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Unpaid Contributors Provide Corporate Tech Support 221

Posted by kdawson
from the and-when-you're-done-there's-this-fence-to-paint dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times writes about Justin McMurry of Keller, TX, who spends up to 20 unpaid hours per week helping Verizon customers with high-speed fiber optic Internet, television and telephone service. McMurry is part of an emerging corps of Web-savvy helpers that large corporations, start-up companies, and venture capitalists are betting will transform the field of customer service. Such enthusiasts are known as lead users, or super-users, and their role in contributing innovations to product development and improvement — often selflessly — has been closely researched in recent years. These unpaid contributors, it seems, are motivated mainly by a payoff in enjoyment and respect among their peers. 'You have to make an environment that attracts the Justin McMurrys of the world, because that's where the magic happens,' says Mark Studness, director of e-commerce at Verizon. The mentality of super-users in online customer-service communities is similar to that of devout gamers, according to Lyle Fong, co-founder of Lithium Technologies whose web site advertises that a vibrant community can easily save a company millions of dollars per year in deflected support calls' and whose current roster of 125 clients includes AT&T, BT, iRobot, Linksys, Best Buy, and Nintendo. Lithium's customer service sites for companies offer elaborate rating systems for contributors, with ranks, badges and kudos counts. 'That alone is addictive,' says Fong. 'They are revered by their peers.' Meanwhile McMurry, who is 68 and a retired software engineer, continues supplying answers by the bushel, all at no pay. 'People seem to like most of what I say online, and I like doing it.'"
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Unpaid Contributors Provide Corporate Tech Support

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  • just great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tyler.willard (944724) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:20AM (#27728441)

    1) Tap into old school hacker community mentality.
    2) Rely on good people to do your large organizations work for free.
    3) Degrade your own service.
    4) Profit!

    Of course peolpe helping each other and a solid community are great, but in the context of this happening in lieu of large for-profit organizations providing quality service? I think not.

    Seeing how they point out how this can save them millions of dollars leaves me nonplussed.

    • Re:just great (Score:5, Insightful)

      by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:23AM (#27728471)
      What I want to know is, what are the limits? If I find a way to improve service (say, lifting a bandwidth cap), would they still be supportive and boastful? Or would I go from volunteer tech support status to dangerous hacker criminal?
      • Re:just great (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MrNaz (730548) * on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:48AM (#27728623) Homepage

        The bigger issue I see is that big companies are all for P2P activity when users are supplying each other with products / services that compliment the company's revenue streams, but against P2P when they trade anything that reduces those revenue streams.

        I'd have no problem with this, if there was anything other than a "Thanks for saving us a million dollars. Here's a gold star." being offered to those users who offer said support. If companies are so adamant to protect their pound of flesh from P2P, how about we demand a little evenhandedness from them and demand they somehow remunerate these so-called super users.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by beadfulthings (975812)

        There's one thing I think you could rely on:

        If you (or more accurately the perception of you) shift from dedicated volunteer status to "dangerous hacker criminal" status, the company involved would cut you loose or turn you in with no compunctions at all--and find another volunteer. They don't have any "skin" in the game and therefore have nothing to lose.

        • by sukotto (122876)

          AOL did this back in the day as well. It's a small step from "I'm an unpaid volunteer helper" to "You owe me a salary for all the hours I work for you!".

      • by Jurily (900488)

        What I want to know is, what are the limits? If I find a way to improve service (say, lifting a bandwidth cap), would they still be supportive and boastful? Or would I go from volunteer tech support status to dangerous hacker criminal?

        You think improving their service is something they would want? They'd have already done that.

        Also, I wonder how long these lead users will continue to do their thing once they find out they're being used like this.

      • Re:just great (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gad_zuki! (70830) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:27AM (#27729693)

        There's a Linksys cable modem I know of that has a recent firmware, and by recent I mean last year or so. Linksys wont release the firmware as they expect only the cable companies to do so. The cable companies only release it to people who bought their cable modems from them directly. So there are thousands of people putting up with bugs because they bought their modem retail and have no legitimate access to the updated firmware.

        What if I pulled this firmware from a cable company owned modem and wrote these people a simple installer? Would the company sing my praises then?

        The real issue here is that people frequent web boards for support because the paid phone support they get is beyond worthless. Level 1 people just read scripts and level 2 or 3 people cant release firmwares because of moronic policies. No wonder people are helping themselves. These companies should be ashamed of providing service on such a low level, not happy that someone has taken up the slack for them.

    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      Taco should remove the karma cap for your post there. If anything deserves a +10 insightful, that is it.

