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Keep Your Cloud, I'm a Customer Not a Consumer

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The cloud hype is getting thicker and smellier every day. All the cloud excitement is coming from those who hope to profit from it, the vendors and breathless tech journalists who can't think of anything worthwhile to write about. They're working very hard to make it sound like a wonderful thing, a miracle of rare device that will transform life as we know it.

In related news, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Sasquatch, Yeti, and Elvis are all throwing a fabulous party at Graceland and everyone is invited. If you don't live in Memphis they'll send a private jet to pick you up.

The Cloud is Nonsense

The problem with all this cloud nonsense is it's exactly that--nonsense. Hosted services are nothing new. What would be new and radical and transformative are attractive products reasonably-priced, and good customer service. Those are the missing pieces, and I predict they will always be the missing pieces. Because it seems that among the big players in tech, research and development are devoted entirely to inventing new buzzwords. If it weren't for the small independents we would have nowhere to turn.

Here are three examples to illustrate. I could write a book, as no doubt you could too.

Happily Paying for Nothing

Several years ago I moved from a city to a rural area. I had a cell phone with one of the big providers, AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint, I don't remember now. I'll just call them BigBad. BigBad did not have service in my new home, so I called them to cancel my contract, which had several months to go. It took a solid week and much time every day to finally reach an accomodation with BigBad. At first they insisted that I pay the $250 fee to break the contract. Then they tried very hard to make me accept a lesser plan, only $15 per month. What a bargain, $15 for nothing.

I managed to work my way up the food chain, which all by itself required heroic exertions, and finally got some vice president of something or other, who grudgingly and with no graciousness at all admitted that since they could not deliver service, I shouldn't have to pay for it. Imagine that, not paying for nothing, and the silly man actually expected me to be grateful.

Comcast Lives Up to Their Reputation

Just a few days ago, a friend of mine called for help with her email. Her work uses Comcast for their Internet service provider, which to me is a classic case of Pointy-Haired Bosses mucking things up, because she lives in a city that has a wealth of excellent independent ISPs. Picking Comcast on purpose there is like rooting through the whole apple bin to find the one rotten apple.

She has her own domain name and uses a good independent hosting service for her Web site and email, both POP and SMTP. She's had these for years and they are reliable and give great service. Monday morning she comes into the office, and cannot send email, but only receive. Her email client settings are fine, the same as they have always been. Her mail client (Outlook) is giving a numeric error code that means "I cannot find the SMTP server." So I run all the usual tests to see if it's a server problem-- check Webmail, telnet into her SMTP server, check DNS. All A-OK.

So I get hold of her office tech and he checks the firewall, anti-virus, and whatever else might be blocking port 25. All check out. I can see you are ahead of me-- yes, sometime during the weekend Comcast blocked port 25. Didn't tell anyone, just did it.

My friend is not much of a computer geek, but she has a great baloney detector, and when she gets on the phone with Comcast she knows they're feeding her a line. She gets this tech who first tries to tell her she is wrong and everything is fine. She persists. Finally, after much evasion on his part and much insistence on hers, he allows as to how maybe yeah, Comcast is now blocking port 25 and she needs to use their SMTP server. He also insists she must use their POP server. She's pretty sure that's wrong, and tries to tell him she doesn't use Comcast email and never has. He doesn't listen. He walks her through configuring Outlook to use Comcast's SMTP and POP servers. Now she can send mail but not receive it.

The Comcast tech doesn't care, as far as he is concerned his job is done. (This is the condensed version, there were several calls and much time wasted on dork-wrangling.) So she calls me, and in half a minute she has the correct POP server settings and can send and receive email.

Seven Years Later, Telcos Still Stink

My cell phone adventure took place seven years ago. I have not owned a cell phone since, partly because my need for one is minimal, and mostly because I refuse to give so much as single penny to such an awful, customer-hostile lousy-service industry.

Here is more recent example of how nothing has changed, and crappy customer service is industry standard practice. A friend who lives out here in the sticks has an account with US Cellular. They have this EasyEdge feature for backups and updates. Naturally there is no easy way to sync with her own computer, no, these EasyEdge services are hosted by US Cellular. She cannot use EasyEdge because it locks up her phone, hard, and she has to remove the battery to reset it and get it working again.

She has called US Cellular a half-dozen times, and even returned the phone to their repair center. It came back untouched and unchanged. Apparently it is a software problem, who knows, but if it is they are not going to fix it. Just like the "repair" center did nothing. She wants a different phone, but they're telling her no, not until her contract expires in 18 months. They have not heard the last from my friend; they are going to give her a new phone that does not lock up. No matter how much they think she should just suck it up, buttercup.

What Customers Should Do

I know there are going to be a bunch of comments that blame the customers, who somehow should have known better and who therefore deserve to be abused. I hope they are shills, because real people should know better. We have every right to expect good service and good treatment, and not have to wage war to get satisfaction. It is wrong for the balance of power to be all on the vendor's side, to expect that we will take whatever they dish out and happily pay for the privilege. We have a right, some would say an obligation, to hold their feet to the fire and make them do the right thing. Sure, in an ideal world everyone would shop carefully and avoid the stinkers. But this is not an ideal world, and what about industries (like the telcos) that are nothing but stinkers?

Not only that, but is there anyone who can claim bragging rights to good security, and protecting customer's data from intrusions? Anyone?

I cringe every time I see the word "consumer", because that describes a passive, compliant person who takes whatever the vendors want to dish out. I think "customer" is preferable. Wikipedia defines customer in a cool way:

"The word derives from "custom," meaning "habit"; a customer was someone who frequented a particular shop, who made it a habit to purchase goods of the sort the shop sold there rather than elsewhere, and with whom the shopkeeper had to maintain a relationship to keep his or her "custom," meaning expected purchases in the future."

Customers are wooed; consumers are dumped on. They can keep their clouds, their contracts and EULAs and restrictions and evasions of responsibility; I'm not buying any of it until they earn my custom.

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