I’m coining a new term, fomplicated, to describe a product that requires deliberate intervention and expertise from a customer beyond what any sane human being would consider reasonable. The word is a contraction of a well-known English expletive rhyming with firetrucking and the word “complicated.”

Although it’s applicable to a variety of things, I’ve been seeing it a lot related to my computer. For example, this morning I had a minor fomplication. While poring through some mailing-list email, I saw that KMTT 103.7FM has an online stream. The Mountain Music Lounge is great stuff, but I don’t get good reception indoors. I had an unsatisfactory experience with a pay-for service that claimed to have the station, but really only played a pre-selected “best of” 20 songs. (Cancelling that service was unnecessarily fomplicated, too.) KMTT’s option would not only serve it live, but would also be free. And it claimed to run on my Linux and Windows machines. Score!

My first attempt to access the service failed. Firefox allowed the player window to open and play an ad. After that, there was no activity. Big sigh. Whenever stuff like this happens, it’s often because someone hard-codes behavior to Internet Explorer’s schizophrenic implementation of (cough) web standards. I tried IE, same result.

Their provider is Liquid Compass, whose “help”
section suggests things to try like:

If your system is behind a firewall, please contact your network administrator to open up your firewall to allow your system to access this stream via port 80 or verify that they allow streaming media to be played over the network. If you have access to your firewall, consult its log files to see if it allows different stream protocols (MMS/HTTP).

This is a minor fomplication, but representative of the suggestions that they make regarding using their product. The brutal reality is if I approached my network admin and asked, essentially, “Can you disable the corporate firewall so I can do something that has no bearing on my job?” His response would be — survey says: No!

A more egregious example was provided to our IT manager from a vendor whose software needed upgrading. To minimize the inherent non-determinism, they recommended:

You must be an Administrator on your PC.

  1. Open your Internet Explorer browser
  2. Choose Tools, Internet Options
  3. Under the General tab, select the Settings button
  4. Choose “Every visit to the page” and click on OK
  5. Select ‘Delete cookies’ – it would take some time to take effect
  6. Select ‘Delete Files’ – it would take some time to take effect
  7. Under ‘Security’ tab, click on ‘local intranet’, select ‘custom level’.
  8. Under ‘Activex controls and plug-ins’, enable the following controls:
    • Download signed ActiveX controls
    • Download unsigned ActiveX controls
    • initialize and script ActiveX controls not marked as safe
    • run Activex controls and Plug-ins
    • script Activex controls marked safe for scripting
  9. Under ‘Miscellaneous’, enable ‘Access data sources across domains’.
  10. Under ‘Content’ tab, click on ‘clear SSL state’.
  11. Click on ‘Autocomplete’.
  12. check each box and click on ‘clear forms’.
  13. click on ‘Clear passwords’ – this may take some time to take effect.
  14. click on ‘OK’.
  15. Select the Connection tab and press the “LAN Settings” button
  16. Uncheck the two check boxes with reference to automatically detect settings and Use automatic configuration script
  17. Under the Proxy server section select the check box “Use a proxy server”
  18. Select the Advanced button and select the check box “Use the same proxy server for all protocols” and click on OK
  19. Check the box that says: “Bypass proxy server for local addresses” and click on OK
  20. Close your browser session
  21. Restart your workstation one last time
  22. Open an IE browser session and connect to your site.
  23. It’s just a jump to the left. And a step to the ri-i-i-i-i-ght. Put your hands on your hips. And pull your knees in ti-i-i-i-i-ght. It’s a pelvic thru-u-u-st, that’ll drive you insa-a-a-a-a-ne. Let’s do the time warp again!

Among other things, this messes up a default configuration for other applications. Ya know, I’m thinkin’ maybe that software isn’t so important and I ought to find an alternate vendor.

Dear fellow marketing people, if basic use of your product is fomplicated, it’s (past) time to get out of your office, shadow a real-live customer, and feel their pain. Stop adding features for a while and fix the basics.

Consider a non-technical example of using an elevator to get from the lobby to the second floor (because the Sunset North building management won’t unlock the door so we can take the stairs). The way it should work is:

  1. Push the “up” button and wait.
  2. When the doors open, enter
  3. Push the button labeled “2”
  4. When the doors open and the number “2” is displayed, exit.

