Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Open Letter to Symantec's Tech Support Manager

Dear Manager,

I have recently purchased your Norton Antivirus for Mac (version 10.0.1 (3)) for my MacBook Pro running Mac OS 10.4.11 on Intel processor. After installing it and using LiveUpdate I wanted to complete an initial full scan. Each time I started the manual scan of the entire hard drive (over 110 GB) the program immediately reported having completed the scan and found nothing.

You can appreciate my scepticism in this case. So I checked all the console, system, and crash logs for any signs of problems with your application. None was found. So I moved to searching your web support pages for some indications. I selected the product and version and got a list of the top asked questions, which of course did not include anything close to my problem. It did, however, include an invitation to contact a support person by chat. I was thrilled that you offered such immediate and free support and clicked on the link and guess what I got?

I can see your anticipating smile while you're reading this. The page I got informed me that I have to use a Microsoft IE 5.5 browser or higher to chat with your agent. Now I know that you are very busy and not able to follow up on browser news, but at least your web developers should know that Mac machines have long stopped using IE in favor of Safari or Firefox.

OK. So what to do now? I resigned myself to establishing contact through an older laptop that runs Windows XP and has your cherished IE. I filled in patiently your form and clicked to finally get someone to solve my problem, but your support application insisted that it must download it's auto-diagnostic application to my Windows machine, eventhough this is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. What a wonderful logical design you have!

Now curious as to how bad it could get, I allowed the installation of your remote diagnostic. It opened then the chat interface in the default position "Full Control" of my Windows machine. There were 2 other options available: "Disable" and "View Only", but if you try to select either you get a warning that this will terminate your current support session.So much for customer choice and respect of privacy.

This was about an hour ago. Since then I have been waiting for your "analyst" to join me in the chat room and address my issue. The only things displayed is a periodic message in red saying "We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly". I have now 6 of those wonderfully informative messages on the interface.

Well the time invested in Symantec support is not fully wasted. I have written this blog while waiting and I just wanted to share my lovely experience with you. Oh! Wait, here comes the analyst.

First action is to direct my Mac browser to a Symantec page and give me a PIN to access a similar remote support application to the one I had to endure on my Windows laptop. Once connected he asked and got control of my Mac. He repaired some file permissions using the disk utility, then uninstalled and reinstalled the anti-virus application (I could have told him that I already tried that). The result was obviously the same! He tried to reboot my Mac remotely, but the iChat session prevented him from doing so. I had to do it manually, which meant I lost the remote session to Symantec and had to contact you again via the Windows laptop to get a new PIN for reconnecting the Mac. The second run consisted of downloading through FTP a patch for the Stuffit component in NAV for Mac V.10 (My version is 11 and it's unclear to me why the installation files of my version didn't have the right Stuffit version in the first place). Another reboot and reconnection episode and the end result was still the same.

I had spent at that point over 2 hours on this and was running late for an appointment. So we concluded this session with a case number for me to reconnect with support.

I was not able to reconnect until 48 hours later. Believe it or not we do have a few things to do that are more important than spending hours with your online support. Back into the WinXP session. This time I only waited about half an hour to get an "analyst". He is now reviewing the case and I am wondering how long this is going to take again.

Would you be surprised if I told you that I am not a fan of Symantec any more based on my user experience? I recommend you get out of your shell and experience yourself what your customers are going through. It helps a lot!


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Sunday, November 09, 2008

From Micro-blogging to Micro-learning

I recently came across a posting by Marcia Conner discussing how micro-messaging applications such as Twitter can support learning in the enterprise. I reflected on the learning component in my personal use of Twitter and had opportunity yesterday to discuss this further with a friend who teaches computer science at York University. As a result I came to realize that the strength of micro-learning goes well beyond the enterprise.

I always felt that the division of knowledge in specialties was caused by rather arbitrary circumstances. Take for example the division between computer engineering and computer science. Both could have well been one specialty had it not been historically so that computer engineering emerged in electrical engineering and computer science emerged in the math department.

The reasons such divisions appear in the first place are rooted in the
storage limitations of the human brain and the constant drive to increase productivity. As more and more knowledge is produced, individuals find it increasingly difficult to store all that knowledge. Hence, the familiar labor division allowing individuals to learn more about an ever narrowing subset of knowledge, a process we call specialization.

Whether in the production of material goods or of knowledge, this continuous drive for higher productivity has a significant impact on the social structures of its environment. It has dictated the necessity of collaboration at ever increasing scales: First within the local boundaries of the one production unit (whether it was the farmer's family, the village community, or the industrial factory), then expanding to regional, national,
and international levels. Globalization is only the expression of that necessity across national boundaries. Think about its many familiar forms: United Nations and its constellation of specialized organizations, multinational corporations, standardization organizations that bring together competitors in one and same industry, international conferences on... etc.

While the structures have been evolving, one feature has remained unchanged, until now that is: The delivery has been generally through hierarchical organizations. So the boomers and bust generations learned in hierarchical universities, institutes and colleges following the specialization structures inherited historically. In each specialty the students had to learn a large amount of a variety of subjects that should last them long enough in their careers. Initially, it was supposed to last them throughout their productive life. As the pace of knowledge production increased, the need emerged for updating that knowledge regularly along the way. So we invented higher degrees of education, Training, Continuing Educatio
n and interdisciplinary projects.

But it seems the ever accelerating rate of knowledge production has brought the current delivery model to a new barrier: the hierarchical
specialization. Hence the emergence of new processes of learning, which are not supply driven through the still too rigid specializations of learning institutions, but rather demand driven, that is, through the needs of the students and across any spcialization lines.

Imagine how more efficient it is to learn what you need and what interests you as you go in small rapid increments delivered by a dynamic collective of similarly interested people. This is why I see Twitter as representing a new paradigm in learning: micro learning!

We are of course at the early stages of this emerging phenomenon. Not everyone tweeting sees him/herself as a "teacher" or "student" in a dynamically changing and individually varying curriculum, and these terms may be also obsolete in this context. Everyone is a "learning contributor" in this new model and you pick up quanta of knowledge as you need and as you go, following those who provide you best with what you need and inspire you most through their curiosity and interest.

This is how I see this micro-learning emerging from the micro-blogging that Twitter pioneered. It's
potential is fascinating but no surprise. After software, hardware, and services, it's education's turn to delve into crowd sourcing. The implications will be felt for years to come.

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