      Personally, I can't see doing that for a company, they are there to make a profit, in most cases, they don't care about the customer (or, more precisely, consumer) except as a source of money.

      While, I like the products/service of *one* company on that list, the fact that people willingly help out with some of the others, disturbs me. One company on that list had the WORST customer service I've ever had (b

      • Seriously, it's capitalism, let the companies stand/fall on their own merits, if you help them, then they should pay you, and if you don't, then all you are promoting is communism, except with corporations in charge, instead of government.

        Heh - here I thought that it was this radical new concept called "free will", wherein I and others can choose how we want to spend our time. Sometimes it can be gratifying to help the people who need the help - regardless of which company it is that's failing to meet their needs.

        • by ByOhTek (1181381)

          aye, but it ecourages people to spend money on a company producing an inferior product, if they get better support for it. Not necessarily a good thing, especially if it makes it harder on a company that produces a better product.

    • by plopez (54068)

      I was going to say "20 unpaid hours a week. sounds like many of my former IT jobs". Your post summed it up nicely.

    • 1) Tap into old school hacker community mentality.
      2) Rely on good people to do your large organizations work for free.
      3) Degrade your own service.
      4) Profit!

      Of course peolpe helping each other and a solid community are great, but in the context of this happening in lieu of large for-profit organizations providing quality service? I think not.

      Yeah, that pisses me off. I think it's great when a company creates a good enough product that a hacker fanbase can grow up around it but when it's obvious that they're underfunding support just to make a buck, it makes me see red.

      I think it's far more reasonable if a for-profit sets up the community tools and does things to compensate the volunteers for their time. Let them get in on early betas, let them talk to the developers, get the warm fuzzies going on. But most corporate types don't think this way.

    • Seeing how they point out how this can save them millions of dollars leaves me nonplussed.

      I think it's great that this is getting noticed, and quantified in monetary terms.

      Take, for instance, Verizon, who produces crippleware products by the bucketload, which would tend to disinterest these kinds of superusers. Now compare them to an Android platform supporting company... I'm thrilled that the Android loving corporations are getting a free boost from the user community.

    • by Atrox666 (957601)

      Reminds me of the old school BBS scene.
      I used to maintain BBS lists, trouble shoot people's connection issues, teach them how to use the technology.
      I ran a couple of BBSes and co-sysoped a few more.
      Eventually I even helped give out free basic internet e-mail and worked on community projects.
      Then the corporate/government parasites moved in.
      Now I'm capped, throttled and spied on.
      I get no credit or money for my contribution only the people who ruined it get paid.

      Great system..I'll be sure to be ever so helpful

    • by sorak (246725)

      1) Tap into old school hacker community mentality.
      2) Rely on good people to do your large organizations work for free.
      3) Degrade your own service.
      4) Profit!

      Of course peolpe helping each other and a solid community are great, but in the context of this happening in lieu of large for-profit organizations providing quality service? I think not.

      Seeing how they point out how this can save them millions of dollars leaves me nonplussed.

      So, is this open source tech support?

      This brings up a significant question: The FOSS community relies on a similar approach both to software development and documentation. If it is ok for a company to rely on the community for software development, then is it that different for them to cultivate a similar phenomena for tech support?

  • by XPeter (1429763) * on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:22AM (#27728459) Homepage

    Now whenever a family member or friend asks me to fix their internet, I can have them give this guy a call instead of making excuses for myself.

  • by OzPeter (195038) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:22AM (#27728463)
    News at 11
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:31AM (#27728513)
      People who know their shit can help others

      Very true. Conversely, people who think they know their shit, but in fact don't, can be a major detriment. And we know that there are a whole lot of them around.
      • Conversely, people who think they know their shit, but in fact don't, can be a major detriment. And we know that there are a whole lot of them around.

        Usually these people become self evident pretty quickly, some poor fool will follow their flawed advice for awhile, but not long because it just doesn't work.

        The dangerous ones are the ones that almost get it right, leaving security holes or other latent defects - sadly, even this state of functionality is usually better than what the mega-corp drones can achieve.

    • by necro81 (917438)
      Why would someone want to know more about someone else's shit? Are they gastroenterologists?
  • Exploited by ego (Score:5, Informative)

    by clang_jangle (975789) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:22AM (#27728465) Journal
    Sounds like these guys are just being exploited by their own egos. Though surely they fill a niche and are appreciated by other users, what with the sorry state of "tech support" Verizon and other big corps maintain. I never call tech support anymore except as a dead-last resort, because if I can't figure it out there's hardly any chance some minimum wage boob with a script is going to help me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ericspinder (146776)

      Sounds like these guys are just being exploited by their own egos.

