On Building A Community – Top Down? Bottom Up?

•August 4, 2009 • 1 Comment

I really like Brad Rourke’s thoughts on community growth, both for views of online communities and for his clever translation of those ideas into place-based communities (ie: towns)


(With thanks to @johncr8on for finding and sharing it via Twitter)

The 90-9-1 rule implies 2 ways of growing communities:

Top down:  If you add more leaders you’ll generate more participants and followers.  In essence, adding leaders helps moving some of the 90 into the 9 and draws outsiders into the 90 from “the buzz” around the community.  Adding a super-star to your team not only makes the team better but she becomes a recruiting magnet.

Bottom up: If you add more people into the community through the 90, some of them will step into the 9 and perhaps into the 1.  A growing community attracts talent and some of them will see and fill voids in the the community’s abilities.

I fundamentally believe both approaches are correct.  But if you want to grow a community, which one do you put your energy into?

<I’m going to talk mostly about on-line communities from here on, but I’m confident you can generalize this to place-based communities just like Brad Rouke did in his post.>

The bottom up approach requires a grass-roots effort that likely will only happen via 2 means.

1) A culture that already embraces communities –  You won’t get anywhere if the culture on the periphery of the community doesn’t believe in participation.  If you’re surrounded by isolationists they aren’t going to just “see the light” and join in the community as participants at any level.  Changing culture requires patience and glacier-like power to wear barriers down over time.  This is not a place you can individually have a lot of influence.

Simply the worst video of all time

Simply the worst video ever

2) “Viral growth”
– Frankly I think this has become the battle-cry of the overconfident and the communication avoiders.  Viral growth does happen – communities spring up overnight from nothingness but as Malcom Gladwell points out in The Tipping Point – capturing lightning in a bottle is amazingly tricky and is almost never happens on purpose.  If you’re counting on viral growth to build your community you may as well buy a lottery ticket and count on it to build your retirement account.  If it happens, count your blessings, but don’t be surprised if you’re still working at 70.  You can put the structures in place so that it might happen, but you can’t make it to happen.

I contend that bottoms-up growth isn’t the place where your effort is going to guarantee results.

Top-down growth on the other hand is a place you may be able to make some headway.  You need to add more leaders (and by extension more editors) to grow your community.  The “easiest” way of doing this is by finding existing leaders outside your community and recruiting them to join.  You need to find the rock stars, the people that others respect and look up to, and you need to get them participating visibly in your community.  I say “easily” because that is no small feat, but it is something you can put energy into and have some success with.

Looking specifically at blogging, you need to get thought-leaders in your space involved in your community.  It is through the writings of these “cool kids” that others will be drawn in.  Some will read, and some of them will respond, and some of them will over time think “you know, I’ve got a lot of passion and energy around this community, I should be writing too”.  You begin to build a buzz around this group and others will be drawn in from outside the community to join the 90.

If you doubt that approach go look at Wil Wheaton’s blog and twitter feed, or Lance Armstrong’s, or Chris Brogan’s.  Each of them is “a cool kid” in their space, and others who care about that space (geek culture, cycling, social media) gather around to see what they’ll say next.  They’ve built massive communities, many of their “followers” contribute to the conversations, and some of those contributors have gone own to start successful communities of their own.

Still not buying it?  Check out The Jim Rome Show sometime.  Here’s a rock star sports commentator – some would argue that he’s grown bigger than many of the athletes he interviews.  He’s built an almost cult-like community of self-proclaimed “clones”.  Millions listen to his radio show and thousands comment via email and SMS to the interactions of hundreds of callers responding to Jim’s thoughts on sports.  Some of those clones now have their own radio shows (a few quite good). (feel that 90-9-1 pyramid?)

This is the essence of building a community from the top down. You don’t have to be a rock star yourself, but you have to be able to recruit the rock stars if you’re going to make headway.  This is where you can direct your individual energies – either in becoming a rock star yourself (good luck with that, it takes time and practice) or in finding others and drawing them in.