The fomplicated version:

  1. Ensure that you’re wearing appropriate footwear. Some elevator users have found wearing stockings or socks greatly enhances footwear comfort. If you are unsure, please contact your fashion consultant.
  2. If you are going to a floor higher than the one you are currently on, press the “up” button. If you are going to a floor lower than the one you are currently on, press the “down” button. (If you do not know, please return to the lobby, look up the information again, and write it down this time. Go back to the first step.)
  3. Stand at an angle 30° from facing the doors. Wait for an audible or visual display that an elevator matching to your desired directional situation. In the event you wait too long, repeat the previous step.
  4. When the doors open, glance inside and ensure that everyone who’s intent on coming out does. It’s just common courtesy. Next, enter the elevator.
  5. Glance at the control interface and determine whether the “2” indicator is showing a positive sign. If it’s not, depress the button adjacent to it, causing the positive sign to appear. If it does not, please contact technical support at the number indicated on the inside placard for a replacement indicator. It is also possible that you’re still wearing your sunglasses indoors.
  6. Enjoy the pleasant music (if option purchased) as you journey to your desired floor of destination. Note: Cell phone reception is generally poor. It is often appropriate to stare vaguely ahead during the trip. In no event should you ask the person next to you “does this look contagious?” This will void your warranty.
    Warning: Occasionally, the elevator will stop between floors. If this occurs, Do Not Panic. Using a flat-blade screwdriver or a non-serrated coin, open the service panel (usually located on the right side, below the customer interface), and pick up the phone to contact technical support and request they reboot the Elevator Operating System. If you are using the Model Otis-59 or older, you will need to look for a button to summon assistance. If you are in the Wonkavator 2, expect to break through the ceiling for an aerial view of Wonkaland in seventeen seconds.
  7. When the doors open, exit.
  8. Congratulations and thank you for using Elevator 3.0.1!

7 thoughts on “Fomplicated”

  1. It has also been my experience the feeling you get after wandering successfully through a fomplication is not even one of satisfaction.

    Next time you have to get your driver’s license renewed, go to the place in downtown Seattle between 3rd and 4th on Union. Getting your renewal is easy peasy. Getting from the front door to the clerk is a giant fomplication since you have to get a number (no matter if it’s empty of all other customers) and the ‘get a number’ machine is both hidden and has 5 unmarked buttons only one of which will give you a number. It would be funny if it weren’t so fomplicated.

  2. Fomplicated implies pissatisfied.

    Ah, yes, last time I went to the DMV I waited only to find out that I didn’t need to wait in the “long” line since I was merely doing a renewal.

  3. This was a very neat post. MSN is very fomplication prone. I crashed yesterday during posting a comment… so fun.

    Thought I would wander back to your blog.

    Nice place you have here.

    Jo Ann

  4. After going back and forth with Liquid, they finally responded with the magic link that not only works flawlessly, but is also bereft of all the additional advertainment.


  5. I laughed so hard at your elevator description I nearly peed my pants! After too many years doing both official and unofficial technical support I can safely say that fomplicated will now be lodged in my brain the next time I read a “user” manual. Sort of reminds me of the technical writing exercise we did in high school. Basically, write instructions on how to do something. The day we were supposed to get our assignments back the teacher showed up, shut the class room door, took a loaf of white bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jelly out of her bag. She put the loaf of bread down on her desk and stacked the jars on top of it. Needless to say, that paper’s author had a little rewriting too do. OTOH, do we really need to be told: remove cap, pour shampoo into hand, lather, rinse, repeat if necessary? 😉

  6. Found another example for you. Some months ago I contacted Topeak, makers of the best bike frame pump in the world (Road Morph) to get a replacment part for one that broke. One email, part delivered to me by first class mail, no charge. Couldn’t be better.

    Now they have hired a third party “help” service to deal with customer queries. You have to create an account, fill out a form, open a help ticket, it’s like IT support hell. There are no less than three places you have to enter your mailing address by the time you’re done. So much for customer good will.

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