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Computers, Humour, Technology

The SMART Exchange Alias – A Cautionary Tale

No Comments 05 December 2016

Years ago when I was working for SMART Technologies, I noticed something strange during my second week of work as Social Media Specialist that would transform my perception, cause me to look at things from more than one angle and to not always trust process.

Before I explained what I noticed and the impact it had on SMART’s community, I’ll explain the process behind how emails at SMART were created.

The standard email format for new users, based on my experience, is to create an alias that is a combination of the users’ first name initial and their full last name. At SMART, my email alias was RMCLEOD. I think it’s important for an email alias to be memorable to the user, easy to remember for anyone that person does business with and unique amongst the other users of an organization. One of the main problems is when another person with the same first name initial and same last name as a user already in the system is hired. For example, if SMART were to have hired someone named Ruth McLeod, they would have to distinguish her alias perhaps by adding a number (i.e. RMCLEOD1). Something that this process doesn’t account for is the potential formation of new words by combining first name initial with the last name. And why should it right?

Well, the main reason is that an email alias has an impact on perception, professionalism and behind the scenes, the ISP spam server.

For example, someone named Irene Diot would have the alias IDIOT. So, although the system would have no issue creating this alias, you would hope that someone in the IT department or HR would notice this alias and make an adjustment.

With all of this being said, what happened during my second week at SMART was a result of the email alias creation process.

One of my roles was to manage the SMART Exchange, which is a forum for teachers and educators (really anyone in the education realm who uses a SMARTBoard) to share ideas, upload & download lessons plans designed for the SMARTBoard and interact with other users.

However, when I started digging around, I noticed that a large majority of the users’ last login was the same date and time as when their account had been created. This was a big problem because it was showing that user engagement was extremely low. Normally you would expect this from only a small percentage of users so the fact that it was a large majority told me that there was something going on with the SMART Exchange.

What that turned out to be wasn’t anything I could have ever imagined however.

A few days later I was going through some of my emails and happened to look at the headers which provide technical information on the email. I noticed the alias for the SMART Exchange and I immediately knew there was a problem.

smartexchange

 

 

 

If you remember the process behind email aliases, you’ll get where I’m going with this. Although “S Exchange” doesn’t mean much, the alias as it’s read does – “sexchange”.

As you can imagine, when a teacher receives an email from the SMART Exchange confirming their registration from the email address “sexchange@smarttech.com”, the spam filter should pick up “sex” and not allow that email through, which means the teacher would never receive their confirmation email and would therefore not be able to login to the forum. Which is exactly what happened. I won’t go into details of what happened from that point on but suffice it to say that the alias and email address had been in use for more than 1 year.

I share this story as a cautionary tale in two ways.

First, always work through any process that is setup, especially an automated process that will exist across thousands of records and look at what the worst case scenario would be.

Secondly, DON’T require email confirmation or approval when people are trying to join your service. If they register for your service that means they are ENGAGED. Don’t run the risk of losing them by requiring more work on their part – let them to use your service immediately after registering. Use a Captcha or equivalent verification system upon registering. It’s not worth the impact to your service.

Computers, Internet, Social Media, Technology, TED, Thoughts

Best Guess…That’s All You Can Try For

No Comments 03 April 2009

So part of my job is to try and anticipate what is the future of social media and the internet. This is a difficult thing. There are many smart people all trying to make their best guess as to the future of the intenet based on the past, how the different paradigms have evolved and what they feel will be the next way of communicating with each other.

I watched Tim Berners-Lee’s presentation on TED today and it was very interesting. Tim is the creator of the internet and it’s interesting to think what our world would be like had he not created what he did. What if a company had done that. Would the internet be as open and free as it is today?

I also watched Kevin Kelly’s presentation (also on TED) in which he talked about the next 5,000 days of the web and what the first 5,000 days were like.

It’s very easy to see how the web has progressed but difficult to predict what is next. Web 1.o and Web 2.0 (which we are currently in) and now the future of the web (Web 3.0). There is a lot of focus on social media and social networks. I consider a social network to be a place (either a time or location) in which at least 2 people are having a conversation. The internet has enabled us to have conversations in real-time and in delayed time.

I get asked the question fairly often and that question is: what’s the next big thing in the internet?

Well, that’s really difficult to predict. Who could predict Google? Or Facebook? I don’t think anyone really saw that coming and those who did, how do you really capitalize on it?

If the majority of your customers are using existing networks and resources, does it make sense to be on the next “big” thing? Many times, no. The point of social media is to join the conversations which are happening about you. No matter where they are.

But, I see the future of the internet as continuing to be more open and having more access to information. Which I think we will start to feel overwhelmed with at a certain point and go back to being interested in only small pockets of resources. I’m online more than I would bet 95% of people. Hell, it’s my job. And I find the amount of information online overwhelming sometimes. I used to check 3 or 4 websites per day and now I barely have time to read Seth’s blog some days. The internet has every conceivable bit of information we could want. And we complain that it’s slow. Woe is us. But really, the internet is a machine. The largest, most powerful, most intelligent machine that has ever existed. And the future of that machine is what we make of it. Which I think will be a return to a more simple time. One in which we choose which information we receive and we finally don’t have to worry about pesky spam emails, popup ads and all the bullshit that exists online.

Thoughts?


About Rob


Rob "Frisbee Rob" McLeod is a motivational speaker and frisbee ambassador living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He competes in ultimate, disc golf, dog disc and overall flying disc competitions. Rob currently holds 6 Guinness World Records, 10 World Championships and the Canadian Distance Record.

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