When you’re planning ways to grow your community you need to think where your energy can have the most impact.  It’s my contention that top-down is where you can make a difference as an individual.  You can (and should) work to encourage a bottom-up growth pattern too but this is really done by being a cog in the wheel, playing the part that you want others to play more than through direct recruiting – just don’t expend too much of your energy here… and for goodness sake, please don’t sit on your hind end and wait for your community to “go viral”.  Trust me… great ideas and products fail to grab mindshare every single day while crap like “Candy Mountain” goes viral – please don’t bet your community’s success on such astro-aligned alchemy.

In the mean time, I’ll be thinking of you growing, with your top down…

Bottoms Up


Thoughts from the Fuselage: Part 3 – Late June 2009

•July 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Thoughts from the Fuselage: Part 3 – Late June 2009

Ideas, thoughts, musings, and drivel captured while commuting by air.

June 26th

Today we open with The Thompson Twins’ “Doctor Doctor” – one of my favorite songs.


The flight attendant slipped into a gestapo German accent for the “Turn off all your electronics for takeoff, arm the doors and cross check” announcement.  Wicked funny.

I’m on the starboard side of the plane and have a FANTASTIC view of Rainier on the way out of Seattle!  It never gets old!

I’m sitting next to an amazing little girl.  She’s “almost 8” and is traveling alone. “Don’t worry, I’m used to it, I do it all the time”.  Her mother lives in Seattle with her boyfriend and her father lives in Denver with his girlfriend.  She lives with mom but flies back to Denver for 4 or 5 times a year for  holidays, spring break, and a month each summer.  Her mother is able to bring her to the gate and stay with her until she boards the plane.  Her father will pick her up at the gate in Denver (“he has a special security pass so he can come get me”) and in between the flight attendants and fellow passengers take care of her.  She’s just an angel – and a worldly little traveler.  She has a lanyard with a holder for her boarding pass and ID.  She has a water bottle in the seatback, a rolling backpack under her seat and a little knit purse with her that holds a pink CD player with a Rascal Flatz CD, a little cinderella book, a stuffed horsie, a tin of tic-tacs and some coloring pens.  When the flight attendant comes by and gives her special instructions for using the oxegen mask she says “Boy, that’s a lot to remember!”  She’s very matter of fact about the whole trip. I’m so impressed with this little road warrior.  It makes me think we might be able to fly one of Orion’s friends out to stay with us on occasion.

Flying Southwest today – they do a fine job but it’s just not the same vibe as @AlaskaAir.  This sad Coke isn’t getting it done, I want my Jones Soda!

The guy next to me took an interest in my “moving to Seattle” story and gave me a great pep-talk on the area, activities, and lifestyle.  He was born and raised in Colorado but now he considers the North West his home.  Nice.

I’m betting you love Sublime’s “Santeria“.  And I’m further betting that you sing or hum along with the catchy melody but have never really listened to the lyrics.  If I’m right, then you’re in for a shock on your next listen cuz that song is D*A*R*K!

I’m singing along (ok, mouthing along) to Little Big Town’s “A Little More You” and the girl next to me asks me what my favorite song is.  I tell her that sometimes it’s whatever song I’m listening to right at the moment.  She says “my favorite song is anything Country & Western” which is perfect – I hand her my headphones and with a big smile say “then you’re gonna love this song!” and hit the re-start button.  She loved it and told me I need to check out Darren Motamedy, a sax player she loves. (He’s a teacher at her school – she says go to darrenmotamedy.com)

Couple across the way from me is all snuggled up together.  Can’t decide if it’s cute or annoying.  I will go with cute for now.

June 29th

Traveling with my wife who’s coming to Seattle to see our new house – we put an offer on it with her having only seen it online.  She’s going to get the kids registered for school, signed up for hockey and ballet, and get us organized for our move in July.  She’s riding along on my weekly commute, up at 5:00 this morning for the first flight out to Seattle and coming home Friday after work.  She’s traveling light as I’ve been bringing a few of her things out over the past weeks.  This makes it easy to zip through the airports.

