11 August 2008

Cyberspace September 2008

Not interested

Have you ever been at a web site and filled out a form requesting further information about the site's products and services, never receiving a reply? I recently read that over 40% of these go unanswered, and that rings true for me. I recently contacted two superannuation funds through their web forms and neither had the courtesy to reply.

One of the projects I'm working on involves purchasing AUD$500-750k worth of software. There are probably four or five vendors who I will short list, and I have contacted two of them several times using their web site and I haven't received a response; either the web form sends the inquiry to an unmonitored email address (most likely) or they have sales staff who don't want a bonus this year.

Does your firm have a web contact form? Do your clients have them? Have you ever tried submitting a request yourself to see if it still works? Give it a try - you might be shocked to find out what (doesn't) happen.

Managing a team


Your team has a bunch of tasks to do; you're busy too and your firm or business doesn't use timesheets. How do you monitor how much work is being done and regularly review your team members? Some people ask for a summary from staff at month end, but there might be easier ways. One answer is ididwork (http://www.ididwork.com/).

It's a web site that lets you and your team record short descriptions of what you did, and optionally tag it (say, matter number or name) and add time spent on the task. Users can ask to see what their fellow members are up to. Reviews can be automatically scheduled by the team or the manager, and the manager is prompted about outstanding reviews. For each review the manager will receive a work summary and can then enter feedback.

You can analyse how you've spent your time in a couple of charts, and export it all to Excel. It currently has a bug related to time zones and I've not used it in a team so I can't vouch for its long term effectiveness, but I think it has a place in some people's lives. I currently use Microsoft OneNote for exactly this purpose, but am on the lookout for something better.

Evidence


We leave a lot of debris behind us every day, and teenagers more so, but not in the way you think. Digital cameras and mobile phones create vast amounts of information, as a lawyer in Texas discovered (http://tinyurl.com/64l9ge). After a university student died from alcohol poisoning in a fraternity induction the fraternity met and agreed to destroy all their photos.

However, the family's lawyer went to the dead man's My Space (http://www.myspace.com) account and found names of people posting condolences. They tracked down those people and found that many photographs and videos hadn't been destroyed. As they found more photos they found more potential witnesses. The photos had date/time stamps on them so the order of events of the night could be assembled in a database that recorded names and times. Eventually they identified 99 defendants and settled the claim for USD$4.2M.

You could take this approach even further today. Mobile phone records can of course establish times and rough locations, but some (and some digital cameras) now have built in GPS which tag the location of the photograph to within 10 metres. Software (eg http://www.acdsee.com or http://picasa.google.com) can easily take photographs from many sources, tag them by user name, and sort them in time/date order. Even if you knew little about the events of the night initially, viewing the photographs sorted in this way would quickly convey the events to any investigator.