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Tattle tail WebEx


By Scott Bradner


I admit it.  When I'm on the phone with a salesdroid I do not devote my full attention to his or her exhortations of product greatness.  Instead, I tend to read email, surf the web or maybe even do a little work.  Now WebEx wants to make that harder. To me, this is just another reason to not use WebEx.


The economy must be picking up -- at least to judge by the number of unsolicited calls I've been getting from sales people.  (Aside: I still do not know why the do-not-call list does not apply to business as well as residential phones.  How is interrupting my business day to hear about something that I have no interest in less disrupting than interrupting me watching the evening news?)


Each of these salespeople seems to think, or at least is trained to pretend to think that whatever they are selling is indispensable to me or to Harvard.  Most of them have very little idea of the details of the product they have been hired to sell.  This is made very clear the first time I ask any substantive question.  One example from last week was 'just where do you install this magic box in the network?'  The sales person did not know but wanted to set me up with a evaluation system anyway and was miffed when I said ten minutes into the first call seemed to be a bit early in the process to be talking about evaluation systems.


I do <ITAL try /ITAL> to be nice, even though that is frequently very hard -- trying to talk about things like network security appliances with a salesdroid that probably has to be reminded to plug in his computer can be a bit frustrating  -- from time to time I admit that I get rather direct about the lack of information transfer.


In the 10% of the cases where the sales person actually seems to have a clue or something on the company web site overrides the clue-deflector shields protecting the sales person I agree to have a follow up call with one or more people that are supposed to actually know the product.  Most of these are just conference calls -- the regular kind where the equipment locks everyone out when someone is talking so there is almost no way to break into the sales pitch with a question -- where they send a set of slides beforehand.  Some of the time the company wants to use WebEx instead.


I have tried WebEx a few times but generally have had problems running it on my Macs even though they claim to support Macs.  So I use that as an excuse to not try again.  In reality, even if WebEx worked perfectly every time I'd still be reluctant to use it because of all of the software that it installs on my machine - I donŐt like systems that do stealth installs of software over which I have no control.  Now WebEx has announced that their new software will tell the meeting operator when the WebEx software on the client is not in the foreground, for example when you are checking your mail.   That seals it - no more WebEx for me.


I wonder if WebEx ever even thought about psychological impact of their new feature.  I can't see how they would not have unless they are somehow used to their activities being monitored by people they do not know.


disclaimer: I used to work in Harvard's Psychology Department whose undergraduate concentrators would understand the issues here better than WebEx seems to.  But I did not consult any of them for this column.