,” which is required as a response.

    Some are big and common issues. Some are bugs that get solved rapidly. Some are #knownissuenotfixed. Some are things that come up only rarely for a few users in special circumstances. Whatever they are, they form patterns.

    And where there are patterns, there is the possibility of detection and of automation of subsequent workflows.

    View story at Medium.com

    While chat-bots running natural language processing aren’t yet fully-featured enough to be able to independently run a help desk ticketing solution without human intervention, that day is definitely coming. The race is on.

    What will remain in demand as that Support Singularity approaches will, of course, always be clear, concise, brief, consistently micro-formatted documentation which can be cut up and manually or automatically reassembled based on circumstance, product state, and user need. So in effect, the game will change, but the rules will stay the same.

    Other miscellaneous rules, because I’m running out of time.

    1. Write in an active voice. Be direct and declarative. Don’t mince words, muddle around, or waste people’s time.
    2. Help centers are for factual statements about how things work now. Marketing and future product promises should go somewhere else.
    3. When ordering lists of pages, start with the positive actions users can take at the top (e.g. “Make something”), followed with the negative stuff they can do (e.g., “Delete your account”) and ending with the things they just can’t do with your product (e.g., basically any FAQ which starts with “How can I ___?” and whose answer is “You can’t.”)
    4. Don’t lock things up into long paragraphs. Break to a new line as soon as a new idea arrives, or throw in a bullet point to split things up for scan-ability, and eventual automation.

    Okay, that will have to do for now. Good luck!

  • VA2SFX 1:26 pm on March 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Britain, Business, , ,   

    India gives legal rights to rivers— Brits dump shit in it. 

    I just find the timing of these two stories in my news feed amusing —


    “New Delhi (CNN) — A decades-long fight against river pollution in India has been given a much needed boost.

    On Monday, a court in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand declared the Yamuna and Ganges rivers “living entities.”

    The ruling said the rivers, both of which are considered sacred to Hindus and personified as goddesses, were crucial in providing “physical and spiritual sustenance” to locals.”


    “Thames Water has been fined a record £20m after pumping nearly 1.5 billion litres of untreated sewage into the River Thames.

    The company admitted water pollution and other offences at sewage facilities in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

    Fish and birds died following the spills in 2013 and 2014.

    The £20.3m fine is the largest penalty handed down to a water utility for an environmental disaster.”

    If you haven’t been following, there was a recent ruling in New Zealand, of which India’s is an echo, that a river has been granted legal personhood in recognition of the role it plays in both the ecosystem and traditional life. It’s a bit similar to the notion of giving legal personhood to corporations…


    This is part of the larger Rights of Nature movement, and comes out of essentially Deep Ecology of the 1970’s.

    See also: 1982’s more or less ignored World Charter for Nature.

    Critics tend to call the Rights of Nature movement, in usually a shrill voice, communist/marxist or similar — in that it threatens the supreme right of man to make profits by actively destroying the ecosystems in which he is embedded and on which his continued existence is entirely dependent. I guess from that statement, you can probably tell where my sympathies lay.

  • VA2SFX 12:00 am on March 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Business, , , , User Experience   

    Adventures in complaining… 

    Sometimes I wonder if in an FBI file somewhere there’s a record of all the annoyed/annoying letters I’ve ever sent to companies complaining about their products or services…

    And some day I’ll wind up sitting in a stark room with a table and a one-way mirror while they are quoted back to me. So be it!

    Overflow-ing with annoyance

    On the heels of my mounting frustration with Stack Overflow, yesterday I tried to delete one of my posts there which had lead me into a sort of infinite loop of annoyance. I thought it best for my own mental health to cut the knot of my annoyance and extricate myself from the whole situation.

    So I went to the post, clicked delete, and confirmed my choice:

    Only to find out, hm, I can’t delete my post. Which is weird, because it says above that I can, asks me to confirm and then says:

    So I wrote to Support asking them to delete it.

    Fight macros with macros

    They sent me back what is obviously a macro:

    “All posts are licensed to us to use under the perpetual license of Creative Commons and cannot be removed by request. Deleting your profile removes your credit as Licensor as is required by Section 4(c) of the Creative Commons license, but the content is part of the collection of Stack Exchange and is part of the collective effort of other users who have also contributed to that content.”

    Since I’m in the support game myself, I figured I would test out a little macro of my own that I’ve been developing.

    See, this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered a company that won’t delete my content. And I find this highly objectionable. In the past, I’d tried to get Patreon to delete my account (which I’d never used) and they told me they “can’t.” Yeah, right. Anyway, since then I’ve been researching user rights under other jurisdictions and thought I would fly an experimental play up the flagpole and see what happens.

