Newsgator support rocks, and thoughts on data retention

After posting my troubles on the Newsgator Support Forum, it was determined that theres was a bug in the “Delete all posts on this page” function.  In less than three days, they fixed the bug, got the code into production, and they were able to restore all my lost clips.  My 300 lost clips were joined by about 400 other clippings that I had saved and subsequently deleted over the past year.  While I’m very happy to have my clippings back, it got me thinking about how Web 2.0 companies retain data.

Now Newsgator has mostly my attention data.  I consider this data to be fairly public, but some folks might disagree.  The fact that they were able to restore my data means that they are retaining it for some period of time.  Every company that stores user data on the web faces a choice.  What do they do with data that is “deleted” by users?  There’s an obvious value in keeping it, both for the customers, and for the business.  The customer might want the data restored.  The business might want it for historical analysis.

Now, I haven’t researched any of these companies, so I don’t know what the answers are.  Just food for thought.  If you remove a photo from Flickr, is it really gone?  What about the email you delete from Hotmail or Gmail?  The draft blog post on Blogger that you decided not to publish?

We’re used to data retention questions coming up in a work context, but more and more of our personal data is living in data farms operated by companies like Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft.  I’m sure if you dig, you can find most of the data retention policies.  Probably in the long legalese usage agreements that normal users click past without reading.  This probably won’t come to the public’s attention until some high profile criminal prosecution pulls out all the stops and subpoenas all this retained data. 

Newsgator ate my clippings…

Update 8/21/2006, 8:19PM: Newsgator is on top of this.  They have escalated the bug, and will post updated info here:

Newsgator just ate approximately 300 entries that I had saved in the “My Clippings” folder.  I use Newsgator Online as my primary aggregator, and a technical glitch just made me really want to switch.

I had a pretty extensive collection of clippings.  A “Blog This” folder with about 10 entries.  A “Read in Detail” folder with many entries that I wanted to read when I had time to concentrate & absorb the information.  A couple of reference folders with info on different topics that I might want to look back on.  The list goes on and on, and now they’re all gone.

I was going through my clippings, and I was viewing a folder that had 4 entries in it.  I decided that I no longer needed any of the four entries, so I clicked the “Delete All Posts On This Page” button.  Well, instead of deleting all the posts on that page, it wiped out all 300 clippings I had made.  All gone.

I was able to repeat this by saving some current articles into different clipping folders, and trying the “Delete All Posts On This Page” button again.  Without fail, using this function wipes out ALL saved clips, not just the ones in the displayed page, not just the ones in the selected folder.  All of them.



FUSF is gone, Verizon takes opportunity to gouge customers.

Update: Lots more at Mercury News and Technorati

I received this email today.  I’m including it in it’s entirety, highligts are mine.

Dear Valued Verizon Online Customer,
Effective August 14, 2006, Verizon Online will stop charging the FUSF (Federal Universal Service Fund) recovery fee. We will stop being assessed the fee by our DSL network suppliers. Therefore, we will no longer be recovering this fee from our customers. The impact of the FUSF fee is as follows: for customers of Verizon Online with service up to 768Kbps, the fee eliminated is $1.25 a month; for customers of Verizon Online with service up to 1.5 Mbps or 3Mbps, the fee eliminated is $2.83 a month (based on current FUSF surcharge amounts). On your bill that includes charges for August 14, 2006 you will see either a partial FUSF Recovery Fee or no FUSF line item at all, depending on your bill cycle.
Starting August 26, 2006, Verizon Online will begin charging a Supplier Surcharge for all new DSL customers, existing customers with a DSL monthly or bundle package, and existing DSL annual plan customers at the time their current annual plan expires. This surcharge is not a government imposed fee or a tax; however, it is intended to help offset costs we incur from our network supplier in providing Verizon Online DSL service. The Supplier Surcharge will initially be set at $1.20 a month for Verizon Online DSL customers with service up to 768Kbps and $2.70 per month for customers with DSL service at higher speeds.
On balance your total bill will remain about the same as it has been or slightly lower.
For more information, see the Announcement in the Help section of Verizon Central, located at
We regret the need to add this Supplier Surcharge, but we thank you for choosing high speed Verizon Online DSL. We appreciate and value your business.
Verizon Online
Broadband Customer Care Team

So, if I’m reading this correctly, Verizon’s costs are going down, but instead of passing that along to consumers, they are taking the opportunity to raise their fees by an amount that is almost equal to the FUSF.  I guess Verizon figure that consumers won’t really notice, and they get to pad their profits.

