Use your data intelligently or face the wrath of spurned woman everywhere

As you scamper your merry way over the playgrounds of the internet you will accumulate logins to various locations – forums, shopping sites, services – in return the companies that run the sites get your email address and a few bits and bobs about you.

This is like crack to them.
If you manage to toggle the obligatory “tick me if you do want to not get the occasional newsletter” check box correctly at the bottom of the form you may never hear from them again. Well done. But sometiems you DO want to recieve their newsletter.
I have no problem with companies I like having my details, I appreciate Firebox emailing me new and shiny things and the day just would not be complete without my Daily Dilbert (tell me I’m not the only one who is convinced Scott Adams hides in the cupboard in my office and then draws what happened yesterday for today?).
But what really frustrates me is when these companies don’t make sensible – or any – use of the data they have on me.
A number of companies have my birth date – but only a small percentage of shopping sites email me congratulations and tempting me with the chance of buying myself a present.
Why? It is NOT hard to use data intelligently and treat it as information.
My day-to-day world revolves around a rather excellent Document Management and Collaboration System (http://www.unit4collaborationsoftware.com), I deal with data and information day in and day out and I’m afraid it has become one of my passions – it may help if you imagine me climbing onto my soap box round about now.
Data and information are different things. Data is pointless without context, once you give it a context and actually DO something with it it becomes information, and informaiton is power. What these companies have on us is data, but if they spent even a little time looking at it they could turn it into information that would become extreamly powerful. For example, a shopping website knows that you always send a package to a  Mr X around the middle of January and you always use express delivery – how many years in a row would you have to do this before they worked out that you always manage to forget your second-cousin’s birthday until the last minute? If that company emailed you to remind you wouldn’t you feel some loyalty towards them, some warmth that for once, this year your Great Aunt Nora wont tut at you for forgetting her beloved darling’s birthday?
Let me put it another way – Information is where the money is. Conversly, mis-use of data, or the lack of translating data into information can cause a company to lose money and/or potential revenue – and even worse, it may even lose it its reputation.
What kicked all of this off? I’m glad you asked… A few days ago I received an email – a ‘special offer’ – from a company that I had signed up with over a year and a half ago. This email made me hopping mad at the complete disregard for the informaiton they held on me. It would have been so simple for them to realise that the mail shot they sent me was wholly inappropriate on many many levels but did they? No, they went ahead and because of this carelessness and lack of attend to the big picture they not only do they made themselves look stupid but damaged the reputation of the company they were promoting.
I received an email from hitched.co.uk offering me £200 off a wedding dress.
Slightly peculiar but innocent enough you may think – no, not when you consider that when signing up for hitched.co.uk they ask you for the prospective date of your wedding – as far as hitched.co.uk are concerned I am already married.
What type of company sends offers for wedding dresses to respectably married woman!?
And if on the off chance – as in my case – the recipient turned out to not be married in the end, wouldn’t you think that sending such an offer – complete with imagery of smiling, supposedly happy brides – to someone who thought they would get married but then didn’t wasn’t entirely tactful?
Companies out there I beg of you, use your data sensibly – is really isn’t hard to prevent issues like this occurring if you just look at the data you have about your customer base and by applying a little bit of logic, turn that into useful information. Information that if used correctly may just save you from losing customers.

This is like crack to them.

If you manage to toggle the obligatory “tick me if you do want to not get the occasional newsletter” check box correctly at the bottom of the form you may never hear from them again. Well done. But sometimes you DO want to receive their newsletter.

I have no problem with companies I like having my details, I appreciate Firebox emailing me new and shiny things and the day just would not be complete without my Daily Dilbert (tell me I’m not the only one who is convinced Scott Adams hides in the cupboard in my office and then draws what happened yesterday for today?).

But what really frustrates me is when these companies don’t make sensible – or any – use of the data they have on me.

A number of companies have my birth date – but only a small percentage of shopping sites email me congratulations and tempting me with the chance of buying myself a present.