    Right to be Forgotten

    So I went with my “Hail Mary” and invoked Article 17, EU GDPR — the Right of Erasure, and upped the ante to request deletion of all my content:


    “1. The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller the erasure of personal data concerning him or her without undue delay and the controller shall have the obligation to erase personal data without undue delay where one of the following grounds applies:

    (b) the data subject withdraws consent on which the processing is based according to point (a) of Article 6(1), or point (a) of Article 9(2), and where there is no other legal ground for the processing;”

    They wrote back to me, in part:

    “Plainly put, no. That’s not how it works and that is not at all relevant to having all of your content on the site removed.”

    Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s entirely relevant. But what do I know. Companies hoarding data about users without any oversight — this is a big deal. Sadly, only the European Union so far, that I know of, has decided to enshrine this into law. The US doesn’t seem to give a shit about this…

    Of course, I never mentioned I’m not an EU citizen. Pfff — Technicalities! But I only invoked the law, I never said I was subject to it. (See also: legal pluralism)

    By that token, I’m not a resident of New York or the United States, where Stack Overflow is based and hence the venue of its Terms— and I reject also this notion that tech companies are only bound by the laws where they are incorporated and are not responsible to the needs of users in other jurisdictions.

    In any event, I knew they had beaten my Right to be forgotten macro, so I pivoted and went DMCA on them. This is a grey area, but I felt justified based on their own Terms:

    “If You believe that content residing or accessible on the Network infringes a copyright, please send a notice of copyright infringement containing the following information to the Designated Agent at the address below (all received notices will be posted in full to Lumen):”

    Since I am in fact the rights holder of my content, I think there is strong (though perhaps not in the end entirely legally-sound) argument to be made that they are now infringing on my copyright by not removing my content as requested.

    Except of course, that whole thing that I’d inadvertently — also under their Terms — given them a “perpetual irrevocable license” to use my content. What can I say, I didn’t read through or think deeply about the implications of their Terms when I signed up

    Avant-garde DMCA

    Rather than mince words though, I filed my own DMCA notice on behalf of myself and sent it to them. Might have been unorthodox, but I wasn’t seeing a lot of other options left to me.

    I guess this was just too much for them though. They told me it was a “pointless effort” and (confirmed my suspicion) that this isn’t really how DMCA works — but, hey, you can’t blame a guy for trying. All I freakin’ wanted was to delete a post that I wrote.

    In a parallel universe, this makes *them* the crazy ones, not me… or so I like to tell myself as a I laugh/cry myself to sleep in my padded cell every night. 


    Anyway, I thought their closing remarks were a bit rude, though perhaps in their eyes warranted to shake me loose as a “bad actor.” They wrote:

    “If you’re going to just keep sending us nonsense about this, we’re just going to completely ignore you.”

    Annoyed GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

    Evidently, I was not the only person frustrated at this point. And I was antagonizing for sure. “Support Rage” goes in both directions though, let me tell you —

    But calling my request to delete ONE POST from their network of millions (billions?) “nonsense” and threatening to “completely ignore” me — well that seems like going too far. That got my 🐐. Especially since their own UI offers me the option to delete my post in the first place, and even asks me to confirm the choice. *I SWEAR I'M NOT CRAZY--YET*

    I tried pleading with them nicely once more to no avail — but maybe my idea of “nice” was at this point pretty warped. It might be safe to say I’ve about made a break from consensus reality. But I also think that if users don’t push back against tech companies and their sometimes arbitrary, one-sided and harsh rules over content WE PROVIDE THEM FOR FREE, then we will be the ones who end up being used.

    Feature request

    Not being able to easily let things like this go once I set myself to them (and now married to the principle of the thing), I switched tactics one last time and asked them to simply fix their UI so that the option to delete never appears at all on questions which can’t be deleted. I mean, that one simple change — which is more in-line with their Terms anyway — would likely have headed this situation off at the pass (or not, I might still have pushed).

    They kindly wrote back and informed me this had been brought up already in their Meta section (dated to August 2016), and that they would fix it “some time in the future.”

    I won’t hold my breath.

  • VA2SFX 2:23 pm on March 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Business, , Moderation, Stack Exchange,   

    Stack Exchange feels cruel to new users 

    Dear Stack Overflow, I don’t know if you’re monitoring this channel or how much your org values this sort of thing, but I just wanted to convey some feedback as an occasional user of various Stack Exchange forums.

    I love the idea of SE, that I can go to a forum, ask a question and get answers from both qualified experts and interested amateurs alike. For me, it speaks very much to the original promise of the internet. However, most of my real “boots on the ground” experience with the site has been pretty negative.

