Category Archives: School of Customer Service

Ubuntu turns to NUN to help new users | Ubuntu turns to NUN to help new users.

The New Users Network, or NUN, is a group of experienced Ubuntu enthusiasts who help new Ubuntu users come to grips with the operating system.

Volunteer NUN mentors spend time on Ubuntu forums, mailing lists, and IRC channels looking for new user queries. The mentors have agreed to follow the NUN guidelines, which caution against the use of popular responses to newbie questions, such as RTFM, JFGI, and UTFS. Instead, they try to answer the queries in an easy-to-follow fashion, and point to online resources wherever possible, such as a wiki that explains things in details.

“At first the NUN was nothing more than an IRC channel (#ubuntu-nun on the freenode network) that we could bring a user from #kubuntu or #ubuntu into, for one-on-one work that couldn’t be done in the busier support channels. Since then, it has become a popular haven for geeks and new users alike,” says Rich Johnson, a NUN mentor.

But what really makes this team laudable is its aim to foster intelligent and knowledgeable users. Throwing commands isn’t encouraged, unless that’s all the user wants. The NUN guidelines call for mentors to exercise caution while pointing users to resources such as that simply list the commands to get a task done, without much explanation.

It sounds like the Ubuntu guys are hitting all the right notes with this; I can think of a couple of platforms that aren’t getting the adoption that they should because they don’t consider support for noob users to be a priority. I wonder how well Ubuntu users in remote time zones are supported?


This is Philippe Gardelle, chef/proprietor of Chapeau! restaurant, where we dined for our sixth wedding anniversary last night. Philippe rocks.

If you’re in San Francisco, you should make a point to dine at his place. The food is outstanding, the service is bar-none the best of any restaurant in the city, the wine list is terrific, and it’s extra fun to be greeted like a regular by the owner when you walk in the door and when you leave (even if you only eat there once every six months).

One time when we ate there we didn’t quite know the drill and we slipped out without shaking hands and chatting with Philippe — he literally chased us halfway down the street just so he could shake our hands and ask us how everything was. (Naturally my first thought was that I’d forgotten to pay or leave a tip, or I’d forgotten my coat or something.)

The Apple Store is Genius

Excellent New York Times article about the "Genius Bar" at the Apple Store, where you can get help with your Apple products from people who actually know what they’re talking about and who can replace your product on the spot if it’s busted.

I hadn’t been in a shopping mall in a couple of years, I can’t stand them. The only serious mall-ish retail I’ve done in the past year was our trip to The Grove at Farmer’s Market in LA last year, which doesn’t count as a mall since it’s more like a lovely well-tended park that happens to have a bunch of retail stores around it. (The Grove has an Apple Store, too — if you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself in L.A., it’s worth checking out).

It’s crazy how happy I get when I go into an Apple Store. Even if I know I don’t need anything in there, it’s still fun to get in there and touch stuff.

My daughter’s CD player broke a few weeks ago and my wife suggested that we get her a cutesy replacement CD player with Hello Kitty on it or something. Last night at the store I saw an iPod bumping the tunes inside of one of the donut-shaped JBL OnStage speakers and got all excited. Screw Hello Kitty, I think I’m going to get her her own iPod. It’s cuter.

Update: Wifey put the kibosh on the kiddie iPod ("she’s THREE YEARS OLD"). And she has a point. Hello, kitty!

Update the 2nd: Just returned to this post after more than a year because I’m doing some blog housekeeping. I actually wound up winning the iPod argument in March 2005 because we all started commuting down the freeway together after I changed jobs; I gave my disused iPod Shuffle to the kid and she freaking loved it. So I am here to say that it is totally proper to give your kid an iPod Shuffle, and more importantly, I am not a bad father for wanting to do so.

How Not to Provide Premium Developer Support

When it came time to upgrade my beloved Macromedia Web development tools to the new “MX 2004” version, I took the plunge and paid $599 to get all of my upgrades along with a Macromedia DevNet subscription. My reasoning was, it wasn’t that much more expensive than the upgrade to the Studio suite (which includes Dreamweaver and Fireworks, which I use on a regular basis, as well as Flash, which I suspect I’ll be using more frequently in the future). And they throw in a bunch of extra goodies like components and add-ins, so I figured the extra $100 or so would be worth it.

I’ve got to say, I’m disappointed with my subscription. The promise of getting free product upgrades for a year isn’t very meaningful when everybody knows that Macromedia only upgrades its products every 18 months. Their year-end special offer (buy and register the product in November or December and get some extra extensions) was a slap in the face to early adopters like me who bought the DevNet subscription as soon as it was available.

The ability to download all your products, documentation and related goodies from a personalized DevNet page is handy, but the download system limits DevNet subscribers to just two downloads. This is a boneheaded move in a world in which all these products are licensed with product activation. Since product activation prevents you from installing the software on more than two machines, why do you care if I download a product twice or twelve times? It can’t be the bandwidth cost: I could just as well download a trial from then activate it with my legal key afterwards. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

And another thing: When you try to install extensions from the DevNet CD, the installer doesn’t work (at least on my Windows XP machine, anyway) unless Internet Explorer is your default browser. You can work around this by plumbing the depths of the resource kit, but good God, people. There is absolutely no excuse for Macromedia, of all companies, to not QA its products against browsers other than IE. And DevNet is indeed a product (although you wouldn’t know it from Macromedia’s Web site — DevNet isn’t listed as a product on their product support home page).

