Delivering Libellous Content

March 17, 2014

The DeliveryDemon had to chuckle at this article http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/content/dont-let-internet-linked-stories-land-you-libel-writ

The law has certainly been working hard to catch up with technology, and the impact of this sort of libel is very real to those who are libelled. But the legal profession is missing a trick here. Behind the scenes, there is technology which looks for keywords and tries to interpret them. By and large this software is still remarkably primitive. It has yet to get to grips with the ability to interpret the context. Basically it lacks ‘intelligence’. It is designed to provide an answer at the expense of providing a sensible answer.

Google predictive text gives some good examples of what can happen http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/6161567/The-20-funniest-suggestions-from-Google-Suggest.html and various mobile phone predictive text engines can be even funnier. The automated parsers used by recruiters cannot distinguish between Coral the bookmaker and Coral the programming language. Amazon’s ‘you might like’ suggestions suggest you buy an identical item to a recent purchase, with a different brand name.

To some extent, many of these tools are designed to depend on data which is not quality-controlled in any effective way. Certainly an Amazon vendor will enter the keywords likely to maximise search hits. that can mean the entry of keywords with little relation to the product being sold.

Google is one of the more sophisticated players since its product depends on understanding what a searcher is likely to want, but the Telegraph article shows how primitive the logic is. Asking users to log in and relating searches to their search history has the potential to improve search result quality, but people are becoming increasingly sensitive to the amount of their data held by large corporations, and legislators are starting to respond to those concerns, so relying on users logging in may not be the most fruitful development path for this type of tool.

The examples in libel article certainly have merit. Either the tool is not fit for purpose, or it is being used unintelligently. A fairly obvious solution would be for the news website to flag articles as being either positive or adverse, provided the tool refrains from coming up with links to ‘similar’ articles unless they were also flagged as adverse. If the tool can do this, the web publisher is at fault. If the tool can’t do it, then there are two potential breaches. The tool may be inadequate for the purpose for which it is being sold. Or the web publisher may be making inappropriate use of the tool. Of course, when a payment model is based on click throughs, the incentives tend not to favour anything which limits the number of links displayed.

A fruitful approach for legislators would be to look beyond individual libels and examine the capabilities of current tools, and the processes which web publishers use to to mitigate the risks arising from tool limitations.

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Delivering Over the Web

October 29, 2009

The DeliveryDemon is becoming fascinated by marketing and PR, particularly the ways of achieving a balance between appealing to the aspirations of potential customers, and providing those customers with the comfortable feeling that they are dealing with a supplier who can be trusted to fulfil those aspirations as promised. When it comes to marketing over the web, the press regularly has a field day with scare articles which, I am sure, many of us read with the smug assumption that we would never be so foolish as to fall for such a scam.

But how can we distinguish between a genuine seller with poor website skills, and a website thrown together by a scammer who knows that, if they can drive sufficient traffic to the website, enough people will unthinkingly enter their personal or financial details for the scammer to reap a profit? The answer is that there is no foolproof way to distinguish between the scammer and the amateur.

Anyone who wants a commercial website to deliver results needs to deliver a professional presentation in order for the customer to feel confident about buying. The DeliveryDemon has been surprised at how often she considers buying from a website then decides not to because something generates a feeling of mistrust. If you find that potential customers are dropping out half way through buying on your website,  have a look at http://www.thinklikeauser.com/sell-more-online-by-ditching-the-red-flags-on-your-website/ It’s surprising how many websites ignore these ways of building in customer confidence


Delivering Food in the Internet Age

September 23, 2009

The DeliveryDemon hates shopping. Walk round the supermarket spending money on stuff to eat, and you only have to do the same thing a week later. It’s SUCH a chore!! So it came as a bit of a surprise, returning from a holiday in the Lake District, to have a reasonably enjoyable shopping experience. Which, of course lead the DeliveryDemon to wonder why she doesn’t mind picking up foodstuff at Booths in Keswick, while she absolutely hates trudging round each and every one of the local supermarkets in her home area.

And before anyone suggests that the DeliveryDemon shop online to avoid the supermarket experience, think about trust. On a visit to a supermarket you can form an opinion about how the goods are handled when customers can see what’s going on. If an online order is packed in some distant warehouse, that discipline has gone. If you don’t see respect for food in a store, how is food being handled behind the scenes? If, when you come to unpack your order and cook dinner, the veg are unappetisingly wilted or bashed, what do you do? You can complain and return items but by then your meal has been spoiled, and often people find it too much hassle to return stuff. It’s you who has to deal with the quality problem.