Today it has been utterly cloudless from DIA all the way to eastern Washington.  I don’t know if it will stay clear all the way into seattle, but I’ve seen more scenery today than on any other flight I’ve taken.  There is still quite a bit of snow on the peaks of every mountain range we’ve crossed and Colorado is as green as I’ve seen it in 10 years or more.

Woman next to me is balancing her checkbook in a paper register.  I didn’t know people did that anymore!

This weekend was hard!  We’re starting to feel the gravity of the end – many of the things we’re doing are “the last time we…” see friends, eat at restaurants, etc.  Ugh!

Seeing the Snake River and the Columbia River for the first time.  They are so big!

Lessons In Web Design

•July 22, 2009 • 1 Comment

With thanks to @lskrocki I got a pointer to @emzee (Matt Zellmer), one of the rock stars of web design at Sun Microsystems.  He tweeted his take-aways from a conversation with Jared Spool on the design lessons from Amazon.com.  There’s gold in this Twitter stream:

  1. Lead with content – reviews and ratings of reviews are impactful
    • Don’t copy another site’s (Amazon’s) [reviews] without fully understanding how they really work
    • On average 1 in 1300 buyers write a review
  2. Don’t fear new ideas
  3. Reduce time user spends in admin functionality while increasing time on goals
  4. Don’t do huge redesigns – people hate change (BH: Are you listening Facebook?)

Web Design

The Last Commute

•July 20, 2009 • 4 Comments

*Friday 7/17*pc-commute533

Today begins my last commute to and from Denver.  I’m on the last flight out today and come back to Seattle on the first flight Monday morning.  At that point I’ll be “going home” to Seattle.

I must say that overall the 3 months of commuting was quite easy and there’s a part of me that will even miss it.  I enjoyed the routine and the private hours it gave me both to work (Monday mornings) and to unwind (Friday evenings).  I’ve blogged, I’ve listened to music, I’ve read, I’ve planned and strategized, I’ve comforted kids and even made a few friends.  Frankly I’ve never really had this kind of focused time, perhaps it’s the lack of TV and Internet or maybe just the fact that I can’t get up and go anywhere, but it’s been productive and kinda fun.

Also the OCD side of me will miss the brutal efficiency of the process.  Over 3 months I’ve honed it from a 7+ hour door to door (office to house) event down to an average of 5.5 hrs.  I know the most direct routes from here to there, the best parking places, the best seats on the bus, the shortest security lines, the right clothes to wear that won’t set off the alarms (belt buckles and metal watches will kill you every time), the places to sit on the plane.  I know where to eat (and when).  I have my carry-on down to a bare minimum size and weight and have all the things I need in the most accessible spots.  It’s like a giant travel system and I’ve optimized the hell out of it.  I love high-speed walking through the airport knowing exactly what’s next and how to carve a minute or two out of it.

Yeah, I know, you’re thinking I’m sick, and maybe I am just a little, but who among us isn’t, just a little?

So today is the beginning of the end of that chapter of my life.  I have 3 more trips back to Colorado to finish a class I’m in.  One trip each of Sept, Oct, and Nov.  After that I’ll just be another holiday traveler moving his family from point A to point B a few times a year, with loads of suit cases and carry-ons and 3 other people’s anxieties to manage.

Here are my travel tips for anyone who makes this run:


  • Fly Alaska Airlines when you can, they are fantastic.   Be sure to enjoy a nice Jones Soda rather than the more common brands.
  • Southwest is your next best bet.  They are fun and have customer service that’s right there with Alaska’s
  • Use the busses in Seattle (until light rail is online in Nov 2009).
  • Wear headphones, especially on the busses, it keeps the crazies quiet.
  • On Alaska, get yourself a seat in row 6, even if it’s the middle seat.  Row 6 is a bulkhead seat, which means you can use your laptop without fear of the reclining seat in front of you.  It has under-seat storage as well as overhead, so that’s a big bonus.  But best of all, row 6 boards right after first class, with all the Premier members and it is SUPER fast to get off the plane at the end of the flight.  I used it every single week (except that one time I gave it up to the nervous flyer woman).


