Tell me how to do my job!

The mass media (as well as the trades) have been following the use of the 'net as galactic rumor mill. Between Lexis' P-TRAK and the TWA crash, it is getting harder and harder to separate fact from near- fact from fiction. And at the heart of the problem is the sheer velocity of change on the 'net.

"The Internet is the biggest fishbowl ever created," Shabbir Safdar of Voters Telecommunications Watch, a civil liberties group, was quoted last week in USA Today about how the Internet was used to spread rumors about the TWA #800 crash supposed "cover up." Indeed, the FBI had to have a press conference just to dispell the rumors, a truly sad state of affairs.

And Lexis had to do lots of damage control when its phone lines were inundated with callers who wanted their personal data removed from their latest service offering. A rumor (later proven untrue) flew around the 'net that the new service would list everyone's social security numbers.

Who can you trust to report the truth? Indeed, when the truth changes from hour to hour, it is getting harder to get first-hand sources that are in synch with events. This point was driven home to me when I got a call asking me to be a reference for an Internet service provider that I once used. I couldn't really be very accurate, since the ISP and I went our separate ways six months ago and I haven't spent any time keeping track of them since.

I don't pretend to even have an answer here, but let's try to solve a related and hopefully easier issue. It concerns product testing.

Two more events: First, I got chastised by one of my editors when I turned in a product review a few weeks ago. Okay, this happens, but the reason was simple: I had run the product through its paces using Windows NT 3.5.1, not the (almost shipping) 4.0 version. The editor claimed I should be running the current version, and forget the past. Then, my WebCompare programmers at Mecklermedia jazzed up some of my pages to use Java Script. No sooner had we made them part of the production site than I started getting complaints in my inbox from users who couldn't get through the java jive. (The problem is that older versions of Netscape's Navigator wouldn't work, and they needed to upgrade to the current version.)

Do I detect a trend here? Should I be testing stuff at the leading or trailing edge? Wasn't one of the nice things about the 'net the fact that so many different strokes worked for different folks? Here is your chance to tell me how to do my (testing) job: how can I test leading products, given that so many users are running older stuff?

I used to think that change was good. Change was guaranteed full employment for those of us in the industry that report on current events and have to deal with telling the rest of the world what works with what. But after the past week's events, I am not so sure.

Self-promotion dep't

I've been busy writing several articles, as always. If you are interested, here are links to the ones published during the past few weeks:

This essay is composed in HTML and can be read in your browser. This is not always a simple process, and I'll be happy to provide help if I can. If you are getting this directly from me, or if someone is forwarding it to you, and you want to change that situation, let me know. Subscriptions are always free of charge. Entire contents copyrighted 1996 by David Strom.

David Strom
+1 516 944 3407
Link to this essay on our site
Back issues of Web Informant essays
WebCompare, comparison and features of over 90 web servers!