Archive - Aug 9, 2011

Charlie, Adam, and Axel

Many years ago, I worked at Bell Labs. Specifically, I worked on the Trunks Integrated Record Keeping System (TIRKS), It was probably around release 17.1 when I was working there. With a large complicated system that had been through many releases, there were volumes of documentation, and in the days before everything was linked together in hypertext, it could be hard to find the information that you needed.

Yet there was one person, Charlie, who had been around for perhaps as long as TIRKS had been around. If you ever needed to know something, your best bet was to find Charlie and ask him. Now this was nearly thirty years ago, so my memories may be not exact, but I remember Charlie as an aging, kindly old curmudgeon. Ever since those days, I’ve always thought the best documentation to any system was Charlie. Such a system had processed all the documentation and had an advanced natural language processing system that picked up so much nuance, that it would know what you were looking for, even when you didn’t yet know it.

Recently, I wrote about Social Fortress and XeeMe. Soon afterwards, I received an email from Adam Ghetti, one of the co-founders of Social Fortress. He went into considerable detail about how Social Fortress currently works and talked about coming enhancements. With that, he asked for suggestions about the forth coming enhancements. Adam struck me as the 21st century instance of Charlie. Beyond the quick access to information about the product, there was a component of marketing and community building. My opinion about Social Fortress became much greater as a result of the interaction.

Over on XeeMe, Axel Schultze, their CEO sent me a message on Twitter about my blog post. It simply said, “Thanks for mentioning #XeeMe Aldon. The key is probably under the hood when you start with Flights etc.” Much less detailed than Adam’s response, but still reflecting that 21st century version of Charlie, providing pointers to documentation mixed with some marketing and community building. I haven’t started looking closely at Flights yet, but I will look more closely at XeeMe, and particularly Flights as a response of Axel’s response. Like my opinion of Social Fortress, the interaction improved my opinion about XeeMe.

I suspect that Charlie has been retired for ages, but the spirit of Charlie continues on in people like Adam and Axel and it makes technology more enjoyable.

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