  • Never use the busses in Denver.  RTD blows.  Just park in long-term parking for $5 per day and suffer the ignominy of poor public transport
  • Never use the public restrooms in SeaTac, anywhere, they are all nasty and almost NEVER have soap.  You’ll have to go before you leave for the airport or wait to use the can in your flying can.
  • Never use SeaTac’s “experienced traveler” security line unless you are in fact an experienced traveler.  You don’t want to draw the dirty glares of the business travelers who don’t want your fumbling in their line.  BTW, DIA please add this to your security areas, it’s so freaking smart.

Tips for Denver

  • Park in long term parking (Pikes Peak lot), row C4.  You can always get a spot, you walk right to the bus and it’s next stop is the airport (5 minutes from picking you up).  When you come back don’t ride the bus around the lot, just get off at the first stop (D1) and walk up the isle to C4, you’ll save 15 minutes easy
  • When you get to the airport get off at the United stop (the 1st one) no matter what airline you’re flying.  It’s way faster to walk thru the terminal than to ride the bus around while people exit at each stop.  If you don’t have checked bags then take a hard right from the bus and walk along the south windows of the terminal, it’ll take you straight to security without winding around at all.  VERY quick.
  • If the 1st security screening area looks full, just hoof-it at high speed to the north and go to the 2nd area.  It’s always a shorter line, but a longer walk, so don’t bother unless the 1st line is long.  If the 2nd line is dodgy you can then truck over the walkway to the A-gate security, which is fastest of all but a loooong walk from where you got off the bus.
  • Never eat in the main terminal, you’ll just end up getting hosed by unpredictable security lines.  Go through security and eat when you get out to the concourses.
  • When you get to the concourse if all you want is a snack or a juice (or most especially a bathroom) don’t bother hitting the places in the center.  Truck out to your gate, there are restrooms and snack places at each end of the concourses that have WAY shorter lines.
  • Sit on the port side of the plane when flying to Seattle, you’ll be on the Rainier view side!

Tips for Seattle

  • Ride the 194 bus, NOT the 174 which is much slower and, um, more… scenic
  • There is a great food court *after* security in the center of the main concourse (between B and C).  Eat there, not out near the planes (opposite of Denver, but this is because SeaTac put their good shops and food BEHIND security, this is key!
  • Avoid the bathrooms, they are sketchy.  In fact the restroom in the plane is a way better way to go, at least you’ll have soap and someone will have wiped it down in the last month.
  • SeaTac security is way faster than DIAs, perhaps because it’s a smaller airport or perhaps because they have their shit together, I don’t know.  But go to the southern most security point, it’s the fastest one by far.
  • Sit on the starboard side of the plane when flying to Denver, you’ll be on the Rainier view side!

How The Fat Kid Became Cool

•July 13, 2009 • 2 Comments

How The Fat Kid Became Cool

No, I’m not talking about Jared I’m talking about the iPhone.

Nearly 2 years ago now I met @thinguy on Twitter.  He was a fellow Sun employee and I soon learned of the double-entendre of his handle – he his a health conscious man working to keep himself fit (and keep those moobs off!), but he’s also an engineer on Sun’s awesome thin-client desktop – SunRay.

Years ago Sun’s then CEO, Scott McNealy proclaimed that Thin was In.  He foresaw a day when the PC would fade away and we’d return to the way computing started – big servers accessed by “dumb” terminals.   Sun built a modern thin-client that could handle today’s video and audio demands but all the heavy-lifting is done on big backend servers over a high speed network.  Login credentials are carried on a smart card (something you have) and paired with your password (something you know) – giving strong two factor authentication.  Your state is saved on the servers and you can unplug your SunRay card from one machine, walk across the campus or fly across the country (or world for that matter), plug into any other SunRay and poof, there’s your session just as you left it.  FANTASTIC.