So why does Booths deliver a shopping experience which is so different? Certainly the layout is a bit more spacious, reducing the frustration caused by shoppers who stop for an extended chat, trolleys carefully parked to block the aisle. The excellent selection of beers on offer is an attraction, as is the carefully chosen range of local products, but the range doesn’t dictate the shopping experience. The secret is in the way the goods are handled and displayed, something long known to every market trader with a layer of shiny polished apples hiding a stock of poorer quality fruit.

Compare and contrast:

  • A freshly picked carrot with a glazed looking item from near-zero storage,  in its brief orange period between frozen lump and black slime
  • The tight white curds of a trimmed new cauliflower with the brown-splodged, limp-leaf-hidden face of one which has survived a lengthy trip along the supply chain
  • Tomatos with the sharp green smell of the plant, and the green-red, rock hard spheres, picked long before ripeness to prevent bruising in transit
  • A choice of breads from various bakers, each with their own baking method, and a choice of breadshapes all made to the same process and with zero taste variation
  • Glittering fish you need to get up early for because it comes in fresh every day and sells out every day, and dull-eyed specimens dragged from the freezer
  • Large packs of perky-leaved herbs, and niggardly sachets bulked out with parsley stalks and leaf fragments.

When the Delivery Demon stops at Booths she usually heads back south with a full shopping bag. Lakeland plum bread, Morecambe Bay prawns, rye loaf, ‘Cornish’ pasties, fresh fruit and vegetables, chocolates, artisan crisps and some interesting local beers. When she shops in her home area, she comes back with a bad temper and a list of items which were out of stock.

What’s this got to do with the internet age? In the old days, word of a poor shopping experience would circulate in a local community, but lack of convenient options would to some extent protect a poor quality shop from wholesale customer defection. The internet has widened the options. Supermarkets think they have addressed the internet age by offering online shopping and web-based information. Many have still to realise that the web has created a window into the quality of their entire operation.


Why Single Point Estimating?

July 9, 2009

A couple of weeks ago DeliveryDemon got involved in some interesting discussions about whether a single point estimate could actually exist. Various thoughts circulated for a while before being buried in a deluge of other ‘stuff’. Now the ‘stuff’ has been cleared, the thoughts are coming to the surface again.

Certainly an estimate has associated with it a degree of uncertainty. Depending on  who’s looking at it, understanding of that uncertainty varies with the eye of the beholder. A good estimator will have a fairly sophisticated view of the nature and range of the band of uncertainty. Some people will recognise the existence of the uncertainty without having much understanding of how it can be managed. Some people are oblivious to its existence while others take a position of total denial – ‘Just give me the number. What’s wrong with you that you can’t give me a single number?’

There’s an education gap creating the demand for a single number. There’s also something more systemic. Take a look at budgeting systems. They demand single values for each line in the budget. If a manager wants to create contingency to allow for uncertainty in a project, the common ways of doing it are to include contingency in each budget line, and to have a separate slush fund for allocation at the manager’s discretion.

This approach was a minor anomaly in the days when business as usual consumed nearly all of a company’s budget. Today, Change is an important business function and companies often need to allocate a substantial proportion of the budget to it. The anomaly is becoming a significant problem for two reasons:

  • A large uncertainty factor is becoming embedded in every budget
  • The company does not know how much contingency it has in its budgets, and how much contingency it needs. As a result it is not in a position to manage contingency in line with business priorities.

The DeliveryDemon doesn’t have a perfect solution, but a working solution would have some of the following features:

  • Three figures associated with each budget line – target, best case and worst case, with budgets being based on the target figure
  • The ability to allocate contingency to individual budget lines based on the best case / worst case figures
  •  The ability to allocate contingency at an aggregate level, thus reserving decisions about its use for more senior management. This would also allow for a lower contingency figure, on the assumption that not all lowest level budget lines would need to call on contingency.
  • A process to review allocated contingency, and retrieve it when the need is reduced or gone, or reallocate it should business priorities change.
  • A requirement to justify the use of contingency, to offset the human tendency to use up the funds available.