      Perhaps, but I suspect that there are a couple of different personality types at play here. Some are clearly looking for experience they couldn't get. Hoping that eventually being paid for the work. While for most in the IT industry tech support seems like a lousy gig, to someone pushing food (or cleaning it up), a $14/hour tech support job would seem like a fortune. It's not unusual for people to use unpaid 'jobs' (internships, candy strippers, fund raising, etc) to gain experience in a field. However

      • candy strippers

        Woohoo, now you're talkin'! Oh baby, unwrap that Almond Joy, take your time noww...
        No but seriously, you do raise some interesting points.

    • Re:Exploited by ego (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cdrudge (68377) on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:29AM (#27728911) Homepage

      Sounds like these guys are just being exploited by their own egos.

      Says the person with a +5 Informative comment. Why did you post something that might be so informative to others? I bet it was your ego that made you post.

      A few years ago I was made a MVM [dslreports.com] (Much Valued Member) over a DSLReports.com/BroadbandReports.com for my contributions to several of the forums I frequented. I'm approaching close to 9k posts there, a high majority of them in response to other peoples technical questions. I never have received any compensation for my time spend on the site other then a little tag that shows up next to my name and the occasional kudos someone might send. It did give me a big of a "warm fuzzy" when I learned that I became a MVM, and it is appreciated when someone says "Thanks, you helped me out" or "Thanks for the explanation".

      I guess you can call it ego, but I'd say it's just people that want to help others and have the time to do so. If that help turns into a power trip though, then it become egotistical.

      • I have a solid enough rep here. Yea, I'm a bit chattery, but under 25 troll posts vs some 500 ModUp ones.

        This another facet of the news corps moaning that their journalist can't smash out 5 paragraphs of filler from their files anymore.

        The reason why is Nouns.

        (Grandpa Simpson) Wwweeey Back in MAAH day when you ran up against some Whippersnapper with a goshdurned fanangled new thingimajig, boy he sure was smart. (/Grandpa Simpson)

        But Search+NewbieAnswer will answer the first round of almost anything - say, t

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Ironica (124657)

        Sounds like these guys are just being exploited by their own egos.

        Says the person with a +5 Informative comment. Why did you post something that might be so informative to others? I bet it was your ego that made you post.

        A few years ago I was made a MVM [dslreports.com] (Much Valued Member) over a DSLReports.com/BroadbandReports.com for my contributions to several of the forums I frequented. I'm approaching close to 9k posts there, a high majority of them in response to other peoples technical questions. I never have received any compensation for my time spend on the site other then a little tag that shows up next to my name and the occasional kudos someone might send. It did give me a big of a "warm fuzzy" when I learned that I became a MVM, and it is appreciated when someone says "Thanks, you helped me out" or "Thanks for the explanation".

        I guess you can call it ego, but I'd say it's just people that want to help others and have the time to do so. If that help turns into a power trip though, then it become egotistical.

        dslreports.com is a user community, though. Their revenue comes not from selling connectivity, but from ads from traffic to the site. Sure, it's about ego, and posters like you do help them generate revenue... but they never set out to sell a service.

        Verizon, though? It's their JOB to give people communications connections that work. Part of that is support. People are, theoretically, paying for support when they pay for their connection... they're not paying a lower price for crappy support. And then

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by averner (1341263)
      Sometimes you need the "minimum wage boob with a script" to push a couple buttons on their side that you can't access unless you use illegal cracking methods.
    • I might help a small company like that or maybe I might help a person that is having the same trouble that I had and are dealing with a company that just will not help them. It's hard for me not to give an answer someone seeks, if I know it, but 20 hours a week for Verizon, NO WAY.

      Goddamn, I really hate Verizon now for even wasting their time and money studying such a thing when they should provide better customer support in the first place.

      When are companies going to figure out that customers are their onl

    • Sounds like these guys are just being exploited by their own egos. Though surely they fill a niche and are appreciated by other users, what with the sorry state of "tech support" Verizon and other big corps maintain. I never call tech support anymore except as a dead-last resort, because if I can't figure it out there's hardly any chance some minimum wage boob with a script is going to help me.

      Cool thing about the internet is that it only takes a few people who know what's what to inform the whole planet. So, even if these people are one in 10 million, they can still be a major global force in the arena they play in.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:24AM (#27728479)

    Is this guys time worth nothing?
    Yeah we've all been there as the angel tech support person. Problem is what when you get burned out of answering the same stupid question again and again, you'll quit doing it unless there's some incentive. I answered 20 or so tech questions on yahoo answers because I was bored, but that was short lived... I probably won't go back for another 6 months. Now, pay me something reasonable and I would go back every night.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by gEvil (beta) (945888)
      I answered 20 or so tech questions on yahoo answers because I was bored, but that was short lived...

