Sunday, October 19, 2008

Excersises in reputation: what's in a chauffeur ?

Sunday, a day of nice rituals. For me one of the rituals is to go through the job listings in the main daily newspaper here, Helsingin Sanomat. I'm not looking for more work but I find it interesting to see who is hiring and downright fascinating to see how the employers present themselves. Just the fact that so many organizations feel the need to post vacancies in the printed paper should be food for some good dormitory discussions.

This weeks award for the most intriguing vacancy goes to the "Ylioppilastutkintolauta", the Finnish Matriculation Examination committee. The vacancy is for a concierge. My attention was raised as I'd assumed that this highly regarded organization would have a small staff, working in some office building together with other governmental organizations, perhaps the Ministry of Education or so. After all the exams are reviewed and graded by the teachers; teacher of one school grade the work of students of another school. The committee does important work in organizing these nationwide events but also plays an important role in the development of the curriculum and in getting the exam accepted as entry ticket to universities. However this highly valued work doesn't require a large workforce, so why this vacancy ?

With my curiosity now aroused I read the posting in detail only to find out that one of the tasks of the concierge would be to drive and maintain the Committee Vehicle. I was shocked by the (heavy) reputation of the Committee hitting the floor under my scale. What on earth do they need a chauffeured Committee Vehicle for?
The Secretary or President can move around in downtown Helsinki much more efficient by public transport: the committee premises are close to metro, trams and buses. If that's below standard, there is always the option of a taxi. Two taxi trips a day are much cheaper that a permanent chauffeur. Even just owning or leasing a half-decent simple car is more expensive. Maybe it is tradition? The committee is a 150 year old institution and perhaps they used to have a driver for the horse-drawn Committee Coach ? I like to be wrong here but I cannot think of another reason than ego-stroking status. But even so, I simply can't imagine where the President would have to go (for business) even once a week. Present the new exam questions to the Parliament ? That would only be a few times per year and those questions are secret until the exam. Go and talk to the Chancellor of one of the Universities ? I simply cannot think of a realistic need for a Committee Vehicle.

P.S.: The Annual Report on the (good) website of the committee reveals that the permanent staff indeed only counts 21. The financial figures are not sufficiently specific to reveal costs incurred for a Committee Vehicle or other transport.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Will anybody care ?

Marc Davis , "Social Media Guru" from Yahoo, was in town last week. He gave a talk at Helsinki's MobileMonday and later on Wednesday at MindTrek. And today the paper published an interview. Marc Davis represents an "optimistic" view of social media where the clever use of technology allows him to stay up-to-date about his friends. And, more importantly, for his family and friends to stay-up-to date about him. He explained that his mom knows that he's in Helsinki, Finland and what he's doing and seeing, thanks to the status updates he sent to Facebook and photos uploaded to Flickr. So he "doesn't have to call her".

That statement screams for somebody looking for a thesis subject. Does this fashion of publishing your life lead to truly compassionate behavior ? A simple metric would be to time how long it takes before one of your friends calls you once you stop updating your status. I mean, you might be dying in the gutter of the street, fallen from the stairs, or in bed with a flu and to tired to type. Or simply be without connectivity, or decided that the pressure to think of a funny status update message at least twice a day was simply too much.
It would also be interesting to research if this "true response time" of your social network depends on the size of it. In a larger network all your friends may assume that some other friend already has contacted you. Should social media have better support for rumor? That is for one of your friends to talk about you with another friend ?
Another factor could be the type of the social network. I suspect nobody gets worried any time soon if you stop uploading pictures. On the other end you'd think that somebody at least notices quickly when your twitter or jaiku stream goes silent. But the essential question remains: will anybody care ?