Optus pestus

Optus’s website is a work of malevolent genius. It attacks one’s psyche on every level, from the stupefyingly inane animals to the incomprehensible maze of links to the bizarre concoctions that are the descriptions of the Optus service itself.

It is the latter that most effectively tests my composure. The concept of “pre-paid” is theoretically quite straightforward – one hands money to the mobile carrier, which accordingly provides services to the value of whatever you paid. Now, take the Optus pre-paid offers (which I’ve done, perhaps unfortunately).

In fact, take all seven of them. Why seven? You can access any Optus mobile service with any offer, so this has nothing to do with paying for different services. Moreover, for each “offer” there are five levels of payment ($30, $40, $50, $70 and $100). Why just five? The actual cost of Optus’s services are measured in cents, so why can’t I pay $20 and receive $20 worth of service? (You can, in fact, but that’s merely part of a whole other ad hoc set of offers.)

The reason there are seven “offers” is that you get other stuff. Not other services, just… free stuff (the kind of free stuff that you pay for). For each of the thirty five ways of paying for “pre-paid” (38 if you include the $10, $15 and $20 offers), you get different types and amounts free stuff. These are all explained in detail on the website. Each payment option has “value”, “included value” and “bonus”, which are apparently all different, but these are just headings. What you actually get is some combination of the following: “MyCredit”, “MyBonus”, “Pre-Paid Messaging Money”, “Pre-Paid Money”, “RevUp Bonus”, “FreeCall Minutes”, “MyTime Minutes”, “PowerUp Money”, “MyTime Money”, “MyData” and a range of ad hoc deals.

A few points on this appalling spectacle. First, from a rather well-hidden document, “MyBonus” and “Power Up Money” appear to be identical:

[MyBonus/Power Up Money] is a bonus credit that can be used for standard calls and texts. [MyBonus/Power Up Money] excludes premium SMS and content, international roaming, Zoo browsing usage charges, Video Calling, 966 and satellite calls.

It’s also not clear how this differs from “RevUp Bonus”. None of the three labels describe what you actually get, of course.

Second, “Pre-Paid Messaging Money”, “Pre-Paid Money” and “FreeCall Minutes” can only be used to contact other Optus mobiles, which isn’t quite what their names suggest.

Third, “MyTime” is further restricted to 5 nominated Optus numbers. What this has to do with the words “my” and “time” is anyone’s guess. Do other types of credit not involve “time”? That would be awfully generous of them. Or does “MyTime” mean that Optus opens up a personalised pocket of time, just for you, that exists outside the ordinary cosmic flow of events? You’ll also notice that “MyTime” comes in both “Minutes” and “Money” versions, for no readily explainable reason.

Finally, a note on the “Money”. When you pay $30 under the “TurboCap” offer, Optus tells us that you get $400 “value”. Optus clearly doesn’t understand the concept of money (or, at least, it doesn’t want us to understand). If such service was truly valued at $400, then Optus’s accountants would be shredding documents and setting fire to the building. In other words, what you’re getting are 400 Optus Dollars (where 1 Optus Dollar = $30/400 = 7.5¢, in this scenario). These come in several entirely non-exchangeable varieties. They cannot be sold, or indeed used for anything except phoning, messaging and downloading 60 kB chunks of data from the Internet (depending on which particular variety of Optus Dollars you happen to have). You don’t ever see this “money”, because it’s just an electronic construct maintained in an Optus database somewhere.

I try to apply Hanlon’s Razor – never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. I’m not sure that incompetence is an adequate explanation.

Corporate websites

Trawling through the sites of three hundred or so ICT companies gives you a new perspective of capitalism. It’s a perspective I could have done without.

It’s not the graphics-heavy sites, or the menus that pop up in inconvenient places, or the occasional horrifying overuse of flash. It’s the way in which corporate PR people stretch the laws of reality trying to make their firm stand out in the crowd while simultaneously studiously avoiding any reference to what it actually does. How do they manage it? The amount of effort that designers of ICT websites go to in pursuit of this infuriating paradox must be extraordinary.

To give you some context, I’m building a list of companies to contact regarding a software engineering industry survey. The companies should therefore be involved, in some small way at least, in software engineering. The list I’m working from is a list of ICT companies, many of whom merely supply software or provide other support services.

Do you think you can tell, just from looking at a company’s website, whether they make software or not? The very companies whose core business created the “information superhighway” seem pathologically unable to inform us of such fundamental facts. Some sites, it should be noted, are very well done and tell you exactly what you need to know. Others – often the ones with sleeker graphics – try exceedingly hard to tell you nothing at all, using terms like “innovation”, “solution”, “dynamic” and “changing environments”. They might indeed provide the most innovative solutions of anyone in dynamically changing environments, but what do they do? They seem to imply that if you don’t understand what they’re talking about you don’t deserve to be viewing their site.