      So how is babby formed?
    • by getuid() (1305889) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:55AM (#27728675) Homepage

      Because then quality of tech support will go back to where it was: low.

      There are several articles out there that cover the topic of how material/financial motivation actually diminishes the quality of work instead of increasing it when compared to an intrinsic motivation alone. I'm not going to cite them all. Look them up, if you want to, google's your friend.

      Given the above statement, I'm only going to give some food for further thought: the people doing tech-support "for free" right now are those who enjoy it. They are those who both like and understand what they are doing. Now, if you have a problem, chances are slim that somebody not paid for it will be intrinsically motivated to help you, but *if* that happens, then that person is just about the best one in the world you could have ended up with...

      Now, if you would be able to give money for tech support to that person, that would probably not do too much harm. But the problem is that you have no way of giving money 'only to intrinsically motivated persons' -- the moment you're paying somebody, they're not (purely) intrinsically motivated, period. Worse: you cannot even tell whether the next guy is going to help you for the money in the first place.

      While it would be a good thing to be able to reward the 'selfless' ones, the problem is that as soon as you start rewarding, you start poisoning a 'selfless' community with 'selfish' people, who are out for the money, and thus you basically end up where you are today: to tech support that sucks.

      Since I'm at it: why desperately try to pay back those people, who are obviously rather content with *not* being paid? Why fix it, if it's not broken? Is it because you're somehow feeling guilty that somebody is solving your problems, and you wish return the favor? Well, if you genuinely want to return the favor: help somebody yourself. They'll appreciate it, and eventually, they'll also help somebody else, in the end *maybe* reaching your original helper (the one you were trying to reward, remember? :)

      But even if your original helper won't feel the traces of your good deeds: I can assure you, if you're helping somebody without expecting to get a reward, it will enable you to be able to accept help from somebody without feeling the urgent need to reward the helper with anything beyond a "thank you" :-) You're going to be happy, the original helper was happy all along, and other people along the way got happy too.

      One. Big. Happy. Family. :-)

      Why desperately trying to bring money to the game?

      • Now, if you have a problem, chances are slim that somebody not paid for it will be intrinsically motivated to help you, but *if* that happens, then that person is just about the best one in the world you could have ended up with...

        This is a great point. And if people *enjoy* giving free tech support, why try to stop them? Don't any of you enjoy answering questions on Stackoverflow?

        All the comments about "don't give free labor to a company" make sense if you have a beef against that company. And of course if

    • by D Ninja (825055) on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:25AM (#27728889)

      Is this guys time worth nothing?

      No. It's definitely worth something. Look at the guy we're talking about though - he's 68. This means he's retired, maybe unmarried/widowed, and he's probably bored out of his mind. Maybe he doesn't need the money, so he wants to have SOMETHING to do to the point he'll do it for free. (In fact, having something to do probably is his pay/reward in his eyes.)

      There was a gentleman I knew when I used to work in retail quite some time ago. He was 65 and was working a minimum wage job in retail. He had been a VP at some company and had received a very good salary. I once asked him why he bothered with the job he was in now, and his response: "It's better than sitting around in front of the TV and letting my brain and body rot away."

      Some things are more important than money...

      • by MadUndergrad (950779) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:47AM (#27730011)

        "Brooks ain't no bug. He's just... he's just institutionalized."

                "The man's been in here fifty years, Haywood. Fifty years. This is all he knows. In here, he's an important man. He's an educated man. Outside, he's nothin'. Just a used up con with arthritis in both hands. He probably can't even get a Library Card if he tried. You know what I'm trying to say."

                "I'm telling ya, these walls are funny. First, ya hate 'em. Then ya get used to 'em. Enough time passes, ya get so you depend on 'em. That's institutionalized."

      • by Ritchie70 (860516)

        Umm, 68 isn't really that old. It's just right about retirement age.

        His wife, if any, is probably still alive - but some time apart from each other each day is probably welcome. My grandpa mowed his yard and our yard a LOT - he was probably mowing 3 or 4 times a week between the two yards. Wasn't because he thought it needed it.

        Lots of retired people have hobbies. Why can't this guy's hobby be helping other people figure out technology? Maybe he doesn't like golfing.

        I work in IT. A lot of the guys talk abou

      • Look at the guy we're talking about though - he's 68. This means he's retired, maybe unmarried/widowed, and he's probably bored out of his mind.

        So why isn't he out picking up chicks? Oh, wait - he's still living in his mom's basement.

