Of wikis, transparency and customer service

Part the first:

I just finished writing a Perspective for the June Cites & Insights (which will emerge well before June 1, but certainly after May 11–I’d guess May 18-20, but that’s only a guess), “On Wikis and Transparency.” It’s mostly about MediaWiki and transparency, but that’s OK, since MediaWiki is pretty clearly the dominant wiki software for library-related wikis. The Perspective’s about 4,000 words long before editing; I plan to do a shorter version (maybe 2,000-2,500 words) to mount on PALINET Leadership Network as a companion piece to the Wikis and libraries article I completed there yesterday.

But first, I’ll give alert, knowledgeable, weekend-blog-reading folks a chance to tell me: Is this obvious stuff? Does everybody already know that MediaWiki wikis tend to be much more transparent than their owners might realize? (Which is, by and large, a good thing–once the owners realize it.) When I say “everybody,” I explicitly mean library leaders who need to know a little about wikis but are probably never going to install one or become intimately familiar with it…

Thus endeth part the first. And hey, if I do write something “obvious,” it won’t be the first time.

Update Monday, May 5: Having heard no cries of “everybody knows that,” I’ve completed the C&I essay and added a briefer version to PLN here.


Part the deuce:

Here’s the setup: My wife and I are going on a real vacation, for the first time in a couple of years. It’s a cruise, and it makes sense to fly to the departure port a day early and stay overnight. To make it even more fun, we’re going with a dear friend of ours–who’s also flying in a day early.

As we investigated places to stay overnight, we found that this is one of those cities where we could either spend a lot of money, or stay in an iffy part of town or in an iffy establishment, or maybe both. But if we stayed nearer the airport, we could stay in a Hilton at a reasonable price.

Which then caused me to think. Given my odd travel, I belong to several hotel affinity programs–as with air frequent-traveler programs, it costs nothing to join, and some hotel programs at least get you a free newspaper or something–but I tell all of them to give me American miles instead of hotel points, since I rarely have the choice of hotel. But Hilton HHonors has “double dipping”–they give you both miles and points. So I’ve accumulated some quantity of points over the years (given the choice, I’ll tend to stay at a Hilton-family property, especially Embassy Suites). Hmm. Let me check…

Yep. I had enough points for one free night at this category of hotel. In fact, I had more than enough points for two free nights. Now, back in the good old days, at least as I remember it (but this may be airline rather than hotel), this was a multistep process: First you’d send in a mailed request for a certain kind of award certificate, then they’d send the certificate, then you’d book the award with certificate in hand. Now, of course, you go to the Hhonors website, log in, find the hotel and verify availability, and the certificate is created at the point of use: You get two emailed confirmations, one your actual reservation, one your award certificate. Fast, easy, well-designed. Cool.

And here’s the pitch: The best use I could think of for the rest of the points was to pick up another free room for our friend–if the friend wanted it. Which, it turns out, they did. How would I go about reserving a room in somebody else’s name and paying for it with points from my Hhonors account?

So I called the Hhonors 800 number. One clear menu choice. Another clear menu choice. Then a crisp message: You can book awards online, but if you’d like to speak with a representative, just wait. I waited…for about ten seconds, maybe less.

Five minutes or less (I’m thinking three, but could be wrong): That’s what it took to ask whether this could be done (it could), provide my information, validate who I am, give the hotel info, give the other person’s name, deal with a slight variance (yes, a room with two doubles would be fine, if no one-king room was available), and get an award certificate number…following which, an automated voice from the hotel gave me the reservation confirmation code. Within one minute after hanging up the phone, both confirmation certificates were in my email, ready to forward to the friend.

Maybe there’s nothing unusual here, but I’ve surely heard enough horror stories about telephone assistance with even straightforward issues, much less slightly complicated ones like this. OK, I’ve always had great luck with American Aadvantage people–but then, American’s people are one reason I prefer American Airlines (just as Hilton people are one reason I prefer Hiltons). For some reason, this exercise struck me as remarkably smooth and pleasant: No waiting, phone trees used to save me time rather than to avoid actual contact, really slick combined use of the human touch and computer backup–I mean, those emails were there when the call was done.

Just a nice little story for a Saturday. It certainly made my Friday.

5 Responses to “Of wikis, transparency and customer service”

  1. Abigail Says:

    It’s nice to hear a story where customer service actually went right and it’s lovely to hear that Hilton provided such excellent and straightforward customer service for you. You’re right–we do hear misery stories all the time. It’s good to know that there are some times when things do work the way we expect them to sometimes better :)

  2. walt Says:

    Abigail, I think it’s true that we tend to hear more about what goes wrong with others–and, by the same token, we’re reluctant to write up our own failures/problems. In the case of Hilton, my expectations were fairly high; that they were exceeded is a surprise.

    I have another, much more peculiar but definitely positive, story–but I’m waiting to see how it turns out.

  3. Chris Says:

    Walt, it’s a tall order to ask if everybody knows about wiki transparency (the answer, of course, is “probably not”). I can say that the library administration here would likely not know much about the transparency issues – if you can call them issues, since transparency is usually a feature, not a bug.

    On the other hand, the technology leaders here in the library have a much better grasp of transparency issues, and so a lot of it is obvious. Still, I run a mediawiki installation and hadn’t considered some of the emergent properties of the various Special Pages.

    I would think tha

  4. Chris Says:

    Oops, orphaned some text there. My bad.

    -Chris Clouser
    Science Librarian
    Indiana University of Pennsylvania

  5. walt Says:

    Chris,
    Thanks for your comment.

    You answered my question–and the lack of other answers on the order of “Of course everyone knows about MediaWiki’s transparency” convinced me that the essay was worth writing.

    Transparency is an issue only if those running the wiki haven’t paid attention to it. (When I was writing the article, one wiki had hundreds of pages that were supposedly restricted to readership by only a Chosen Few–but the restriction was apparently “security by obscurity,” as All Pages and Categories both had links that yielded the fully-readable articles to someone with no relationship to the wiki. If you’re storing confidential personnel issues in a wiki, then such transparency is an issue.) My essay does not suggest that wiki installers choose other software (I like MediaWiki, and I like the transparency) or that they take steps to make MediaWiki more opaque–but I believe it’s worth describing the nature of the transparency. It’s certainly not a bug, and I don’t describe it as such.

    A shorter form of the essay is now in place at the PALINET Leadership Network, http://pln.palinet.org
    (specifically, it’s here).
    The longer form will appear in the next Cites & Insights.


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