Unclear on the Concept

People who contact the webmaster to offer comment on some page or other rarely (as in never) provide the URL of the page in question (the new site will automate that problem away). “Hi, your site says xyz rather than prq. Duh.” A tedious email exchange generally follows, wherein I try to determine what in hell they’re talking about.

Recently received a request to remove a listing from our Jobs database, without any clue as to which listing they meant, the correspondent seemingly unable to distinguish between the concept of a page and a site, to grok the possibility that I don’t have every word on the site memorized, or to digest the fact that someone else manages the actual content of the jobs database. Then the person went silent, problem unsolved. Today received an envelope — snail mail including a printout of the job description they meant, with the words “Scot, please delete this site” scrawled across the top.

Today has been an endless series of similar incidents, originating both from within the workplace and without. It’s hopeless. I give up. I hate myself and wish I had never been born.

Music: Wilco :: Pot Kettle Black

13 Replies to “Unclear on the Concept”

  1. Hahah, I had to smile when I read that last line.

    (could you delete the duplicate post above, thanks)

  2. Howabout a well-crafted piece of boilerplate:

    “Hi, before I can remove content from a website I administer, I need to know how to find it. Could you please copy the web address of the page and send it in a reply to this email address? (Please highlight the address in the navigation bar of your page that starts with “http://birdhouse.org/…” and send me the whole thing).”

    There is a larger question in here, of course: how do we design technology so that user friendliness doesn’t equate with user idiocy and ignorance? How do we empower people to more completely understand their technology.

    Oh, yeah… could you delete that one thing?

  3. >>Today received an envelope — snail mail including a printout of the job description they meant, with the words “Scot, please delete this site” scrawled across the top.

    Was this person by any chance a PHB? That would be my guess.

    We’ll make a BOFH of you yet :-).

  4. OK Mark, I give up – skipped around that site and still can’t figure out what a BOFH is. Ah, OK — Google knows. Yeah, that’s me. Me and my LART stick.

    Joe – I’m afraid that in this case, technology wasn’t the problem. Or, rather, it is inconceivable that any technology could be made straightforward enough to NOT confuse the user in question.

  5. Holy frijoles. Reminds me of a client I spent a lot of time with today, one who almost broke my spirit completely:

    Me: Ok, good, you’ve selected the text. Now you need to click that button to adjust the size of the font.

    Client: Button?

    Me: The one you just clicked before you selected the text. See, you have to tell the computer what text you want it to perform an action on first. Then you can adjust the size.

    Client: Oh there it goes! Oh wait…

    Me: What’s the matter, didn’t it change size?

    Client: Yes it did, but now all the text is highlighted! I don’t want that. Every time I want to change the size of the text, it’s going to be highlighted?

    Me: Uh, just click somewhere, anywhere.

    Client: Click?

  6. Matthias, I feel your pain! Sadly, I feel my patience with such scenarios ebbing away. I used to be really good with people, but find myself becoming increasingly short with them, starting to sound more like “Your company’s computer guy” (SNL). Which I don’t want to become, but sometimes I just want to shake people by the shoulders. “Wake the hell up!!!!”

  7. Just do what I do … Grab them by the shoulders, spin them around, and march them back towards the door. Release, a just as they begin to open their mouths to ask, “What the…” you interrupt with, “Try again!” A good finger-waggling will accentuate your meaning as you close the door and return to the chair behind your desk.

    It usually takes a couple of minutes before they knock on the door again, at which point they’ve regained their composure and begin making sense.

  8. I don’t really know what the answer is to this kind of problem. My attempt to solve it is here:

    http://www.eng.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~hgs/support.html

    which you are welcome to beat into a more useful shape for your purposes. Part of the problem is that it seems we store knowledge in other people; I read this somewhere (possibly New Scientist) which stated that is why bereavement is so difficult, knowing you can’t ask the person about a particular matter any more.

  9. Nice summary hgs, thanks for the link.

    n.b.: “wc -l filename” is the easiest way to get a line count (the other two commands you mention display the whole file, which you usually don’t want).

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