    • So how long before this runs afoul of some law or politician looking for revenue.

      Obviously the time has value, as such it helps a company, as such profits should therefor increase along with.... taxes

      So didn't AOL get whacked for using volunteers? Especially when some wanted something after all those years?

    • Is this guys time worth nothing? Yeah we've all been there as the angel tech support person. Problem is what when you get burned out of answering the same stupid question again and again, you'll quit doing it unless there's some incentive. I answered 20 or so tech questions on yahoo answers because I was bored, but that was short lived... I probably won't go back for another 6 months. Now, pay me something reasonable and I would go back every night.

      Yeah, but those 20 answers are are the gift that keeps on giving, because people can search and find them. (until the tech that they are talking about is obsolete, which is about 6 months for so much of what people play with these days)

  • by viralMeme (1461143) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:25AM (#27728483)
    "The NY Times writes about Justin McMurry of Keller, TX, who spends up to 20 unpaid hours per week helping Verizon customers"

    No way should you ever do this. If it's worth doing then it's worth getting paid for doing it. And for each McMurry out there there is one less paid job at Verizon. Same with friends or neighbours. I'll fix their PC, but only if they pay me.
    • No way should you ever do this. If it's worth doing then it's worth getting paid for doing it. And for each McMurry out there there is one less paid job at Verizon.

      Exactly! I've heard there are even idiots who will write and support entire computer programs for free! No wonder we're in an economic crisis...

      • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:39AM (#27728567)
        Exactly! I've heard there are even idiots who will write and support entire computer programs for free! No wonder we're in an economic crisis...

        I'm calling bullshit on that one! That's just another one of those internet rumors...
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Open source is different because the result belongs to the people who do the work. If a company profits, for example by selling extended versions or professional support, then it usually also contributes to the community version, so the situation benefits both sides.

        People should never support commercial activities without adequate reciprocation.

        • I think GP was more aiming at the "don't sell software, sell services and support" thing.

          Difficult to 'sell support' if your enthusiastic users are providing it for free to the other users.

          Unless, of course, your project's big, popular even with corporations, etc. Then you can sell because a manager will throw money at you rather than have his underlings 'waste time' trolling forums for the exact same answers;
          http://www.ubuntu.com/support/paid [ubuntu.com]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rpillala (583965)

        I actually see both your point and the GP point. I'm with you as long as someone else isn't making money off my free labor. If they make more money because of my work, then it stands to reason that I ought to also. I'm happy helping people with free products because no one else is making money from my labor.

      • by DesScorp (410532)

        No way should you ever do this. If it's worth doing then it's worth getting paid for doing it. And for each McMurry out there there is one less paid job at Verizon.

        Exactly! I've heard there are even idiots who will write and support entire computer programs for free! No wonder we're in an economic crisis...

        Linus Torvalds got people to help him with Linux because they wanted a Unix of their own, more or less. That's a rational reason for a productive use of time. This fool in the article is just working for a corporation for free. There is a difference.

        You do bring up an interesting point though. Some companies both mocked and admired IBM for convincing legions of Linux coders to essentially write code for IBM, gratis. "Free as in working for IBM without getting paid" was the refrain. And they had a point. At

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Halo1 (136547)

          That's a rational reason for a productive use of time. This fool in the article is just working for a corporation for free. There is a difference.

          He's working for other users for free, and enjoying it. Sure, it also benefits a corporation, but so what? I really don't see what's so foolish about it. What is wrong with doing something you like, purely for fun/gratification, and not fretting about whether it may benefit someone else as well (financially or otherwise)?

      • I was - and I am - the "tech support" person that my family, relatives and friends often ask for assistance - we've all been there. However, what cured me of this was realizing how much shit I'll have to endure. People make stupid choices, and then insist that someone should - unpaid - correct their problems for them. Trying to explain something in proper detail will get you nowhere. At best, you'll correct the problem by saying "take it to the computer repair shop", as in the case of obvious motherboard/ha

    • by Erikderzweite (1146485) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:51AM (#27728643)

      Come on, what's so bad in helping others if you have knowledge and, most important, time? That's how a society works, people help people. Sure, there will be some random asshole now and then who'll exploit others willingness to help, but that still doesn't mean that helping others is a bad thing.
      You can't defy help only for questionable job security nor can you rely only on the money to build a society upon -- at the end of the day everyone might need some help.
      One cannot compare paid support to enthusiasts directly -- the latter often provide better help and insights but may refuse to help you at all if you can't behave yourself or if you demand help in a rude way. Thumbs rule is the same as with Linux forums/mailing lists -- do at least basic search before you start asking and think before you write. Enthusiasts love to solve problems, but they hate repeating the same shit over and over.
      As for creating a community -- the company has to be either very open or extremely popular.