Some of this happens in practice in some companies, but not as an explicit process, which is dangerous from a due diligence perspective. The big difference will come when Change is recognised as a fundamental business function, and managed from a strategic perspective in the same way as other major business functions. Once that happens, Change ceases to be special. Its processes and characteristics will be made explicit  in the same way as those of any other business function, as will its interfaces with other business functions. When Change is recognised as just another business function, then it makes sense for it to feed business requirements into systems design, which will be an interesting challenge to current budgeting and contingency management conventions.


Project / Programme Delivery and Service Delivery – Is There A Conflict?

June 1, 2009

(Shamelessly taken from a reply the DeliveryDemon provided to a question on LinkedIn)

Do you see a conflict?

The main interfaces with service delivery are:

  • When defining the scope of the project, acknowledge that there will be an impact on service delivery, and involve the stakeholders who can form a view of the impact and how it is likely to affect other priorities, and take decisions.
  • During the design / delivery / test stages of a project, identify and involve the service delivery stakeholders needed to provide input / carry out activities / test.
  •  As part of dependency management, identify dependencies / resource conflicts with other projects also impacting service delivery, establish a suitable level of communication with them.
  •  For transition to business as usual, allow for testing and business change within the service delivery function.

All of the above are down to planning and communication and should not be a significant source of conflict if well managed.

There is only ONE intrinsic and irresolvable conflict between programmes / projects and service delivery. Service delivery is there to deliver a service and that is their first priority. In the event of a serious incident, restoring the service has first priority.

In the event of a serious incident, all the programme / project manager can do is:

  • Keep tabs on the incident resolution without hassling those at the sharp end.
  • Make use where possible of resource not involved in the incident, provided their workload has not increased to cover colleagues dealing with the incident.
  • Carry out an impact analysis, work on a contingency plan and implement it.
  • Keep the project / programme stakeholders informed.
  • Escalate only in the event that it is likely senior management will give the project priority over the service.
  • Keep the morale of the team up when they can’t make progress.
  • When the pressure lifts, get in there with the key stakeholders to ensure that the programme / project gets appropriate priority as the pressure comes off.

Putting the ‘Live’ into Delivery

May 17, 2009

The DeliveryDemon has recently had the good fortune to spend time with some world class athletes. They are at the very top of a highly demanding minority sport and the pressure to deliver is intense.

  • In competition there is no second chance to deliver the goods. Just a little less than top performance on the day, and the medal goes to someone else.
  • Delivery in competition depends on rigorous training and other preparation prior to competition. It’s not just a one-day effort.
  • There’s a lot of risk management to consider – highly trained athletes operate on the fine line between top fitness and injury, where a brief misjudgement can lead to weeks of layoff.
  • It’s impossible to operate at competition level all the time, and athletes need a cycle of preparation, peak performance, and relaxation / recuperation.

There’s another aspect of minority sports where delivery comes into play. In the absence of commercial sponsorhips, athletes may fund their training by coaching others. Some may branch out into the production of specialist clothing and equipment for their sports. Since minority sports by their nature have a limited number of participants, the coach or equipment supplier will become known quite quickly. They will be judged both by the quality of what they sell, and their sporting achievements. Other participants will quickly become aware of any new or innovative products which they introduce to the marketplace. Equally, news of poor delivery is quickly passed around.

There is a surprising number of well-run small businesses in this field. Because the reputations of the business and its owner are intertwined, the athlete is under intense pressure to deliver quality in competitive results and quality in goods and services. There is also a need to balance peaks of performance with periods which allow for both physical recovery and product development. The athlette lives constantly with a focus on delivery.

The principles which apply to delivery by these micro businesses are equally applicable to large scale commercial enterprises. However, the complexity of large organisations means that they often lose this single-minded focus on customer delivery. Large organisations often look to high profile sportsmen to deliver training on individual motivation. They would do well to look closely at the less well-funded areas of sport. These microbusinesses provide a delivery benchmark which many large companies are incapable of equalling.


Project Management Made Easy

April 21, 2009

Forests have been decimated and billions of pixels have been marshalled to document all the things a project manager needs to do. In fact, an effective project manager only needs to do 2 things:

  1. Create an agreed picture of the desired end state and the route to it
  2. Ensure that reality and the agreed picture remain in alignment

All the verbiage is about tools and methods to help a project manager carry out these two activities. Lose sight of these activities and the tools and methods generate value-free bureaucracy. Focus on these two activities and it immediately becomes clear how to select a tool kit which will help you deliver a project effectively.

Think about it. The DeliveryDemon has yet to see a project activity which doesn’t fit this model.