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Lighten Up 30 August 2002 Edition
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Yes, here it is -- your regular edition of Friday fluff and frivolity from the Web.

Feel like taking a trip into the future? Well you'd better hand over your $10 to the Time Travel Fund before it's too late!

Here's a great example of how Flash can be used to produce a great set of cartoon characters that are both interactive and entertaining. Well done! Take your time to look around -- there are some really funny bits in this site.

Getting Online Support All Wrong
If you stop and think about it, using the Internet to provide support for a product or products is a great idea.

By offering email or forum-based support, the need to have a team of helpdesk people manning the phones is greatly reduced. You also get the advantage that key information, such as log files and exact error reports, can be uploaded along with the request for help.

Unfortunately, it seems that this can also be a double-edged sword that has impailed more than a handful of companies.

Readers Say
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Have Your Say

Over the past week or so I've been spending quite a bit of time working on this Tivo-like PC-based box that regular readers will already know about.

Part of this work has involved the installation of various bits of hardware and software from a range of vendors -- and boy I have to say that Windows is still far from the "plug and play" environment it's claimed to be.

Having to resort to a registry hack just to install a new sound card strikes me as being just a little unfriendly for example.

But back to the point -- I've been using the Pinnacle PCTV card as the video capture device for this project and although the one I have in my main computer has worked more or less flawlessly for several years under Win98, the more recent software running under Win XP has proven to be just a little problematic to say the least.

These problems (and some hardware related ones) resulted in a visit to the Pinnacle Consumer Webboard which is clearly designed to allow an open discussion of problems.

Unfortunately for Pinnacle, there are a large (and growing) number of messages that make it very clear just how bad the company's support, and attitude to support, really is.

The fact that this lack of support is hurting sales is made quite clear in this posting but you don't have to browse around for long to realise that there are very real problems here.

I should point out that the Pinnacle hardware is fine and represents great value. The real problem is that the company can't write software to save itself and this is reflected in the huge number of odd bugs and problems experienced by users. When those pleas for help are ignored by the company in such a very public way then it can only reflect very badly on them.

Pinnacle are not alone in this however and many other non-technical companies and products are also badly let down by their online support -- or lack thereof.

Take my experiences with the Jarrah Chocolatte -- a rather expensive product that is advertised as a "Smooth & Creamy Chocolate Drink"

Repeated attempts to make a drink with this brown powder by following the instructions precisely, produced anything but a "smooth" drink. The result was invariably a lumpy mess that was neither smooth nor creamy.

"No problems" I thought, "perhaps I'm doing something wrong" -- so I checked the container and it said:

"QUALITY GUARANTEE
If for any reason you are not totally satisfied with the quality of this product, please contact Novartis Consumer Health... email: info-help.nuaume@ch.novartis.com"

So I sent them an email asking what I might be doing wrong.

That was several weeks ago and I've received neither an answer or even an acknowledgement (yes I resent the email to make sure).

I also visited their website -- something that left me feeling rather glad I didn't drink this stuff. What a strange company to be making a hot chocolate drink don't you think??

It seems that this product, or rather the advertising for it, has also produced other problems. (boy, there are some strange people out there!).

I think it's safe to say that if you are smart enough to offer online support for your products then you really ought to make sure that you back up those promises with some kind of action -- or you could find that it will turn around and bite you.

Have your say.

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