Now it’s not perfect mind you, but it’s a great vision and a product line that gets stronger by the year.  It’s a great solution for governments, schools, libraries, and the like, but it was darn slick at a Fortune 500 company too.

Honestly I think computing is swinging towards Scott’s vision.  Cloud computing is gaining ground.  Some of the best (or at least most popular) apps out there aren’t installed on your desktop, rather they run on the web (Gmail, Google Calendar, Facebook, Mint, Hulu ) and in many cases even your data doesn’t reside on your machine (FlickrYouTube, GoogleDocs, blip.tv).   These compute engines, apps, and data stores mean that your machine can be simpler and simpler – the popularity of teeny-tiny “Netbooks” is proof of that…

But at the same time that computers are getting thinner and thinner something odd is happening in the cell phone space.  Sun’s current CEO is fond of saying (and he’s right) that more people will experience the Internet via their phone than via a computer.  With each passing day that becomes a stronger reality.  Cell phones are cheap, small, portable, don’t require tethered electricity nor a complex wi-fi infrastructure.  They too can do chat, email, photos, music, and video, and with web access they make a suitable substitute for the computer.  Up to now most phones were built with a simple OS and lightweight apps, often written in Java.  Content providers often made stripped down light-weight versions of their sites for mobile devices, the so called m-dot sites (m.cnn.com) Then came the iPhone.

Apple changed everything with the iPhone.  They produced a beautiful, cool, and feature filled device.  It provides a great user experience and it’s sex appeal made it THE device to have.  Then Apple released their developer kit and introduced the iTunes App Store – they used the success of the iTunes model to monetize applications and people are writing and buying them by the thousands!  Now the phone has a big fat complex OS and people are filling their phones with stand-alone apps, installed locally on the device.  People aren’t using m.websites, instead they are using Twitter apps, Ebay apps, Amazon apps, there’s an iPhone app for everything, EVERYTHING.

Apple’s iPhone is a fat little bastard (I mean that in the most endearing sense of the word!) and he’s the darling of the world.  Fat is cool baby, Fat is where it’s at!  And as more and more people rush to join the iPhone app gold-rush he will just keep getting fatter.  (And watch for his little fat buddy: Palm Pre)

But what of my skinny little phone?  My thin OS and m.twitter.com experience?  My “you can’t view nhl.com cuz you haz no flash”?  My “I can’t buy you a mother’s day gift cuz my phone don’t go there”?  I’m sooooo not cool and I’ll never get another date with this thin phone weighing me down.  If thin is in for the desktop, why not take the Web2.0 meme to the mobile space?  m.websites don’t need to suck, make ’em cool, make ’em slick, make ’em work with my lean OS.  Trouble is, the cheese has moved for the phone space and Thin is NOT where it’s at.  As SIR-MIX-A-LOT knows, even white boys got to shout iPhone got back!

AlaskaAir Aviation Geek Night

•July 6, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A Night With @AlaskaAir

This week I had a unique and truly awesome experience thanks to the good people behind @AlaskaAir’s twitter presence (Most specifically Elliot).  I was one of 12 people chosen to participate in Alaska Airlines Aviation Geek Night!  We went out to their Seattle flight operations center -the training center for pilots and flight crew.

Our night began with some traditional “in flight snacks” of peanuts, pretzels and and a selection of Jones Sodas while we watched a nice promo video on Alaska Air’s customer service culture.  Marketing hoo-haa you say?  Perhaps, but I can tell you that the flights I’ve been on have lived up to the image they portray in the video.

Then we split into small groups for the big fat geeky fun part of the night.  The first activity for me was flying their multi-million dollar 737 flight simulator.  This thing is so realistic that the pilots train exclusively in it… the first time they fly an actual plane it’s full of passengers!