Why? It is NOT hard to use data intelligently and treat it as information.

My day-to-day world revolves around a rather excellent Document Management and Collaboration System (http://www.unit4collaboration.com), I deal with data and information day in and day out and I’m afraid it has become one of my passions – it may help if you imagine me climbing onto my soap box round about now.

Data and information are different things. Data is pointless without context, once you give it a context and actually DO something with it it becomes information, and informaiton is power. What these companies have on us is data, but if they spent even a little time looking at it they could turn it into information that would become extremely powerful. For example, a shopping website knows that you always send a package to a  Mr X around the middle of January and you always use express delivery – how many years in a row would you have to do this before they worked out that you always manage to forget your second-cousin’s birthday until the last minute? If that company emailed you to remind you wouldn’t you feel some loyalty towards them, some warmth that for once, this year your Great Aunt Nora wont tut at you for forgetting her beloved darling’s birthday?

Let me put it another way – Information is where the money is. Conversely, mis-use of data, or the lack of translating data into information can cause a company to lose money and/or potential revenue – and even worse, it may even lose it its reputation.

What kicked all of this off? I’m glad you asked… A few days ago I received an email – a ‘special offer’ – from a company that I had signed up with over a year and a half ago. This email made me hopping mad at the complete disregard for the information they held on me. It would have been so simple for them to realise that the mail shot they sent me was wholly inappropriate on many many levels but did they? No, they went ahead and because of this carelessness and lack of attend to the big picture they not only do they made themselves look stupid but damaged the reputation of the company they were promoting.

I received an email from hitched.co.uk offering me £200 off a wedding dress.

Slightly peculiar but innocent enough you may think – no, not when you consider that when signing up for hitched.co.uk they ask you for the prospective date of your wedding – as far as hitched.co.uk are concerned I am already married.

What type of company sends offers for wedding dresses to respectably married woman!?

And if on the off chance – as in my case – the recipient turned out to not be married in the end, wouldn’t you think that sending such an offer – complete with imagery of smiling, supposedly happy brides – to someone who thought they would get married but then didn’t wasn’t entirely tactful?

Companies out there I beg of you, use your data sensibly – is really isn’t hard to prevent issues like this occurring if you just look at the data you have about your customer base and by applying a little bit of logic, turn that into useful information. Information that if used correctly may just save you from losing customers.

Email from hitched.co.uk
Email from hitched.co.uk

Policy of not buying stuff – update

It’s been about a week now and I haven’t bought anything except food. So how’s it going?

Not to bad at all… this worries me, surely this should be harder?

Have I had any withdrawal symptoms? Not yet, but then I haven’t exposed myself to temptation, no ebaying, no amazon-ing, no wondering though town on my way to buy lunch – this week it might be time to see just how good I can be.

I can’t find my round hair brush at the moment, it must be somewhere but I have no idea where. It is highly probiably that had this been two weeks again I would have bought another one when I passed though boots yesterday but I didn’t and you know something amazing? My world haven’t fallen apart – ok my hair looks crazy but when doesn’t it?

All in all, it’s not going too badly

Things I thought I wanted this week but I don’t really want or need:

  • A round hair brush – I have one somewhere, it’ll turn up, I have other brushes
  • Rockband instruments – where would I keep them and when would I play them?
  • A tripod – I still really want this, if I still want one after this is over then maybe I might get on
  • A Nexus One – you’re just being silly now

Lets see how it goes….

Lent Experiment 2010

It’s almost lent – the year is rushing past, I can’t believe my last post was about Christmas!

Traditionally Lent is a time when people of a certain persuasion try and give something up for 40 days. No matter what your religious views are this time of year is a good excuse to give something new a try – whether it’s taking up something you’ve never tried before or giving a go at life without something.

Febuary 2010 Geek Night

Most years I give up chocolate and buying books. If you know me you’ll realise that not only is this a trial but it does save me a considerable amount of money – not to mention the effect it has on my piles of “books to be read” but this year I’m going to try something different.