I’d love to see some regulation on how service providers advertise pricing.  Taxes and such should not be allowed to be “passed through”, they should just be part of the providers costs of providing the service.  I don’t know many other industries that are allowed to pass through costs this way.  I just want the bottom line.  If your costs go up (new taxes) then you raise your prices, and consumers can see the truth about what they are paying for your services.

The irony?  If Verizon didn’t practice this tax pass through, then they could’ve kept the difference from the elimination of the FUSF and I wouldn’t be complaining.

Update:  After Getting Called Out, Verizon Rescinds Non-USF-Replacement-Fee Fee  — Basically it looks like Verizon tried to pull a fast one, and when they realized the world was watching, they took their hand out of the cookie jar.

Uninstalling Windows Live Mail Desktop for the second time.

The first time I installed Windows Live Mail Desktop, I had some problems with it freezing up, so I ended up abandoning it.  After the recent refresh, I decided to give it another try.  This time it turned out to be a much more stable platform.  In fact, it’s a very good mail client.  My only gripe has been that I haven’t been able to get one of my accounts to work with it (And yes, I signed the account up for the beta on

So why am I uninstalling a good product?  Well, I gave it 4 days, and it didn’t make my life any better.  While Microsoft has put together a great product with WLMD, I don’t really see any value above and beyond what I get from the online Windows Live Mail.  In fact, the online interface seems cleaner and more intuitive.

For now I’m sticking to the online Live Mail.  I might give the desktop version another try later, but really I wish it would look and function just like the online version, but with support for multiple accounts and a locally cached copy of my mail.

(Posted with Windows Live Writer Beta, giving another desktop app a chance…) 

More Customer Service Praise: Automated Pet Care Products, Inc., Litter Robot

One other positive customer service experience.  We have 3 cats, and this past Christmas my wife bought me a Litter Robot, which was a great present since I take care of all the litter-box chores.  After years of jam-prone Littermaid cat-boxes, this thing was a dream.  Never jams, easy to remove the waste, easy to clean.  It’s a great design.  Everything was working great until this past Friday night.  We noticed that there were piles of litter on either side of the unit.  Closer inspection showed a large crack in the gear track.


Late Friday night I emailed the customer service address from the website with digital pictures showing the damage, and a PDF of our receipt.  Mid-morning on Saturday, I received an email saying that they would be mailing us a new replacement dome, and a refurbished base, since the new domes had a design change that wouldn’t be compatible with our original base.  Both pieces arrived today and our cats are back in “business”.  And looking at the new design, the problem we experienced won’t be happening again.

Like I said in my Verizon post, taking care of your customers with expediency and respect can go a long way toward making up for inadequacies in your product. 

Verizon Online DSL Tech Support, A+

I recently had occasion to call Verizon DSL tech support, and actually had such a good experience that I decided to share some brief details.  One evening this past week we came back from dinner to find our internet connection in a dysfunctional state.  I did the usual song and dance of rebooting the DSL modem/router combo, unplugging it for a minute and trying again.  Nothing was working.  I pulled up the DSL modem’s Http status page and found that it was reporting timing out on the PPPoE connection.  I knew this was going to require intervention from Verizon.

