Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Thalys experiments: WiFi inside, idiot design?

Writing while in the train getting back to Brussels after a couple of days in Paris for Ad:Tech. Yes while in the train. That is really cool. What's less cool is the amount of over-engineering Thalys seems to have put in designing this service: resources like Gmail, Google documents, Network solutions webmail and Google Apps are simply not usable because some stupid piece of junkware that runs on the Thalys WiFi network considers those to be forbidden resources. Even the sites of Le Monde and CNN are not accessible. So what gives? Is Thalys developing a new concept of a hyperlocal web? Are they trying to revolutionize the web by severly limiting connectivity? Is this a censorship experiment for the Chinese government?
None of these exciting avenues I'm afraid. It only seems that somebody felt it important to implement an extremely stringent security policy, which, in the end, voids of most of its value the great promise of WiFi aboard high-speed trains. I'm sure they'll fix this someday, but what does it say about cost of opportunity in terms of revenue to the company? What untellable stories of wasted service design resources does this case convey? Is there anyone to doubt that product / service design will be a strategic competency for companies in the coming years?

In the end, it all boils down to common sense and a structured albeit flexible approach to product ownership. Something that does seem to be a common thread to methods like scrum, agile development, permanent beta, Toyota's continuous improvement through the kaizen approach or NLP... They all accept a degree of chaos that characterizes the real world. Realism, common sense, perseverance, patience, continuous and relentless improvement, continuous quest for evolution, no nonsense and a thirst for  feedback are some of the characteristics of approaches that work.

Now on the positive side of things the idiot design does not prevent Thalys travelers from accessing Wikipedia, Barack Obama's web site or the Business Quests blog :-) as you will see in the screen-shots.


  1. LOL :)
    last time i took the thalys from paris to brussels i had to stand up while the train left the station, which is both very unprofessional and dangerous.
    this because my seat was in a part of the wagon that was locked, and the wagon responsible refused to open it up since 'it was not his job to do so'... maybe some closer attention should be provided to the services that are being offered to thalys customers.
    if i were you i would have at least checked out of curiosity if access to porn or hacking sites was closed down ;)

  2. Well, it only shows that even for a "trial" or "beta" release some mistakes are difficult to forgive especially when the mistake cancels out the beta pretty much...
    Now amigo, I promise that if their WiFi is in the same sorry state next time I get an opportunity to try it, I will do some of the tests you kindly suggested because thinking about it, these may be freely accessible ;-)