      P.S. I don't repair neighbours/friends Windows PC's too, not even if they offer me to pay for it -- it's the same boring routine over and over. I do offer Linux installation and support for no charge case they want to check it out.

      • by ErikZ (55491) *

        Because you're protecting Verizon from the flaws in their system.

        What is supposed to happen, is that their customers don't get good service. Then Verizon either fixes the problem, or the customers go somewhere else.

        But if you leap into that process and start helping out for free, then Verizon never changes.

      • "Have you got a lot of friends ?", April 27, @02:11PM #27728771

        Ok, so tell us how many of your 'friends' would stop being your 'friend' if you stopped providing free tech support. What they are saying, when they want you to fix their computer for free - is that your time is worthless !

        "Come on, what's so bad in helping others if you have knowledge and, most important, time? That's how a society works, people help people"

        Sure people like to help people, so tell us how many of your acquientences woul
    • by ArcadeNut (85398)

      No way should you ever do this. If it's worth doing then it's worth getting paid for doing it.

      Then please explain the success behind FOSS. There are people out there putting in way more then 20 hours a week on FOSS and not getting paid a dime....

  • by Guido del Confuso (80037) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:26AM (#27728485)

    ...says Mark Studness, director of e-commerce at Verizon.

    Is that his real name or his porn name?

  • Cost Savings (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:38AM (#27728555)

    a vibrant community can easily save a company millions of dollars per year

    Sounds like they could afford to put one or two of these guys on salary, then.

  • The next step (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PFI_Optix (936301) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:43AM (#27728587) Journal

    If a company wants to become serious about this, they could make unofficial certifications and hand out prizes to the top x posters for the month. Peer respect is great and all, but being well-liked on the internet doesn't get much.

    • by SirGarlon (845873)

      being well-liked on the internet doesn't get much.

      How would you know? ;-)

      (Sorry, nothing personal, I just couldn't resist.)

    • by necro81 (917438)
      There are a number of companies that run their beta-testing groups that way. Find a bug, you get points. Person with the top number of bug finds/fixes/workarounds wins. What they win is sometimes a bit nebulous. Sometimes it is actual, material stuff - corporate swag, computer equipment. Other times they win free professional-level software worth a few thousand. Other times they get flown out to the company to "consult" on the next release. This is, of course, a tiny minority of all those that contri
    • If a company wants to become serious about this, they could make unofficial certifications and hand out prizes to the top x posters for the month.

      They will need to be careful, start giving out tangible rewards and people will start to game the system.

      For example, HP's web forums have long had a reward system that is fundamentally broken - if you ask a question, they expect you to give points out to anyone who responds, even if it is a totally useless response. Consequently they get idiots who drive-by post "make sure to plug in the keyboard" level answers to questions that are totally out of their league, just for the minimum points you are supposed

  • by Allicorn (175921) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:45AM (#27728603) Homepage

    I'm one of these types of people myself. If there is a software product that I'm personally very fond of and I feel that more folks might benefit from it than do, I'll actively attempt to support the product through this type of forum activity, giving advice, tutorial writing and generally ranting about it on my travels around the web.

    I enjoy it. I dare say there's an element of liking the positive feedback too. I also feel that by supporting the userbase of my chosen product I might be helping retain a few users who might otherwise flee to a competing product that I personally don't like/use. This, it seems to me, contributes towards the product's manufacturer continuing to produce and update it which IS a positive benefit to me. I'm not being paid cash - I'm being paid in the slight boost to the likeliness of my chosen product continuing to exist and remain current.

    It's worth noting though that providing tools to drive attention to your most vociferous, active and evangelic users can be a double edged sword. Since folks like myself aren't being paid, we have no incentive to be anything other than completely honest in answering support requests.

    If your new version is borked; if your long anticipated new feature turns out to be vapor, if your own customer service folks are crap - in short, if those evangelic users get to a point where they feel betrayed by the manufacturer - it's going to be exactly those highly visible, spotlit users with audiences of their own that are going to tell it like it is.

    • by Xest (935314)

      "If your new version is borked; if your long anticipated new feature turns out to be vapor, if your own customer service folks are crap - in short, if those evangelic users get to a point where they feel betrayed by the manufacturer - it's going to be exactly those highly visible, spotlit users with audiences of their own that are going to tell it like it is."

