Systems and people…

I’m in discussion with colleagues about a name for the academics involved in innovative technology research. I suggested they call themselves the Systemantics Group (only partly in jest!).

 I had a debate recently with Tony Hirst because he got an error from one of our systems and (quite rightly) complained about it. I told him it was somebody else’s problem because it was a reference to a non existent entity which caused the error, but actually it was a combination of a bad reference and a poorly written piece of code for error trapping that caused him to get a “systems level” error response rather than a nicer “You did not appear to find what you were looking for do you want to report it or look in these areas?” type message which many systems are currently doing and is very nice. I have had problems however in the past with programming human type error responses, we support a system developed by an external consultant for example and he put in a quirky bit of code to generate a Haiku with the response to try and give people a personal message back. Unfortunately this was a student facing system and one of the Haiku’s was along the lines of

The answer to your question

Is to change yourself

Not the system

That’s not right but close. Anyhow it was close enough to a systems level message and it didn’t declare itself as a Haiku so students who clicked on a click which was sent out incorrectly. This outraged a number of students and my team had to go and get the code removed. I think that what I’m saying here is that sometimes friendly systems can actually annoy people more than unfriendly ones.

By the way, how many systems will have images of tinsel and Christmas trees on the homepage or have their logos customised for the ‘holiday season’ I wonder?..hmm.


About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

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