Monday, April 18, 2011

How to arrange a meeting via text message when there's bad reception

So I spent the weekend at Coachella (of which you will hear more soon). But one thing that stuck with me was how bad people are at sending text messages when they need to meet up at these types of big concert festivals. There's way too many people for the mobile phone towers to accommodate, so you you don't know exactly when the person will receive the message. Spotty reception makes people check their phones less frequently, and this makes the problem worse.

But people don't take this into account at all when they're trying to arrange to meet someone. They send text messages in exactly the same way as if they would be read and delivered instantaneously. And it's a disaster.

The typical message will be something like this:
Bob (t+0:00): Hey, want to meet up?
Sam (t+1:00): Sure where do you want to meet?
Bob (t+2:00): I'm at the Strokes. Want to join me?
Sam(t+3:30, who received the last message after the Strokes had finished playing): Where are you now? Want to meet at the food tent?

In other words, they never meet up.

You need to design your messages quite specifically with a few principles in mind:

1. Don't try to arrange anything within less than say, 2 hours. You won't know when they'll receive it, and it will just confuse matters when they receive it after the time you suggested.

2. As a corollary, never base anything on where you are now or where they are now, unless you're planning to stay there for ages.

3. Try to arrange matters with messages that require the smallest possible number of replies. They should be able to just respond with 'yes'. Even better is if they don't need to respond at all.

4. To do this, add the largest amount of detail immediately, and suggest a default option.

5. Assume that whoever you send the message to will not know how to respond sensibly, so direct their actions.

6. Suggest meeting points that are completely obvious to everyone. Avoid anything ambiguous.

So how does this work? Here's an example

A message that requires one response, and a simple response at that. My default:
Do you want to meet up? How about the Ferris Wheel at 5pm? If that doesn't work, I could also meet there at 2pm, 4:30pm or 6pm, so feel free to suggest another time or place
You can even write things that don't require any responses, particularly if you don't know if they'll be able to respond in time (and don't mind waiting):
Let's meet up. How about the Ferris Wheel at 5pm? If I don't hear from you, I'll wait there from 5 until 5:10pm, and if I still haven't found you I'll come back at 6pm and wait until 6:10pm
The second message can be acted on even if they receive it 15 minutes before, and won't have time to message you back.

These messages obviously look a bit odd to the normal banter people send back and forth. But rest assured, I meet up with the people I want to meet up with, and most of the OMG LOL teen set don't.

Forward planning matters, suckas!

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