Programming, Software, Web Applications, Work

Names are like genders

One thing I slightly regret in the data modelling that is done for users in Wazoku is that I bowed to marketing pressure and “conventional wisdom” and created a pair of first and last name fields.┬áIf gender is a text field then how much more so is the unique indicator of identity that is a name?

The primary driver for the split was so that email communications could start “Hey Joe” rather than “Hey Joe Porridge Oats McGyvarri-Billy-Spaulding”. Interestingly as it turns out this is definitely the minority usage case and 95% of the time we actually put our fields back together to form a single string because we are displaying the name to someone other than the user. It would have been much easier to have a single name field and then extract the first “word” from the string for the rare case that we want to try and informally greet the user.

My more general lesson is that wherever I (or we more generally as a business) have tried to pre-empt the structure of a data entity we have generally gotten it wrong, however so far we have not had to turn a free text field into a stricter structure.


Is this hardcore?

The UK mobile operators have been indulging themselves in a bit of commercial skulduggery recently in the name of “protecting the children”. I recently bought an Orange data SIM and was surprised to see that access to a games discussion site was blocked due to its “extreme violence or pornography”. Of course as with any half-arsed censorship strategy it’s still perfectly possible to access hate, pr0n and violent sites. The reasoning behind this protection becomes apparent when you try and get it removed from your SIM. O2 wants moniez, Orange wants you to register your phone and give them your name, address and other valuable demographic and advertising information (ironically because I want to pay them by credit card they already know this information but their information strategy is so screwed they can’t relate your various pieces of information). Talking to other people this censorship also affects contract customers (the justification being that like cigarettes and alcohol irresponsible adults might be tempted to pass on unlocked interwebs to children) which is the ultimate in crazy.

I’m not sure where to start on how stupid all of this is. So let’s start with age-restrictions. At 16 you are allowed to fuck who you want but reading about fucking on a website via your phone would, in the view of the mobile networks, destroy your soul.

Next how about an opt-in rather than opt-out? The number of children with data phones whose parents wish to restrict access must surely be the minority number of customers. Let concerned parents be responsible for their children rather than make every adult in UK be part of their anxiety trip.

Censorship is always bad and website blocking is particularly bad because what gets blocked are legitimate but difficult sites. It is Lady Chatterley’s Lover that gets hit by censorship not Cum Sluts Vol. 4. Extreme sites can duck and dive away from any blacklist.

Finally if this is about protecting the vulnerable there should be no opportunity for operators to commercially benefit from it. If I present myself, my id and my phone at an operator’s store then the block should be removed right there and then. No charging of credit card, no details taken.

I wanted to complain about this to someone but its one of things where no-one seems to be responsible for this. The operators and regulators all seem to be hiding behind one another and the fig leaf, of course, of protecting children.