The new version of Flash is really amazing; I have been using it on an experimental basis (mainly to do proof-of-concepts to make calls to the eBay API, but also to experiment with providing developer information on demand using the excellent new slideshow features in the product — features which should be kicking Powerpoint’s ass up and down the boulevard if there’s any justice in the world).

Dreamweaver MX 2004, on the other hand, is buggy and slow (on Windows as well as the Mac, from what I understand). I’ve been struggling for the past four hours to get it to load a not-very-complicated Web site that I set up to teach myself CSS-P. The site is based on a very simple template. When I create a new file based on that template and save it, Dreamweaver freezes up again. When I open a file based on that template in Dreamweaver MX 2004, the program freezes up. When I open the file in a text editor and remove the reference to the underlying template or style sheet, it opens up okay. Lame.

I’ve been evangelizing the Macromedia tools for years. I wrote about Flash in one of my books in 1997, just before it was purchased by Macromedia; in 1999 I gave a full day seminar at Live on Dreamweaver Ultradev for Active Server Pages developers. At that time, most Web developers who used the Microsoft tools had no idea they had an alternative that was 100 times better than the vile Visual Interdev. I’d love to be able to recommend Dreamweaver MX 2004, but there’s really not much there for ASP.NET developers in particular. If you’re using the previous version, Dreamweaver MX, you should stick with it, at least until Macromedia releases a patch for DWMX 2004 (they’ve suggested that a patch is on the way, but no word on when we can expect it).

It looks like the next version of Visual Studio .NET will include a lot of the features that make Dreamweaver useful to me, like templates, intelligent handling of HTML editing in visual or code mode, and simple deployment via FTP or straight copy (no more FrontPage extensions required to deploy your application). I really do love Dreamweaver, for all its warts, and turning away from it is going to be painful for me, but unless the quality of the software improves markedly, I’ll be moving to VS.NET for all my Web development when it’s released next year.

Until then, say a prayer for me and all users of Dreamweaver MX 2004. We need as much help as we can get.

How Not to Support Your Software Product

I bought a really outrageously expensive flat-panel LCD monitor about a month ago, the Samsung 213T. I’m totally overjoyed with it. The software they bundled with it that lets you view the display at various angles is junk, though. Let me explain.

First, the software embeds it’s own menu cruft in the right-click context menu whenever you right click on anything on the desktop. This is completely bogus — I don’t need a context menu for this stupid thing at all if it resides in the system tray (which it does). I certainly don’t need its context menu to pop up when I right-click on the Recycle Bin to empty it. And, um, your logo is TWICE AS BIG AS ANY OTHER MENU ITEM on the context menu and serves NO USEFUL PURPOSE. Do people actually pay you money for this or is your company advertising for itself on my desktop something I actually signed up for?

Next, it creates a global keyboard hook into Ctrl+Shift+R, a combination I actually use pretty often (it’s used to mark aggregated weblog posts as read in SharpReader). It did this without informing me; it just took over Ctrl+Shift+R when it was installed. This means that when I’m in any program and I hit Ctrl+Shift+R, my screen jarringly rotates ninety degrees to the left. To fix this, I have to hit Ctrl+Shift+R THREE MORE TIMES, which takes about a minute.

Finally, guys, if you’re going to go to the trouble of creating a FAQ on your Web site that refers customers to your tech support so you can ask a question frequently (like, for example, how do I go about remapping your brain-dead software to a more rational key combination or get the bloody thing to not automatically start up when my system boots), how about providing an actual LINK to your tech support page?

Your Pal,


Twelve Hours of Nonstop Help

TechTV is having a twelve-hour Call-for-Help-a-thon starting Friday morning. The New York Times has a great article on it today.

This was brought to my attention by my wife Carole, who works as a Web producer at TechTV and runs their online community. She and I share an appreciation of the process of celebrities unraveling. We were joking that it will be interesting to see host Leo Laporte in hour 11 of the marathon. Our hope is that he goes into full-on Jerry Lewis mode.

Whether Leo survives or not, Carole tells me that TechTV is on fire these days, with a big bump in ratings and an all-time peak in users of the online community.

Excellent Automated Customer Service

There are about a half-dozen things that a good online business must do. One is providing good customer service in a way that doesn’t force you to hire a giant building full of people. This seems easy but is done well fairly rarely. One online merchant that does it well is CDBaby. Here’s the email you get from them when you buy something:

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Government Weblogs:

Here’s an excellent site on the use of weblogs in government. A quote:

If you as a government information provider think that visitors will continue flocking to your sites through traditional surfing, following links, or saving bookmarks…. think again.

One-to-many information management is a big problem in a world in which email utterly wrests control from the user, is bogged down with spam, and breaks when the recipient changes jobs or companies. Yet the information has to get out there, particularly when the world changes quickly and the stakes of missing a message are high. We have the same kinds of problems broadcasting information in a sensible way at eBay.

Question for the multitudes: Would you like to see information on the eBay Developer Program (or other useful resoures such as the eBay Announcement Board) in the form of an RSS-capable weblog? Would it make your life simpler? If so, I’d love to hear from you.