One of my compatriots @imperfectsense videoed my landing on her iPhone (watch it here). It looks worse than it was, honestly, but I did hit pretty hard.  She called out that it felt like a carrier deck landing, and I think I flatted a tire, but hey I got it down in one piece!  🙂   I flew it all the way in on manual, didn’t use the autopilot at all, so I was pretty proud of that – lining up on the runway was the toughest part IMO.   Actually, harder than landing was driving the plane across the tarmac!  Holy cats!  You steer with your feet (one pedal for each) and you break with your toes, plus there’s a little hand wheel near your left hip that’s VERY touchy.  I about got motion sick from that part of the simulation.  Once I was stopped at the gate the trainer told me to do the “Airplane (movie) thing” and drive the plane through the terminal, which was quite honestly creepy, that simulator is so realistic that both the co-pilot and I winced as the wall of the building approached!

After having fun in the sim we went off to flight attendant training.  Our first order of business was to learn to put out an airplane fire.  They had a little computer controlled fireplace and a big cart full of extinguishers and turned us loose one at a time to put out a fire.  After watching us bumble they gave us some training and had us try again.  The first time very few people got the fire out, after the training most of us got it in under 10 seconds.

13910394 Next up we boarded the plane and got a “crash course” (HA!) in removing airplane over-wing doors. Each of us getting a chance to try both the older style (aka “classic door”) and the new spring-assisted ones (soooo much easier).  We then learned how to open the main forward doors and once the emergency slide inflated we got to evac the plane.  SUHWEEEEEET!   I had so much fun that I went back and did the slide again!   We also learned the proper technique of exiting the wing without a slide – a process that requires the pilot to put the flaps down and you to sit on the wing and slide off the side about 15 feet above the ground.  FUN!

We learned about the kind of safety, self defense, and first responder training that the flight crew goes through.  If you ever thought of them as in-flight waiters and waitresses – then stop it, these guys and gals are hard core!

We ended the evening with a sharing of photos, stories, and videos before heading back into the real world, each of us a bit more confident as travelers and a bit more impressed by the men and women who haul our privileged butts from one end of the globe to the other.

Thanks so much to Elliot, our hosts, pilots, flight crew, and everyone at @AlaskaAir that made this happen.  I had a great time!

Certificate of Geekiness

P.S. To see what the other attendees thought, check out the #ASAGN twitter stream and the photos from the Seattle Social Media Club.

Late breaking news – I was quoted twice in Harriet Baskas’ MSNBC.com story about her experiences at ASAGN.  Thanks Harriet for the nod!  🙂

Harriet Baskas writes msnbc.com’s popular weekly column, The Well-Mannered Traveler. She is the author of the “Stuck at the Airport” blog, a contributor to National Public Radio and a columnist for USATODAY.com.

Comcast Cares? I beg to differ!

•July 3, 2009 • 8 Comments

My name is Brian Herman, and I hate Comcast

Here’s my Comcast customer (dis)service experience for the week.   I’m new to Comcast, I’ve only had my account about 7 weeks.


I arrive home late and find my internet is down, I turn on the TV and it’s dead too.  I call Comcast support and fairly quickly end up connected with a nice guy who tries to help fix my problem remotely.  He’s VERY friendly and chatty.  He recognizes that my cell phone area code is Colorado and talks to me about his friends in Denver, he sees my street address in Seattle and tells me how much he loves the Queen Anne area.   When he can’t fix my problem remotely he sets me up a service appointment for 10-2 the next day.  Sadly he can’t move it further forward and that means my wife is going to lose her morning waiting for service, but I understand.  Then, without prompting he offers to comp me for 3 days of “down service”.  Overall this is an awesome experience, I’m pretty impressed with them (admittedly my expectations were low based on what I’d heard from other Comcast customers)

But here’s where it all goes south.  I explain to him that I have to be in meetings at work all day on Thursday and that my wife is in town for the week.  I ask that they have the technician call her number in the morning to get access to the apartment.

Looking back at it I now realize that the “3 free days of service” should have been setting my expectations for how long it would take to come fix my problem!


I’m in the middle of a meeting with my VP when my phone rings.   I ignore it.

15 minutes later it rings again.  I ignore it again.

