Communication's the name of the game

I've finally found a good reason to sign up for a free web-based email account. No, not spam busting or instant messaging accounts or even sending tip-offs to Computerworld (which you can do, by the way, at scoop@idg.co.nz). This is a much better reason.

I've finally found a good reason to sign up for a free web-based email account. No, not spam busting or instant messaging accounts or even sending tip-offs to Computerworld (which you can do, by the way, at scoop@idg.co.nz). This is a much better reason.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) is using XtraMSN's Hotmail front page as the ideal place to try to contact all those Kiwis who are overseas and have passed through Bali over the past month. Judiciously placed ads ask anyone who's logging on to let MFAT know they're okay (see Web ads help ministry find Kiwis after Bali blast).

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is appealing to New Zealanders worldwide who may have been in the Bali area at the time of the explosion to contact us so we can establish an accurate record of people likely to be missing. We also appeal to people who may have told us of a missing person they now know to be safe to advise us of this," says the site.

I can't think of a better use for technology than letting people know you're all right.

Forget about all the hype and flash and stuff and nonsense. This is a way of reassuring those at home and saving money in the process (no unnecessary searches for people who aren't actually missing). The list of those unaccounted for has dropped from 1000-odd to below 30; no mean feat.

In all the talk and hype and hoopla about the dot-com era and its resounding crash, this kind of simple solution seems to have been undervalued. That's a pity. The internet isn't about content, it isn't about services, it isn't about e-business, enterprise solutions, B2B, P2P, grid computing or any of the other buzzwords without first and foremost being about communication. Sometimes it's hard to remember that with all the crufty layers that have been built up online. It's just people staying in touch with people.

And communication comes in many forms.

This morning, as I try to write this, I have a vivid reminder of that. Four colleagues instant messaging me from the office, Dunedin and London on two different platforms as I struggle valiantly to clear the spam, read the relevant email and try to catch up on overnight news.

While all this was going on, I received a phone call about a high-chair I'd ordered in an actual shop several weeks ago. The poor woman at the other end of the phone related a tale of woe about faxes, stupid people who are unwilling to turn their head slightly to one side in order to see whether an invoice was on someone else's desk or not and the kinds of bullying tactics she employed on my behalf. Needless to say, the highchair will be delivered to her tomorrow. Or possible the day after.

I freaked her out somewhat by looking at the website for the manufacturer while she was on the phone to me -- fortunately for both of us the site doesn't sell direct to the public. She kept her sale and I had someone else chasing up the lost docket, which is always good to see. Would things have gone more smoothly if I'd ordered directly from the manufacturer? I can't see how it would have gone less smoothly, but it may have been cheaper for me to do so. Slapping a pretty B2C front end on the site wouldn't have changed the attitudes of those people processing the order, I would suggest, so the end result would probably have been the same, except everyone would blame the internet for the poor result.

Meanwhile this morning, I've learned all about my colleagues understanding of Arthur Miller's plays (somewhat limited), as well as what's going on in another hemisphere. I've found out more about a sniper in Washington, a super computer named Red Storm, asynchronous logic, a doctor's hunger strike, a fake bomb in Auckland hospital -- and have passed on the opportunity to work from home and make millions. I've also, brilliantly, found out what time of day our readers log on to the website and what kinds of stories they like to read.

It's been a busy morning, but it's good to keep in touch.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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