I braced myself for the inevitable.  I was expecting broken english, and a scripted support tech that would not deviate from their troubleshooting script no matter how little sense it made.  What I found was immensely better.  After a couple of automated responses, I was connected to a real human who even had a strong command of the english language.  I described the problem, and told her that I was already looking at the DSL modem’s http status page, and told her what the page said.  She asked if I’d done the reset dance yet, and then had me try a couple more things from the router page.  I was in awe.  No jumping through hoops (or pretending to jump through hoops I knew weren’t relevant).  She knew exactly what I was talking about, and quickly came to the conclusion that it was probably an issue on Verizon’s side.  After 3 or 4 minutes, she asked me to hold while she connected me to someone from the network group.

The second individual verified a couple more things, mostly dealing with the PPPoE login.  He had me try a “test” account, and then set it back to my account.  My connection was still dead, but he was confident that it was a Verizon network issue and told me he would dispatch it to the appropriate team to handle.

Now my DSL was still dead.  It wasn’t fixed for another 16 hours.  The fact that the tech support personnel I dealt with were proficient, respected my knowledge and the troubleshooting that I had already done, and quickly and efficiently isolated the problem and started the process to get it fixed, all made this a positive experience for me. A+.

Confessions of a Microsoft Loyalist…

Historically, I’ve been a pretty solid Microsoft supporter.  I’m a big fan of the platform.  I’ve taken the time to get MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA certifications, and I work day in and day out with Microsoft tools, Microsoft servers, and a Microsoft language (C#). But today, I watched Apple’s WWDC keynote.  And I liked it.  Actually, I read the Engadget play-by-play earlier, and this evening, I took the time to watch the keynote, even though I had to install Quicktime.

The Microsoft jabs were bit over the top, but at the same time, the Mac team is getting it done.  With the exception of their “we don’t get viruses” claims, almost everything had a ring of truth in it.  That’s why it hurts.

I’ve been questioning my exclusive focus on Microsoft technologies for a while.  I’ve delved into Linux and Perl in the past, but for the most part, my expertise is tied to Redmond.  But the tides seem to be turning a bit, and while I don’t think Microsoft is going away, I think it might be time to diversify my skillset.

I had already decided that I was going to learn Ruby on Rails after I finish up my MBA classes (6 days left!).  Now I’m starting to think about picking up a cheap Mac and getting my feet wet there as well.

Microsoft needs to wake up and realize that no matter how good the products they build are, if they can’t ship compelling software, and ship often, they are going to be left in the dust.  The phrase “compelling software” is the key here.  It’s got to make me excited about using my computer.  While I’m loving the Vista beta for the times that I have to use my computer, it doesn’t make me want to use it more.  Unless you can figure out how to use your resources better to make products customers will love, you may find yourself forced into implementing a certain anonymous blogger’s vision.

The future of mobile UI?

James Kendrick points to an idea from David Beers about a simple but innovative idea for UI’s on mobile devices.  Basically, the user could use a touchscreen to navigate a decision tree, where only the next action would presented. 

From David’s post:

Imagine that instead of the usual smartphone graphical menu–a grid of icons to tap–we had the icons arranged in, say, a ring with a tiny “+” to mark the center. That mark is where you begin the gesture to perform a new task. To check your Gmail account you move the stylus from the center of the screen toward the Email icon, which in turn enlarges and moves to greet your stylus point. Other icons shrink and move out of the way–you’re not interested in them now. As the pen approaches the Email icon the most common email tasks emerge as icons and text around it: perhaps Fetch, New, and Read. Moving the pen smoothly toward Fetch it expands and account option icons blossom from it: Work, Gmail, and All. Change the direction of the pen movement to meet the Gmail icon and lift the stylus point. The email client launches and checks your Gmail account after a single stroke of the stylus. The visual effect could be stunning–variously rendered as flying into the interface or watching a vine sprout in stop motion video. It would be easy to make this the stuff of a Hollywood sci-fi thriller.

After living a couple months with the touchscreen-less Motorola Q, I can definitely appreciate how much more useful something like this could make a phone.
I agree with James that the fingertip interface is much more user-friendly.  It’s my impression that geeks don’t mind pulling out a stylus, but that real people don’t want to look like geeks.