      Really? What you've described in your full post sounds a lot like fanboyism, and most fanboys wont accept that a product is a load of crap even if it

  • by ActusReus (1162583) on Monday April 27, 2009 @08:45AM (#27728609)

    Sheesh... I can't imagine people's behavior online seriously being influenced by some silly "rating" system.

    Oh, and by the way... copyright is evil, I support socialism, Microsoft sucks, just kidding I support libertarianism, and OMG ponies!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jollyreaper (513215)

      Sheesh... I can't imagine people's behavior online seriously being influenced by some silly "rating" system.

      Oh, and by the way... copyright is evil, I support socialism, Microsoft sucks, just kidding I support libertarianism, and OMG ponies!

      Don't worry, I downmodded you to prove this doesn't work. *pauses for a moment* Oh, bugger.

    • Sheesh... I can't imagine people's behavior online seriously being influenced by some silly "rating" system.

      Oh, and by the way...

      My head just metasplode!

  • Verizon has a director named Mark Studness and they've got people doing their customer support for free? There's gotta be a catch. I can't take this story at face value.
  • How fortunate that corporate America has found people who'll work for free. Just in time for the down economy. You'd think they at least barter services to these guys.
  • Having been a "participant" in this kind of service (Computing.net, for instance, has adapted this service model for several years already), it can definitely be an effective solution for companies that need to face individual paying customers. However, I think that there are a few caveats to consider:
    • Corporations that need internal customer support would have a difficult time securing volunteers to learn their systems, work a certain shift and perform the same level of work.
    • As a volunteer, you make your o
    • by MrCrassic (994046)
      Question: does Verizon even have a forum for business customers? When my parent's business was under a business plan with Verizon, the support was stellar and we never got an "uneducated" representative.
  • Not for money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iJusten (1198359) on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:02AM (#27728709)
    Volunteer effort is great. I try to give as much as possible for Wikipedia - hey, it's a hobby. I also do other stuff to help and bring enjoyment for my peers.
    But when people start making money on your free effort - indeed, rely you to do your free effort for the continued success of a company, then you're little better than slave (in that you can at least walk away). I mean, I could still see myself giving advice on a forum if I knew how to help, but this.. these guys are actually connected to the company, right?

    And 20 hours per week? Even on poor, minimum wage salary (seven dollars an hour?) thats 140 dollars per week, 560 dollars a month. And if he can really give much better experience than the idiots at Verizon, we're talking at least manager level. What's that, double the wage? Triple?

    This thing makes me pretty angry. And those people "helping" are real chumps.
    • And 20 hours per week? Even on poor, minimum wage salary (seven dollars an hour?) thats 140 dollars per week, 560 dollars a month.

      He's 68, retired. Apparently doesn't need nor want the money.
      No, they're not really 'connected' to the company, but rather, as you said, 'give advice on a forum'.

      Tell me no one reading this has given free advice in a RedHat forum.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by iJusten (1198359)

        Tell me no one reading this has given free advice in a RedHat forum.

        Not 20 hours a week. And according to the article, Verizon tries to pile responsibilities on the "super-users" by creating their own forums for them, thus making working them a moral chain; people depend on them, they can't just quit. And really, I think that game companies pay money for doing that.

        Plus retired people always have need for money; after all, they make less than they did when they worked. And, as someone pointed, their work keeps other from having a paying job.

    • by radish (98371)

      I help out on a product forum for a major (unnamed) electronics company. I certainly don't do 20 hours a week, but I do fulfill a pseudo-support role as well as just chewing the cud with a great band of other regulars. Why? Well mainly because I love the product and want to both see it do well, also because in this position I get to help shape it's development direction. If I could work for the company in question I might well do so, but instead I get to be a sideline member of the team. I don't get paid, b

    • by kipsate (314423)
      Companies save money by using open source sofware, mostly developed by volunteers as well. Is developing OSS also stupid? After all, a decent programmer can make much more than minimum wage.
  • motivated mainly by a payoff in enjoyment and respect among their peers.

    For the summary-writer who drew the "respect amongst peers" conclusion from TFA, there's direct evidence that this is a failed belief included at the end of the summary.

    "People seem to like most of what I say online, and I like doing it."

    Doing something to be respected suggests that the contributor has some ulterior motive that he or she hopes to attain and this suggests some type of selfish gain (kinda like when Microsoft 'donates' millions of copies of Windows to schools throughout the developing world). On the other hand, doing something because it's enjoyable fits with

  • Isn't this like the Ultima Online volunteer system (counselors, seers, etc) that got them sued eventually?
  • "'You have to make an environment that attracts the Justin McMurrys of the world, because that's where the magic happens,' says Mark Studness, director of e-commerce at Verizon."

