Wednesday, 25 February 2009

BBC Weather, a mobile service I actually use


A link to this is on the front page of my iPhone. The weather for the next 24 hours in Nottingham from the BBC.

Being a cycle commuter, I'm probably a little obsessed by whether it looks like rain or not but this is dead useful.

Simple, clean access to the information I want when I'm on the move. That's what mobile services should be about.

Twitter - The Internet is Coming to Get You

We are at the dawn of a new technology era. Search is dead, arise the era of being found.

Twitter is big news at the moment, celebrities seem to be falling over themselves to establish a presence, national news agencies are running stories on the power of the medium, even my non-geek mates are signing up.

Much of the discussion centres around the usefulness or not of twitter. "Where's the ROI?" scream the business people and cynics, "it's just a fad", "it'll be dead by next year".

It's true that it can draw you in and you can suddenly find yourself one hour older and not necessarily wiser however the same can be said for the Internet in general.

I signed up for twitter in late 2007 but only really started actively using it in the summer of 2008. It took leaping in feet first to really understand the power of what I was tapping into.

I have been blown away by the useful connections that I and my colleagues at Esendex are making. For example:

Jonathan (@jbjon) and Darren (@darrenliddell) have been doing some R&D that led them to investigate some of the Google APIs. Jonathan tweeted about his experiences and was contacted by someone from Google pointing him in the direction of some new test APIs that would help.

The chances of Jonathan & Darren finding these APIs via searching were remote, not least because they didn't know they existed. The important difference with this new paradigm is that the information came and found them.

It's like walking into a library and the books knowing what you want to read about without your rummaging through the shelves.

Don't get me wrong, I like a good rummage and you still need to do the good old manual trawl through Google to find most things. What twitter brings is those serendipitous moments that enhance your life. Another example

I follow @charlesarthur, Technology Editor at the Guardian, as I'm interested in his take on the technology stories of the day. He tweeted about catching up on the The Wire, I'm doing the same and @ replied about a particular scene I thought was brilliant.

A small interchange ensued in which he suggested a book I should read by the writer David Simon. Now Charles actually got the title wrong, but no problem, Gary Marshall who also follows Charles saw this and tweeted me with the correct one.

Gary and I then had an exchange about David Peace books, he hadn't yet read The Damned Utd, so I was able to recommend it to him.

None of us are friends, despite what twitter says, but for the that moment we were able to share a common interest that enriched our lives.

This would not have happened otherwise.

Yes, technologically twitter is nothing new and since the early days of networks we've had ways to share snippets of information. Twitter however has captured the imaginations of enough people to make it useful.

How it's done this, through luck, celebrity endorsement, who knows. But whatever the magic sauce or confluence of factors it is enriching our lives and that should be applauded.

Monday, 16 February 2009

SpinVox, a day of woe - UPDATED

I like SpinVox, I think its core voice mail service is excellent and probably how excellent it is the reason why I find it so infuriating when I'm prevented from using it.

It seems to have developed this annoying habit of turning off conversion, ie just acting like a normal voice mail service. I didn't even know this was an option.

I've posted before about how infuriating I found their IVR interface, well it has improved but not enough for me to pay a monthly fee, as I do, to have my voice mails converted to text messages.

Today's tale of woe started with me forgetting my phone. Not a biggy as I was office based today so I could just wait for the messages to arrive as emails.

+44xxxxxxxxxx Just left you a voice message that you need to listen to and conversion is off.

Not again!

So I go to the web site to see about turning it back on and am greeted with the most astonishing home page 'upgrade' I've ever scene. 6MB of marketing masturbation culminating with an impenetrable home page that took me ages to discover where I needed to sign in.

Finally get there and discover that Firefox hasn't remembered my PIN from last time. Bit of a pain that I haven't got my phone but no problem I called home and clicked the forgotten PIN link as the phone was ringing.

It didn't work.

Not only didn't work it didn't tell me it didn't work it just did nothing. No feedback, nothing. So I hang up the phone, count to 10 and fire off an email to

This was at 11:48, I've still not heard anything.

I was sharing my woes with the people of twitter and agreed with @whatelydude to be patient, but my patience has worn thin. Poor guy was earning his social media dollar today with the majority of twitterers coming out against the new SpinVox home page.

Finally I got home around half six to my phone and called the IVR service but apparently there were no new messages! Seems that the messages I'd been notified about had been marked as read and I would need to trawl through all my messages in order to get to the new ones.


I pay for this service.

It's just crazy that a company having raised $200M can have such an abysmal web interface to it's service. Let alone the random switching off of the functionality that makes it useful.

So SpinVox, the next time you get carried away with a funky new way to brand your service just syphon off a few of those dollars into the core service development team's budget.

Focus on making your service work and put the crayons away for a while.


Contact by a product manager instead of customer service who saw my twitter comments. Who arrange for customer service to call me.

Turns out that the switch off conversion is a billing issue. They're taking the money from my card but something's failing passing that to my account. They've given me a complimentary account for the moment until they can find what the problem is.

It's just a shame a Product Manager had to come to my aid rather than the customer service team who I emailed.

Are SpinVox drinking a bit too much social media kool-ade and not concentrating on the basics?