When 90% Isn’t Good Enough

As I mentioned last time, this is the busiest time of the year for me at my job. The main reason is a big annual project, combined with my employer’s big impending Midwinter Meeting.

About that project: it’s a showcase of new and renovated library buildings. On my end, it entails receiving a fairly large number of submissions (this year a bit over a hundred) and whipping them into a ginormous print and online article.

Since the submissions are big (frequently over 100MB), I’ve been using YouSendIt for the past three years to allow for online submission. The first two years, it worked pretty much flawlessly. This year, it didn’t. In addition to the service being down for a day and a half, the interface changed significantly, making it harder to send files and adding steps on my end to download them. Ten or fifteen people contacted me, not knowing if their submissions went through, and in most of those cases, they hadn’t.

Things worked out, mostly. I’ve got more than a full complement of submissions to pick from–despite the problems, the number of submissions is up by about 50 from last year, and 30 from the two years prior. But it added a good chunk of work for me at one of the worst times to do so.

There are a few lessons from this experience that I’d like to convey:

1. While I don’t mean for this to be a rant, I don’t plan to use YouSendIt again. More broadly: making it hard to use something will make people less likely to use it. That’s obvious, and worthwhile to keep in mind, for everyone in any kind of business, including museums. For example, I love the Shedd Aquarium’s social media efforts, but the place itself? Well, last time I tried to go, I spent an hour in line to get in, and for the last 20 minutes the line didn’t move. Eventually I got sick of it and left. (And while this will make it seem like a fake story, I can add the detail that it was my birthday.) As a result, I’m a lot more interested in watching the Shedd than I am in going there.

2. When I started accepting pictures online, I was careful to always confirm receipt of all submissions, and I promised in my call for submissions that I would do so. My reasoning was that it might make people feel more at ease about using the new system. It didn’t really matter the first couple years, because there really weren’t any problems. But this year, it paid off big time. People have been fairly well conditioned to expect these confirmations, so when they didn’t get them, they contacted me. As a result, the fifteen or so submissions that did have problems aren’t getting lost. Even though there was a fair bit of hassle, I’ve been able to make other arrangements to get the submissions. It’s not ideal, because of the extra hassle for those submitters and me, but it’s a lot better than those submissions getting lost. I guess the lesson of that part is: Have something in place to catch things that fall through the cracks when services, particularly external services, that you can’t control fall through.

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