Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(February 1997)

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Subject: Re: Educating large masses of users (was: Re: fresh horror from AOL)
From: "E. Allen Smith" <EALLENSMITH @ mbcl . rutgers . edu>
Date: Sun, 2 Feb 1997 18:17 EDT
To: brad @ his . com
Cc: list-managers @ GreatCircle . COM

From:	IN%"brad @
 his .
 com"  "Brad Knowles"  2-FEB-1997 17:54:40.87

>	We probably have some numbers somehwere of how many members we've
>added over the last three months, but I know that over the last six
>to nine months, we've added about three million users.

	Yeek... no wonder you're having problems. You have my distinct
sympathies, given that it's the higher-up's fault and not yours that
you've expanded too fast.

>	The problem is that the Customer Service folks get the same kind
>of cluelessness and vitriol for virtually *everything*, as
>list-managers get when AOL users demand that they take time out of
>their busy schedule to solve their problems, because that's what they
>were put on this planet for.  In fact, I suspect we see more of it,
>and in general, worse cases of it, than list-managers typically do.

	I'm not surprised by the latter, or, indeed, by the former.
The Customer Service people have the problem that, indeed, they
_are_ getting paid for taking the cluelessness and vitriol, so
you've got a distinctly greater obligation to put up with it and
help the users out. One wonders if putting in a limit on the
amount of Customer Service time/email messages/whatever would
work - or at least a limit on how much you'll do without further
charges - with, of course, the exception of if AOL's doing something
wrong and not the user. People shriek and scream about software
companies doing that, but the companies in question seem to have
no other choice. I wonder if rapidly-expanding online services
may be the same way. I'd wonder how much of AOL's budget is
currently going to _paying_ for Customer Service.
	In other words, I see an analogy between unlimited Internet
hours and unlimited Customer Service. Both get overused for the
capacity of the system. It's just that the capacity for the
Customer Service system effectively includes the rest of the
Internet... and thus that's what gets dumped on when it gets
overloaded. How often does Customer Service get questions that
should have gone to a list owner... or should have been resolved
by reading a _non-AOL_ list's subscription information?

>	Less hand-holding certainly doesn't work, because then we get
>more cluelessness and vitriol that we aren't doing enough to help.
>More hand-holding certainly doesn't work, because then we get
>cluelessness and vitriol about the eleventy quadzillion other things
>we *didn't* fix when we added some new specific feature.

	I see the catch-22, yes. I wasn't proposing a simple
solution... just a switch in priorities from things helpful to the
likely-to-be-forever-clueless to things helpful for everyone. I'm
not claiming that this will solve everything, merely that it _might_

>	So, what?  Turn off the entire Service and send everyone home?
>Well, similar problems (perhaps not quite as bad, but certainly bad
>enough) exist on the Internet already, so why not just turn off the
>entire Internet and send everyone home -- that's just as valid a
>solution.  In fact, since we know that virtually all of them are
>incapable of correcting that bloody little blinking "12:00" on their
>VCRs, why not just turn off the entire power grid for the whole
>world, and send everyone home?

	I certainly wasn't proposing the first; I'd prefer to see
AOL keep existing, even with the problems, than it (and the other
major internet providers) go out. For one thing, there are quite
a lot of competent AOL users - some of them my friends and
family. The same thing goes even more for the Internet in general
and the power grid in general.

>	There has to be some sort of intermediate solution, but I haven't
>been able to come up with one, and I certainly haven't seen one get
>created to help solve the same kinds of problems as are pre-existant
>on the Internet already (otherwise we would have already adopted
>something similar on AOL).  This is a tough problem, and so far, no
>one seems to have come up with any real solutions.

	Yeah, I know. I sometimes think that, partially thanks to hype
and partially thanks to real uses, the Internet in general is expanding
too fast... not for its physical capacity (a la "The Death of the
Internet... GIFs at 11"), but for its social capacity. The problem is
how to expand that capacity and/or slow down the growth to a bearable
rate. Chuq has proposed a few changes in the realm of this list,
namely smarter servers with more intelligent error messages, improved
list subscription, and improved list filtering. What are some others?

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From: Eric Thomas <ERIC @ VM . SE . LSOFT . COM>
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From: Brad Knowles <brad @ his . com>
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