One reason I started this blog is to write down stories I enjoy telling in class. Here’s a favorite. Moral: Small differences in usability and accessibility can make a big difference in user behavior.
I am an employee of the State of Georgia. Consequently, my salary is a matter of public record. About 15 years ago, if you wanted to know someone’s salary, you needed to identify the correct government office, and arrive there during business hours. Then you would need to find the right clerk, and request to borrow a thick volume with the salaries of all state employees. Who did this? People with an axe to grind. People with an issue. You don’t go to all that trouble just as an amusement on your lunch hour.
Some time in the late 1990s, this information was put online. I first heard about it because a kind young woman in one of my first classes told me about it. She seemed worried–did I know about the database? Was I sure I was getting paid enough? I followed the link she sent me, and laughed–the database is typically a year out of date, and the entry at the time showed my salary as what I earned in my first half year. Next time I saw the student, I explained, and thanked her for her concern. (The state of Georgia treats me pretty well, over all. You can check if you like.)
By making the information so easily and anonymous accessible, it became something people browse through just for fun. The threshold for folks having a look is much, much lower. The information has long been accessible–but how easy it is to access dramatically changes how it is actually used.
Would it change your behavior if I added a link to the database to this post? Are you going to go have a look?
I used to shop on lots of different websites, looking for good deals on specialty products. Hypoallergenic sunscreen? Coolibar and dermadoctor were cheaper than anywhere else. Dairy-free baby formula? Save about 100% at bulkforcheap compared to buying it in the store. It’s fun to search around the web and find a small company that will give you a great deal. Or it was.
I was just putting in my summer sunscreen order, and decided to check Amazon before using my usual vendor. And what do ya know? Amazon is cheaper. So for fun I went and looked at a bunch of other things I used to buy on various sites, and… wow. Amazon has them all. And cheaper. And usually with free shipping. Even the baby formula. I keep checking new items and thinking, “surely for the Jellycat stuffed animals, Puffins will still be better?” Nope, Amazon has them and is cheaper. And the next item, and the next…. The interesting change is that products from third-party stores on Amazon are now sometimes eligible for free shipping.
Speaking as a stock holder, this is good news. As a fan of independent, small businesses… I think this is good news, but I’m not totally sure. It looks like the Jellycat animals are delivered by EcoTime Toys. And EcoTime Toys appears to be an independent, small business. I wonder if EcoTime Toys feels like Amazon is helping them. Are they getting bigger volume? Are they being squeezed for profit margins? And what’s going to happen to Puffins, and all the other vendors who don’t make a deal with big brother AMZN? Will Amazon partner with multiple Jellycat vendors? I’m going to investigate. Stay tuned….
Since we’re talking about how to be a professor, here it is: The Professor’s Manual Wiki.
I have no idea if this will work… but it does seem like the kind of topic where sharing our collective wisdom might be helpful. Please jump in!