Puppyslugs ‘R Us: Part 0

De Te Fabula Narratur, buddy, De Te Fabula Narratur.

De Te Fabula Narratur, buddy, De Te Fabula Narratur.

I don’t know why,
But I had to start it somewhere,
So it started… there.

Pulp — Common People

This morning I received an email from an algorithm. Nothing new these days; most of our emails come from algorithms. This particular one came from XING, running one of those “Brand Community Engagement Initiatives” and it struck me as serendipitously funny, and indicative of a number of topics on my mind. So I decided to share the quick breakdown I made as I chuckled, nostalgically.

First of all, here is the email.

By the way, XING is, essentially, a European LinkedIn.

I don’t actually use XING, I guess it’s still easier to just hit delete than hunt for the unsubscribe link…

I don’t actually use XING, I guess it’s still easier to just hit delete than hunt for the unsubscribe link…

I don’t actually use XING, I guess it’s still easier to just hit delete than hunt for the unsubscribe link…

Why yes, I do know Matt Biddulph!

Been a while, but he does look quite a bit different here from how I remember him.

(Hi Matt! And Matt. And Matt.)

if (last_update > X months) { value.decrease(5) } … if (unset(avatar_photo)) { value.decrease(5) }

if (last_update > X months) { value.decrease(5) } … if (unset(avatar_photo)) { value.decrease(5) }

So, yes, I knew Matt fairly well when he was CTO of Dopplr, which we worked on, together.

But that wasn’t 2 hours ago.

The last time Matt was CTO of Dopplr was… 2009?

But hey, how could XING know that? Except for the fact that obviously Matt hadn’t updated his profile in, what, 6 years?

I might also ask XING how valuable it thinks stale accounts are, but, as Tom would say, “meh.”

CRM Magic!

CRM Magic!

For the next two names I was all like “wat? hoo?”

Ohhh yeah.

These were two lightly anonymized fake XING accounts created by our own Community Engagement Initiative. Ours was managed by a human, though.

Haha, isn’t that weird?

Surely, a totally empty account accounts for little.

(Hi N.A.!)

As fun as that was, my point is not to make fun of XING. Per se.

This email is a neat example of how algorithms fail, how design fails and finally how an organization based on the management of information, fails to put two and two together.

As fellow ex-Dopplr-shifter, Matt Jones, so beautifully put it while at BERG: no matter how rudimentary and dumb your algorithm is, at least try to Be As Smart As a Puppy (B.A.S.A.A.P.). That is to say, if you are going to let it fail out there in the world, let it do so in a way where the user might say “Awww, look it tried to engage with me as a human, not just a dumb user.” In the above example, it fails to do this. In the above example, I end up thinking “Boy is that a dumb company.

Before I continue, in case some of you don’t know precisely what an “algorithm” is:

“an algorithm is a self-contained step-by-step set of operations to be performed.”

Do the Al Gore Rhythm! (Haha I’ve wanted to make that joke for *years*…)

Do the Al Gore Rhythm! (Haha I’ve wanted to make that joke for *years*…)

  1. Step to the side with one leg
  2. Step the other leg across the first one

  3. Step the first leg back next to the second one

Voila. This is the (poorly worded) algorithm for the Foxtrot.

“Foxtrot Tango Whiskey”

Where was I? Ah yes.

In execution, the XING algorithm failed because it didn’t weigh three things: Situation Awareness, Perfect Memory and Contextual Relevance.

In XING’s defence, it has very little material on me and my network to even have a hope in hell to be successful. But what is faultable is this:

  1. With next-to-no data, and certainly no recent data, they have nowhere near any kind of Memory of me or my network. Let’s not even talk about “Perfect Memory.”
  2. They have no Situation Awareness, whether from recent data or access to my device’s sensors, of me.
  3. Despite the near-null Contextual Relevance score a B.A.S.A.A.P.-guided algorithm design, which they surely don’t have, would have given them… they sent me this useless email!

What a dumb, whining, three-legged puppy algorithm!

(“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is by far my favourite Wes Anderson movie. Though “Grand Budapest” and “Moonrise Kingdom” are great too.)

So what’s design got to do with all this?

I bet XING’s design team were intimately involved in the <strikethrough>wrestling with the product owner</strikethrough> “UX design” of the layout of it. It’s on-brand, alignments are reasonable, kerning etc…

Where design failed is when it didn’t ask the higher-ups: “wait, what if our puppy is lame and whines?!” (see above video). Maybe they did, but then they failed to get an alternative approved.

An alternative like:

  1. Acknowledging that they don’t know enough about me to engage me this way.
  2. Showing me some value which might entice me to engage with their service more deeply (especially as I am now happily unemployed in their HQ country…)
  3. Gently, humbly, asking if I’d like to update my profile, or hey if not, if we’ve been a nuisance, terribly sorry, here you can unsubscribe here [button].

(I know I know, the business guys would go thermo-nookooleer on that last one…)

This would require Design to be involved in designing the desired outcomes of the experience. (Phew, try saying that 3 times fast… no really, go on, say it…)

Anyways, I have much more to say about that, as well as the Puppyslugs mentioned in the title, and how they will be us.

Avatar by ZBags

Avatar by ZBags

This was originally posted on Medium as “Puppyslugs ‘R Us: Part 0”