Monday, February 7, 2011

Dr Oz's Wipeout

Dr. Oz is obviously a smart guy. However, I wonder if he knows that he is breaking a truth-in-advertising moral and that he is perpetuating a scam on his listening audience.

Let me explain (particulars being glossed over to illustrate the issues). Earlier this year, there was a shoe give-away via the Internet. The instructions from the show, and on the DoctorOZ site, said that at 300 pm ET, people could attempt to win a pair of shoes by queuing up at the site. The idea was that the first 200 hundred or so would get the shoes.

Now, consider that most people's notion is like we see on Black Friday. One goes to the store, gets one's place, and then enters (without stampede as we know the negative consequences of that) when it's one's turn.

The queue up on the internet is not the same, folks. First of all, when they open the door, entry is determined by a bunch of things that can occur between your system and the server handling the give-away. So, getting in the door to get an entry form is like we see with the show where people get clobbered while doing an idiotic obstacle course. I have not watched it but have seen the commercials.

So, some get in the door (everything lines up), many don't and have to try again (they are told by the system that the server isn't available). Those who get in the door get a form.

As we would expect, filling in the form is not problem, usually, but there could be fields that need to be correctly entered. We'll see a couple of examples below.

Now, if the person gets the form filled in, it goes back to the queue to get into the door, so that filled-in entry form gets into the server's brief attention span. Evidently, enough made it through all of these hoops (or 'oops, as in the label) since the limit was reached.

In the case of one viewer, I observed several attempts to get the entry form. Now, being told that the server was busy could many several things. Was it turned off since the limit was reached? Were too many queries coming in at once? Whatever the reason, just being told that the server is not available means nothing. So one would keep trying.

Now, the form actually came over several times and was filled in. But, on the submit step, there was another message that the server was not available (the form was not successful in getting in the door).

At some point, not getting a form would imply that the game was over. Sure enough, lagging by several minutes would be a message posted that the give-away was over. Sorry, it said.

On that first go-around, there was a place to put in shoe size. First of all, if this was mere registering, why go into such details? Well, the shoe site had listings that showed half-sizes, as a real number (as in, 9.5). But, the entry form would not take such and said that it wasn't a number. Okay, perhaps that was a filtering method. Remove those who aren't integer in size. Yet, the delay of having the form rejected caused the person to re-queue for a form (back into the Wipeout state).

Today, there were several things given away. Watching the action brought up the same issues. At several sites, there were several times that the server was not available, either to provide the form or to accept a filled-out form. Okay, that may have been due to too many people trying at the same time. If that type of thing were tried physically, there would have been a lot of bruised people.

So, that, Dr Oz, is where you need to recognize that these are not give-aways to the first of anything. Unless, you say that those who make it through all of the hoops ('oops) are who count. It would be interesting to look at the logs and see the failure (oops) rates. As in this, how many thousand failures were there for each success?

Some of the companies were classy. The shoe site did show server failure, but they also were quick to switch to the sorry message rather than just make the server unavailable imply losing the game. It took the Barnes & Noble site much longer to post the sorry message than I would expect, except they used a promotions company who ought to know better.

There was one wrinkle in the B&N entry form that I noticed. In order to keep bots (as in automated attempts) from working, they wanted the person to type in what was in an image. You've seen these things. Scrambled letters (rather, characters, CAPTCHA) that cannot easily be extracted by image processing techniques. Actually, even by the eye, some are difficult to decipher.

Well, in all of the B&N entry forms (meaning that the person got in the door and obtained a form) that I observed, there was no image (in other words, bad form). Again, was this a filtering method? That is the second point, Dr Oz, which relates to the accounting for these types of things. As you can see, they are random according to the first point. Now, there are silly things like the missing image, or thinking that half-sizes don't exist, which keep someone from making it through the hoops ('oops).

The current method is not first-come, first-served in any normal context. How can it be made so? Or, if it cannot, then the description needs to change to use Wipeout, or something similar, as a metaphor.

Why not just do a random drawing on those who get through the hoops ('oops) in the first 1/2 hour or so?

By the way, the viewer tried to get one of the items at 4:32 pm. Guess what? It worked, at least, to the point of accepting the form and replying that they would send an e-mail about how to get the item. That is 1 1/2 hour after the start. Did people just give up from being hit in the Wipeout fashion?

However, there is the chance that the acceptance was an error. It may be that the 'sorry' message had not been activated yet for that item as it had already been for all of the others.

I'll follow up on this later.


06/17/2014 -- Dr Oz called before Congress. Not sure what this is all about and not going to watch closely (look at the comments (pot calling the kettle black, goes the adage). My gripe stands. Why not use some of his money to improve how he handles the internet side of whatever he is doing? Just having a disclaimer that his stuff is entertainment is a cop-out, IMHO.

01/19/2011 -- Same old thing. On the TV that I was near yesterday, the good Dr said that there would be a give away tomorrow (today, of course). He said 1,000 chip makers would be given away. So, I thought that  might be interesting to try. The page (at Dr Oz site) said that it would open (as in the registration) at 3 pm EST. I got on to the site at 3:01 pm EST. There was a form to fill in. But, on hitting the submit button, it said that registration was closed. Just like that. Again. either someone had to sit there and at 3:00 on the nose, do the keyboard work. Of course, that only takes 1/2 a minute, at most. Then, the submit would queue you back into the site (your getting the form is not when you actually queue for the drawing). The show is popular, so it could easily hit 1000 in a minute. But, that is definitely not 1st come due to what was discussed before. On the other hand, were there 1000 to be give? The window closed awful quickly. Is it that the good Dr wants people to drop everything and just concentrate on hitting a window that is probably only seconds wide? It's not a game of skill given the dynamics of TCP (et al). The irony is that the words on the page said that the drawing was for a week. I didn't get any confirmation that the form took. Would that not be part of the protocol?

12/20/2011 -- I don't watch the show, usually. But, just yesterday as I watched briefly, there was another of these first comer things. Remember the stories about this past Friday after Thanksgiving. Mob scenes, macings, and other things of this ilk; that is, private enterprise encouraging such behavior (does it help them try to shin as holy - ah, we all know better). In this type of thing, a random drawing is the only fair way. Even on-line, there is not an infinite buffer. So, being kicked out due to  unavailable resource is more likely than not when the demand gets heavy. I would think that the good Dr. would try to help lead the internet wild west toward a more civilized state of affairs.

02/08/2011 -- The viewer received a note from the pillow company to an inquiry about their method as the viewer had received a confirmation. The following is taken from the note:
  • We received over 10k registrations in the first few minutes alone. All received confirmation e-mails indicating that we received their registration. Only the first 200 registrants will receive an e-mail in the following days indicating that they’ve won. You still have a chance to win an Essentia Natural Memory Foam pillow by visiting.
If you follow the link, you'll see that the requirement is to comment on a you-tube video.

Modified: 06/17/2014

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