These aren’t mass email blasts or creepy solicitations. These are emails addressed to my coworkers and colleagues getting bounced back for no discernible reason.
From: Mail Delivery Subsystem <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: December 2, 2010 3:16:09 PM PST
Subject: Delivery Status Notification (Failure)
Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:
Ugh. There are two main problems here. The first is that an email between two people who work together and know one another in real life is getting marked as undeliverable spam. This should be a “solved problem”, but apparently it isn’t. Bummer.
The second, far worse, problem is that I have no (reasonable) way to correct to this error message. There is no one to contact in person. Literally not one customer service professional at Google to call and fix this situation. The only recourse I have is a help forum. Which is ridiculous.
Sure, I could pay Google $50 per year and get phone support, but this seems outrageous. And I am not the only person who feels this way. Quoting from Krish Subramanian’s excellent post on this same topic:
I fully understand that Google cannot offer support for free users. However, there should be some other option for me to get in touch with Google (say, an email support for an one time fee of $10). It is important to recognize that Google Apps Standard Edition users not only help Google monetize through Google Ads, they also serve as a “testbed at scale” for Google so that they can serve their paid customers better. Also, many free users eventually become paid users too. In short, these free users are not freeloaders and Google should offer some way to escalate those issues that are not getting solved in the forums.
That last point is especially salient. I support Google in other ways. I search, I click ads, and I use and evangelize their apps. They should be invested in my well being and satisfaction.
But this issue is larger than Gmail’s nonexistent customer service. The bigger picture is a lack of humans in charge on the internet. In order to flourish, the internet can’t be all bots and algorithms. There needs to be a personal touch influencing (or at least checking) high level decisions.
Now, humans can’t run the entire web, but certainly we can do better than this scenario recently published on the RAAK blog. This social media firm set up a few Twitter bots in order to see how klout measured their influence.
The four bots Tweet[ed funny non sequiturs] once every minute, once every five minutes, once every fifteen minutes and once every thirty minutes respectively. They are completely anonymous, have no avatars or custom user profiles set, and do not follow anyone.
The results weren’t pretty. Here are the klout scores for the once a minute bot.
It should not really be possible for a bot to reach a Klout Score of 50 within 80 days merely by Tweeting random (yet entertaining) rubbish every minute, should it?
No, it shouldn’t. And even though the CEO of klout jumped in to the comments to participate in this discussion, the real issue here is a lack of humanity making key decisions online.
Why does a page rank first in Google for a particular query? Why does one link stay on Reddit’s homepage for hours while another, with a similar number of votes, fall off in just a few minutes? Why does Facebook show me ads for customer service jobs at Comcast? Why did Amazon recommend buying whole milk with this Badonkadonk Land Cruiser?
If we don’t understand why these suggestions were made, couldn’t that bias us against trusting future recommendations from these services?
As a closing example of the frustrating state of the machine-run internet, Google once marked my personal blog as Spam. And there was literally nothing I could do about it other than fill in some form and hope (I also tried doing the blinky-thing like in I Dream of Jeannie, not sure which was more effective). Not one person to call. No one to follow up with face to face. A machine blindly made a (wrong) decision and I couldn’t contact a human being to talk about why this happened and how we could prevent it from happening in the future. For all the talk about “connecting people,” the internet – as it is set up today – actually does a poor job of allowing humans to interact with one another when they need to most. When things break or don’t turn out as expected.
This isn’t just an problem with Google. It’s Facebook. It’s Yelp. The system we have all agreed to online is callous, demoralizing and broken. And it’s getting worse. Yes there are help forums and FAQ sections and Customer Service email addresses on Help Pages. But what I am arguing for here- and what the internet should be – is a network that unifies and empowers people. A place where all are welcomed and made to feel welcome by people who care about getting things right all of the time. And for that to happen, the way things work online will take a more human touch.
In other words, make the Internet more like Soylent Green.