90 minutes later I am between meetings and check my messages… I have 2 calls from Comcast, the first saying they are at my apartment and the 2nd saying they are giving up and moving on to their next customer. !$%@#$!

I text my wife, who proceeds to spend the bulk of her afternoon on the phone trying to get these bastards back to the apartment, they will not help her.  The best they can do is noon-4p on Friday.

At 4:30 I’m between meetings again and I call Comcast and lay into them.  This was their mistake, in fact the agent admits that the correct number to call (Sandy’s) is right there in the work order).  I tell them I want a supervisor to call my wife’s phone and make this right.  This process took 15 minutes and made me late to an interview with a potential new-hire, NOT a cool experience.

A supervisor does call Sandy, she offers to get her into the morning slot (8a-noon) but will NOT assure her that we are a priority and will get the first slot of the day, promptly at 8a.  Sandy really pushes but they will not commit.

The agent says to Sandy “I’ve already comp’ed you a week of free service, what else do you want from me?”   I’ll tell you what want you twit,  I’m paying for a service, it’s the service I want, not the money.   I don’t need a service discounted, if I didn’t want to spend money on cable and Internet then I would not have signed up. After Sandy spent her entire day sitting in my apartment with no internet, no tv, and unable to go enjoy her day and take care of the errands she’s in town today, a few $$ off the bill isn’t going to make things right.  What I want at this point is I wan’t my !$%@^ time back!

That night I needed to check-in for our flight back to Colorado.  Without internet access I went and sat on the dirty stairs in a parking lot a few blocks away where I could pick up a free wi-fi signal and get checked in.


Today is our last day in Seattle.  We are planning to do some shopping and go hang out at the beach before leaving for the airport at 2:30.   I’ll be in Colorado all next week and when I return I want my internet and cable working.  I particularly

At 8:05 my phone isn’t ringing, my doorbell isn’t ringing and I call Comcast.  The automated system tells me that I am scheduled for service between Noon and 4, not 8 and noon as promised by the supervisor last night!  !@#%!$#^!

After a long hold time I speak to an agent (Gwen) who says she can not help me but will put me through to a supervisor.  After 18 minutes on hold the call gets dropped.

I call back in and after 8 minutes on hold the next agent (Allison) says the supervisor lines are all very busy (gee can’t f*ing imagine why) and she will put me in the call back queue.

15 min later…

30 min later…

45 min later, I call back.  Another 15 minutes on hold and I’m talking to the supervisor (Marlana) finally.  I tell her my story including the now-60 minutes waiting for a call-back and she says (I wouldn’t make this up) “Wow, I’m surprised by that because I’ve not been all that busy this morning.”   Which tells me that freaking Allison didn’t put me on any damn call-back list at all.

Marlana explains to me that Comcast’s priority is always “no-dial-tone” problems and that the ENTIRE tech crew has been working the ENTIRE morning on nothing but that.  Seriously.

Now I’m a reasonable person and I get that Aunt Mabel having no phone is a bigger deal (health and safety) than me having TV.  On the other hand, broadband *IS* my dialtone, it’s how the world reaches me and vice versa.  And I’ve been down for 2 days and getting hosed by Comcast, so you’d think that would move me up the priority list a bit.  You’d be wrong.

Marlana can not possibly help me this morning, 12-2 is the best she can do.  Now I explain how I’m leaving the state for a week promptly at 2p and they must get there around 12 and get this sorted.  She assures me that she’ll keep an eye on dispatch and make sure that I’m taken care of.

She gives me her extension so I can work with her directly (a nice touch) but when I ask what number to call so I can dial the extension (cuz that’s not an option on 1-800-comcast) she says “oh, you have to call the usual number and wait for a customer service agent, then tell that person to IM me and to put you through to my extension. (that’s not so helpful).   I wonder if this is the process her husband has to use when he calls to see what time she’ll be home for dinner?  I’m thinking no.