    It may differ on a forum-by-forum basis, but I’ve often found myself in the following pattern of interactions:

    • I’m new to a given forum and field of hobbyist interest. I post what appears to me to be a legitimate question to further my understanding of the topics involved.
    • Some community moderator of the forum (or similar — I don’t honestly get how the mod system works) will come in and close my question or put me on hold, saying that I’m not allowed to ask this kind of question here.
    • This will either result in them telling me to ask on a completely separate forum, or more usually with an elaborate back and forth about why my question is not good enough to be answered. (See also: rules lawyer)
    • More often than not, this user will eventually edit my original question — without my permission — to make it fit in with what they consider to be the rules of the forum.
    • End result: user frustration and a lack of motivation to continue using the SE system, and if the frustration is high enough (which it often is after these exchanges), potentially a lack of motivation to continue participating in the hobby.

    I won’t link to examples, because my purpose here is not to point fingers at any specific user(s) of the platform. I believe the problem to be systemic — because I’ve encountered it many times of multiple forums across the system. Obviously, I understand the need to cultivate quality questions and answers, but I find the system in its current configuration to be really unwelcoming and arbitrary to interested newcomers. I can’t imagine I’m the only person to have had this experience, and I hope you’ll consider ways this pattern of behavior toward new users might be improved in the future.

  • VA2SFX 4:34 pm on March 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Business, , , Toxicity, Web   

    Firefox: Never read the comments. 

    Firefox product team, I’ve been using FF forever and it’s still my main browser, though I begrudgingly use Chrome “for work”.

    So that’s why I was totally bummed a few weeks ago to find the message below on an FF home screen myself:

    The embedded screenshot above reads:

    “Now seems like as good a time as any for an important reminder: Never read the comments.”

    Coming from a browser company I actually trust, that just sounds defeatist. You’re my browser! Can’t you help me? Do something for me at a browser level to give me the browsing experience I actually want. You know, instead of a cutesy graphic and vague warning?

    What if Firefox could help me filter out not just the ads but the BS and toxicity I’m exposed to on a daily basis? I’m “just saying” — we could have the internet we want.

  • VA2SFX 12:37 pm on March 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Business, , , ,   

    Phys.org: The Right to Not Be Poisoned 

    As much as I agree with the below, having recently read “Silent Spring” which came out in the early 1950s (and how little progress we’ve made since in regulating these toxins), and seeing the piece by piece dismantling of America’s already weak protections against poison, I’m not exactly filled with hope over this subject:


    “The European Chemicals agency estimates there are more than 144,000 man-made chemicals in existence. The US Department of Health estimates 2000 new chemicals are being released every year. The UN Environment Program warns most of these have never been screened for human health safety,” he says.

    “The World Health Organisation estimates that 12 million people — one in 4 — die every year from diseases caused by ‘air water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change and ultraviolet radiation’, all of which result from human activity.” […]

    “Industrial toxins are now routinely found in new-born babies, in mother’s milk, in the food chain, in domestic drinking water worldwide. They have been detected from the peak of Mt Everest (where the snow is so polluted it doesn’t meet drinking water standards) to the depths of the oceans, from the hearts of our cities to the remotest islands. […]

    Mr Cribb says an issue of chemical contamination largely ignored by governments and corporations is that chemicals act in combination, occur in mixtures and undergo constant change. “A given chemical may not occur in toxic amounts in one place — but combined with thousands of other chemicals it may contribute a much larger risk to the health and safety of the whole population and the environment.” […]

    “First, we need a new Human Right — a right not to be poisoned. Without such a right, there will never again be a day in history when humans are free from man-made poisons.

    Image credit: Andre Robillard, Unsplash

  • VA2SFX 3:34 pm on February 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Business, , Fake Weather, ,   

    Fake weather is the new fake news…💰 

    Time to cash in

    Get in on this Hot New SEO trend at the ground floor, while there are untold adver-dollars 💰 to be had. ** Click here to buy my ebook. **

    • “Hurricane somewhere.”
    • “Rain as likely as not all next week.”
    • “Cloudy, then clearing…”
    • Winds expected.”
    • “At exactly 5:36:30 PM, Eastern Time Zone, one drop of rain will fall on a cow’s butt in a field in Pennsylvania.”
    • “Wear your face filters today — smog is moderately high.”
    • “Twenty feet of snow fell on Penguin Grove shopping center last night. Snowman overjoyed.”
    • “Why the Tri-Cities are sinking —HINT: it has nothing to do with Climate Change.”

    Photo: Jordan Ladikos, Unsplash.
  • VA2SFX 2:31 pm on February 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Business, , , , Super Mario Bros   

    Club Penguin can’t afford flame war rn 

    LA Times

    CS Monitor


    Yahoo News


    NY Times
  • VA2SFX 4:56 pm on February 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Business, , ,   

    Understanding Snowman’s pick for Fellowship of the Rings 

    Washington Post


    CS Monitor



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