I’m not going to buy anything. At all. Ish.

I am going to resist all new gadgets, domain name, flashy camera accessories, book and must-have do-hickies for the next few months.

I have everything I want, so why do I buy things? I have a wardrobe full of clothes (ok, 3), a house full of gadgets – is there really anything so spectacular that will appear in the next 40 days that I will just be unable to live without?! Even I, the most optimistic technology-lover in the world can’t believe that.

Why am I doing this? I wax lyrical about how I’m fed up by the advertising industry assuming I’m their slave, to be manipulated into buying everything new and shiny, by being made to feel that what I have isn’t good enough – and that is all true but quite frankly I also would rather like to save some money after the fun I had over Christmas and the joys of paying for my summer holiday in January!

02-04 Some days involve chocolate

There is another reason – I want to enjoy the things I have – I have an xbox game that I played for a weekend then haven’t touched because I bought another one and I’ve been playing instead. Acquiring new things doesn’t necessarily increase your happiness, it just points it in a new direction that may not be necessary at all.

So here are my rules

1.  I really DO need a new memory card for my camera, I’m going to Rome for a long weekend and not being able to take as many photos as I want would be criminal – that I’m allowed to buy

2. No randomly buying things I want today just so I don’t buy them next week, that’s cheating

3. Try and not order £3+ hot chocolate in Starbucks when I really do prefer the £1.50 Chai Tea

And the get out clauses –

1. If I NEED – truly NEED something then that’s ok – i.e. fixing my house if it falls down

2. Gifts as needed

3. if I NEED something for my trip to Rome later this month then that may be allowed to slip though

What is not covered:

1. Food – but try and be sensible girl,

2. Buying food and drinks whilst out

As my good friend Anthony often says to me, in his wonderful Scottish accent “What do you want Amy? What do you actually want? And is that what you NEED?”

So what do you think? Am I crazy? Do you think this is a bad idea – or do you think that perhaps, just perhaps having less crap in your life might help you focus on the things that need doing? Give me your thoughts, rants and ideas in the comments. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated 🙂

What we can learn from… NaNoWriMo

It’s November which means that the internet is a quiet, eary place. Where once there was mindless chatter there is only dedicated silence with the occasional cry of “Another thousand done” or “What IS the collective noun for bee hives”

It’s NaNoWriMo time – National Novel Writing Month – that one month of the year where hungreds of thousands of people sit down to churn out a 50,000 word novel in November.

And a supprising number of people manage it, and here’s why. The philosphy of NaNoWriMo is to just get the words out, get the story told, write, write, write – don’t edit, you can do that later, just keep going. You don’t even need a plot.

Or in other words, stop shilly-shallying and just get on with it

And it’s liberating – my novel just had a few hundred word rant about elbow patches on tweed jackets (why!?) – it felt good. The creative dam was broken and before I knew it, several chapters had flown from my fingertips onto Textpad (oh how I love thee).

And then I got side tracked…

You may have gathered that I have a couple of Web Apps that I would like to sit down and work on but until recently they had only been in my mind, nothing had happened.

My first road block – I felt I should be useing a framework but I was reluctant to sit down and learn the behometh that is Zend but if that’s the framework that work has adopted learning something else may not be productive. And so it went on, round and round in my head, excuse after excuse and nothing got written.

Until last week – my novel lies abandoned, we may never know what Cameron and Jake were building inside that mysterious research centre, or why Alice the coffee girl dispised Gerald so much but they served their purpose, they broke the dam in my mind, the wall between me and just getting on with what I needed to do.

So dear readers, here is my NaNpoWriMo inspired advice, stop thinking, just develop – you can polish later but just start. Once you start you KNOW you wont be able to put it down, you will keep developing, refining, improving but as long as you keep to the matra of just powering though you may actually end up with an application that functions rather than just a slice of pie in the sky.

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