12:30 – guess who hasn’t shown up or called?   I call the number, I ask for Marlana’s extension, I am hold for 17 total minutes before I am connected.  She talks to dispatch and tells me “everyone is still busy, but you’re next up for whomever comes free first”.

1:50 – I call again… I speak to a support agent and ask her to IM Marlana and put me through to her extension.

1:52 – while I’m on hold the tech calls me and says he’s just finished his job and can be to my house in 15 minutes.  I tell him I need to leave at 2:20 PROMPTLY or I miss my plane.  He starts driving and asks me to describe the problem.  I tell him what’s happened and the troubleshooting I’ve done he says “well the problem clearly isn’t in your house, something’s wrong at the connection box”.  Well DUH, that’s what I’ve been saying for 2 days…

While I was on the line with him the operator on the other line disconnects with me.  I do not get a call back from her nor from Marlana despite the fact that I’ve been told twice in the last 2 days that “any time we lose contact with a customer on hold we call them back”.  Nice.

2:10 – the technician shows up. He asks how my day is.  I tell him “It sucks, but that’s not your fault.”  He replies “I appreciate you saying so, you’d be surprised how many people yell at me!”  I’m thinking to myself “no, I’m really not surprised at all”.  Poor guy, it’s not his fault, he’s just a hard working tech, he’s not manning the phones.

2:12 – He heads to the junction box in our building, it’s in an unsecured room and it isn’t locked shut, nor is there a “trap on it to keep people from messing with it”.   My cable is dangling from the wall; someone disconnected it.  He screws it on and my cable is working in less than 2 minutes.

2:20 – I leave for my bus.

At this point my wife has been in waiting in and around my apartment for 14 hours and I have been there for 6 waiting for Comcast – that’s 20 person hours.  Between us we spent over 300 minutes of cell phone time calling and waiting on hold.  All so that a guy could walk into an unlocked room, open an unlocked box and screw a cable onto a connector.  If *ANY-FREAKING-ONE* at Comcast had done their job right, had taken just 10 seconds to do things properly, none of this would have happened.  Let me recap.

  • 7 weeks ago, random tech doesn’t install a trap on my line when he hooks it up
  • unknown date: Random cable tech doesn’t lock the cable box when done working on it
  • unknown date: Random cable tech doesn’t lock the room when leaving
  • 2 days ago someone goes into room and unhooks my cable either maliciously or mistakenly
  • Tech arrives at my house but calls wrong number, twice, despite the fact that the number was listed in the work order (I made the customer service agent read it back to me)
  • Supervisor promises morning service Friday morning but doesn’t update our appointment in the system
  • Twice I was disconnected while on hold with support, I did not get called back.
  • Customer Service agent won’t wait on hold with me for a supervisor, offers to put me in the “supervisor call-back” queue and promises I won’t lose my place in line, yet an hour later the haven’t called me back and the supervisor I speak with tells me she hasn’t been that busy.

Now, I would drop Comcast immediately but there’s just one little flaw in my desire… THEY ARE A MONOPOLY.  I could drop them for cable and go with one of the dish providers but what would I do for broadband?  I could go with Qwest DSL I suppose… choosing between Qwest and Comcast is like choosing between Malaria and Cholera… gee which one should I pick?

Comcast, if you ever wondered why people hate you, it’s because every single person I’ve told this story to has told me “yup, that’s happened to me before too”.  This isn’t an isolated experience, it’s a common one.

I recommend you take some of your massive advertising budget and spend it on hiring and training good customer service people.   Having @ComcastCares on Twitter is not gonna get it done.  You need to take a lesson from a company that doesn’t suck at Customer Service and make some real changes over there.


– Brian Herman

Unhappy Comcast Customer of just 7 weeks  (I wonder how the next 7 weeks will go)

PS:  this entire blog post was written while on hold with Comcast on Friday morning – except for the final bits which of course happened after the problem was resolved.  The upside is that I didn’t waste any additional time preparing my rant, they gave me plenty of free time to do it.  Further note, all images used were found on line, I had no trouble finding unhappy customers to link up with, no photoshop work required!