Why I have been away it looks as if the powers that be at the Ordnance Survey finally saw sense and publicly acknowledged the problems that have plagued their getamap service though out much of August.
If you have been following the saga you will know that this went down for a day at the beginning of August and was out of operation (for some people) for the rest of August. Getamap is a subscription service that is being heavily marketed both in the outdoor press and through email campaigns. August is, of course, the busiest outdoor month and we had mountain leaders unable to print maps for trips out with groups of young people
The OS chose to deal with this on the quiet, suggesting to individuals that there were only a few problems and that, sadly, they were one of them. They were amazingly naive about the net and about twitter. Their website had no notice of problems and new subscribers were still being attracted only to find that they had no access either. One of those corresponding with me over Twitter told me that OS customer serve contacted him to say that they had solved a problem that he had never had.
Normally, these problems might have not been noticed but given the immediacy of Twitter August has been a PR disaster for the Ordnance Survey. It would have been far more admirable if the OS had been open and transparent about their service failures. I wrote last week that their whole approach seemed to be led by their PR department trying to minimise publicity rather than customer service professionals seeking to support their service users. This is the kind of response you sometimes get from public sector and government organisations and seems to me to highlight one of the problems of the OS — it is a publicly founded organisation that tries to hide behind a commercial marketing image and in this case demonstrated the worst of both worlds.
But if loosing a service for the whole of their busiest months something even stranger and weirder seems to have happened.
On Wednesday last week my last piece on the OS was commented on by a man called Brian. ‘Brian’ wrote in stout defence of the OS. Fair enough but then he responded again in an outrageous manner. You can follow his contributions here: Sadly, More on OS Customer Support
‘Brian’ thought it outrageous of me to describe the OS as an IT company, despite the fact they sell and develop computer and mobile based products. Weirdly, he suggested we should support the OS and that the best way to help was to simply keep quiet and let them get on with their jobs!
This seemed very strange to me, so I decided to investigate some more.
‘Brian’ had commented using a Google Mail email address. A quick check on Google revealed it had never been used publicly before. Could this have ben created simply for this comment? Next, I checked through the blog archive of comments — Brian had never commented before.
My blog dashboard told me that ‘Brian’ had registered for email updates for the blog just a few hours before. This sounded suspicious and, indeed, what a press office under real pressure might do.
Every comment to this blog requires an email address but — as an extra security measure — the system records the IP address from which the post was sent. Checking Brian’s IP address I found that his email was sent from Southampton which, is of course, the home of the Ordnance Survey.
I replied back to ‘Brian’ putting forward my suspicions and inviting him to deny he had any links with the OS. Well, it is now almost a week later and no word from ‘Brian’.
I can’t say for certain, of course, that ‘Brian’ is connected with the OS but it is likely that this was a fictional account created for a murky purpose.
If this was the OS in action — or somebody at the OS just going mad — then this I believe is a sign of a organisation that is in some difficulty. This is not how you do business.
The OS is a privileged organisation, begin funded by the tax payer and also operating as a virtual monopoly provider. The problems of August may reflect some deeper problems and conflicts of interest and I will be investigating these further over the net few weeks.
However, I shall now leave this subject but only now I am confident that — on this occasion — the power of bloggers and Twitter users has finally made this giant show a little humility.