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A java applet that actually works

Java applets on web pages haven't worked properly for me, pretty much ever. Educational applets work, but if there's any b2c relationship going on, it never works. Usually if a web page even tries to launch an applet, I kill my browser before java takes over my entire machine. When I have actually tried to complete a transaction using a java application, I lost money. (It doesn't take losing much money on a technology to decide not to use that technology again. About forty dollars, in my case.)
The only reason I tried another java applet was that the alternative was waiting on hold for "the next available representative will be with you shortly." So I watch incredulously as Comcast (my internet service provider) launches an applet for chat with a live representative. I waited a few minutes, watching the West Wing Season 7 on dvd, then an analyst appeared. I described my problem, and s/he asked a few more questions to verify my identity and to pin down the problem. Then (mirabile dictu!) she sent an updated signal to my cable box, and said that should fix it within the hour.
This sort of technology was totally workable nine years ago, 1997, when I worked on a java applet for playing (ahem) the Dating Game over the net. It was totally workable four years ago, when everybody in educational technology was writing and sharing applets. Four thousand ways to learn the pythagorean theorem! I'm down for that. What was missing before was enterprise integration. The tech support rep got my information via the applet, and moved that information quickly into the cable tv service monitoring system, wherein she took action and solved my problem. (I hope.) The purpose of this interaction was getting my service fixed, and the applet worked for me, because I find internet chat more convenient than phone hold. They used ten year old technology integrated with their core systems to create a better user experience for a paying customer. So we're back to the fundamental lesson of usability: it's about the people, not the technology.
In the time it took me to write this blog entry, my cable box has indeed received new information which corrected the problem I was having. And... the technician was in Colorado. (Another Turing test variant: is the tech support person located in the same country as you?) Comcast, I salute you for providing excellent customer service tonight.

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