    You've made that environment by making customer "service" so thoroughly useless that your customers are forced to ask unpaid outsiders for help. Congratulations, douchebag.

  • ... they're called chumps.

    They're the same people who would debase themselves to the whims of the popular children in school simply for the remote chance of being accepted by them. They put in their hours the same way a World of Warcraft addict will put his in simply to be able to prove to a bunch of people they will never meet that they matter.

    Suck at life? Got no friends? Welcome to the internet! We'll slap a badge on your ass and give you a rank and THEN you'll be someone.

  • This year my company froze every (salaried, non-management)worker's pay and stopped contributing to our 401Ks. I was also denied reimbursement for in-city travel expenses and given twice as many users to support and another ten systems. And yeah, I'm looking for another job, but I didn't quit.
    I like doing what I do, I like helping people and I like knowing enough about the systems that I can be the 'hero' once in a great while. Would I do it if I wasn't paid? Not full time. Neat even part time. But I would

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:52AM (#27729201) Homepage

    These unpaid contributors, it seems, are motivated mainly by a payoff in enjoyment and respect among their peers. 'You have to make an environment that attracts the Justin McMurrys of the world, because that's where the magic happens,' says Mark Studness, director of e-commerce at Verizon.

    This is one of those shining examples of a market inefficiency that should be fixed, but which companies like Verizon have a hard time getting smart about. If Justin McMurry is creating wealth for your company, the best long-term profit solution for you, Verizon, is to find a way to get him a piece of the action.

    I know, I know, it seems like letting the inefficiency run while it tilts in your favor makes sense. But that is a short term thing. If you don't feed this budding source of wealth, it will not last very long. Somebody is going to pull a GEICO on you; tighten up the cashflow streams, and take guys like Justin away from you.

    Don't let that happen. Find a way to help Justin monetize his support. Put up banner ads on the forum and give him the revenue, for example. To paraphrase an old aphorism about customer service, "If you don't take care of your wealth producers, somebody else will."

  • Volunteers are pretty common in online discussion groups. However you need a mechanism for culling those who become dictatorial.
  • The only problem there is with this idea is that when people feel passionate about a company or community that they belong to, they start to drink the kool aid.

    Have you ever read the tech support forum for any games publisher/producer? I'll use World of Warcraft as an example:

    Whenever a patch has been posted thats introduced problems, until its officially recognized, people posting about the problem will get a slew of replies that are along the lines of 'Its fine for me, therefore it must be your computer'

  • 1. Do user support for free
    2. Go on welfare (US)
    3. Family still lives at mission

  • Charity is magic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by greg_barton (5551) * <.moc.oohay. .ta. .notrab_gerg.> on Monday April 27, 2009 @12:29PM (#27731817) Homepage Journal

    'You have to make an environment that attracts the Justin McMurrys of the world, because that's where the magic happens,' says Mark Studness, director of e-commerce at Verizon

    So you create an environment of such bad customer service that you basically require the charity of others to operate, and you call that "magic"?

    I know people are going to try to compare the volunteer efforts of these folks to open source, but it's not the same. With open source, you're actually creating something, not propping up and enabling the bad practices of a corporation. It's the difference between giving a man a fish and giving him a fishing pole: if there's no goal of fixing the underlying problem then the charity can be worse than not helping at all.

  • I'm not picking on Slashdot here...

    I'm picking on the originator of this "news" story.

    Yahoo Answers.

    http://answers.yahoo.com/ [yahoo.com]

    And that is just one. Granted, it's been around for a while... but there is Tech support there, and it is all provided freely. No one is getting paid for the help they give out.

    So either the author of this one has been very ignorant of what has been out there for this kind of support, and been ignorant for years... or people are just stupid, regardless of the position they hold in l

  • Microsoft has it's Most Valued Professional program. I'm one of them (System Center Operations Manager). It's actually a pretty good deal - probably better then most of the other programs out there.
    They bring you out once a year for a week long summit (Pay your own way there, lodging and food taken care of by MS), you get cutting edge information in the product you are MVP for, and you get a comped MSDN + TechNet sub (That even their employees don't get). Add on top of that a few hundred dollars in credit t

  • I would trust someone more who rather answer my questions for free out of excitement rather than some teen getting minimum wage and hating his job.

    That still doesn't take away from the fact they're complete suckers for doing it.
  • You have to make an environment that attracts the Justin McMurrys of the world, because that's where the magic happens

    What an asshat. I threw up in my mouth a little when I read that. I can just see this guy thinking to himself "hah, he's doing platinum level support that we don't have to pay for!" Cue money signs in his eyes and a *ka-ching ka-ching* noise in the background.

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