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Category: Communication

With “sponsored auto-correct,” you’ll be able to buy a phone for even cheaper! And it will only be SOMEWHAT infuriating to use!

Background:

When typing on a phone with an on-screen virtual keyboard, the auto-correct feature is essential.

Strangely, this auto-correct / auto-complete feature has never been monetized!

Proposal:

In order to bring great deals to consumers and new advertising opportunities to companies, we describe the following auto-correct enhancement.

Currently, auto-correct is boring and predicable. For example:

  • Typing “I’m going” may suggest the following completions: “to,” “on,” or “out.”
  • Typing: “I like” may suggest “that,” “the,” or “it.”

These are reasonable guesses, but what if we enhanced the autocorrect system to allow for sponsored suggestions (Figure 1).

“I’m going” could suggest:

  • “I’m going to
  • “I’m going on
  • “I’m going—but first, I’m going to drink a refreshing [BRAND NAME] soda, and then

The particular [BRAND NAME] would be determined by whichever company was the highest bidder for the auto-correct ad.

Fig. 1: Left: the traditional autocorrect system suggests “soo__” -> “soon.” Right: the improved ad-sponsored system inserts a valuable promotion into this otherwise-boring text message.

It would also be possible to increase national pride and patriotism by changing the autocorrect to insert mandatory patriotic messages, such as:

“I like” ➡

  • “I like the
  •  “I like our glorious leader-for-life, who will lead our nation to victory over our cowardly foes
  •  “I like to

Or

“I support” ➡

  • “I support the
  • “I support quartering troops in my house—it’s my patriotic duty as a citizen
  • “I support it

Conclusion:

The best part about this system is that each ad implicitly carries the endorsement of the sender: it’s more persuasive to have a friend or trusted colleague text you with “I’ll be at the meeting, let me just finish this Ultra Crunch™ Cereal first” than to just see an impersonal ad demanding that you eat that specific cereal.

There is some prior work in this area: the Amazon Kindle “with special offers” shows ads on its screen while it’s sleeping, in return for being somewhat cheaper.

As an added bonus, each ad reaches TWO people (the sender and the recipient)!

PROS: Helps people afford more extravagant cell phones by subsidizing their purchases in return for ads infecting the auto-correct system.

CONS: None!

Video chat’s next major feature: physical positioning of participants (“mingle at a party” options) to allow a huge chat to be split into manageable groups!

Background:

With the 2020 COVID plague, work-related video chats have become increasingly full of a large number of participants (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Video chat software (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, Hangouts, Meet, Duo, Skype, and more) typically only allows participants to appear in a randomly-ordered grid. All participants are part of the same (single) discussion: there is no easy way to have a “side discussion” and then rejoin the main conversation.

The issue:

Video chats have a problem that in-person office work does not: there is no convenient way for participants of an unreasonably-large video chat group to split off into subgroups.

Instead, every discussion must take place in a SINGLE mega-discussion with all participants, or people need to leave the mega-discussion and start their own exclusive video chat groups. People often get around this by having side discussions over text, but that’s not really a great solution either.

Proposal:

In a physical workspace, it’s easy to have a small discussion: simply PHYSICALLY relocate the individuals in the conversation to an empty lunchroom table or meeting room.

To improve video chat, we simply implement the same feature: instead of each video participant just being a randomly-placed square in a grid, now each participant can also specify their location on a virtual floor plan (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Left: the old-fashioned style of video chat. Right: the updated video chat, where you can only hear and see participants who are in close physical proximity. In this case, the chat has split into groups A, B, and C (shown here from the perspective of a person in Group B). Everyone in Group B has a normal video chat, but can only faintly hear low-audio-volume chats going on in groups A and C.

Importantly, it’s still possible to see and hear people who are somewhat nearby on the floor plan, but at a very low volume. So you can know that a conversation is going on, and join in if necessary, but it won’t drown out your primary discussion.

Previous Examples:

Some video games implement a system like this (“proximity audio”), in which you can hear voice chat only from nearby players. However, as far as I am aware, this has never been a feature in any office-focused collaboration software.

PROS: This seems like it should actually exist! Maybe it hasn’t been developed before due to the lack of compelling business case for having large numbers of people on video calls.

CONS: Might lead to a tyrannically oppressive workplace in which work-from-home employees are mandated to always be available on video chat and present on a virtual floor plan.

Never be concerned whether or not your household electronics are spying on you! This new repurposing of the “ON AIR” sign will save you from fretting!

Background:

It seems that nearly every electronic device with a camera or microphone is now Internet-enabled and can wirelessly send video and audio to the world.

The issue:

Due to the preponderance of electronic hardware in a modern household, it can be difficult which (if any) device is spying on you at that exact moment (Figure 1).

This is a relatively new phenomenon, since it used to be the case that:

  1. Cameras were relatively large
  2. Non-CIA recording devices generally needed to be physically wired to a power source and network cable.

Fig. 1: One of these devices is currently streaming video from the user’s house—but which one? Video-enabled devices sometimes have a recording light (but not always: e.g. phones, tablets), but checking these lights is still annoying and time-consuming. And audio recording generally has no indication whatsoever!

Proposal:

The classic solution to the “are we recording right now?” question is a lit-up “ON AIR” sign [see examples] that can light up whenever a TV station is broadcasting.

This same concept can be applied to modern devices: a person would buy a new piece of “ON AIR” hardware (this would essentially just be a WiFi-enabled screen). This ON AIR sign would connect to the household WiFi network light up any time it detected video being sent out to the Internet.

Detecting that streaming is happening could occur in two ways:

1) Network traffic analysis can generally identify data as “this is a stream of video / audio.” This is a solution that would probably work in most cases.

2) Each video/audio-enabled device can talk to the ON AIR sign over WiFi and notify it that streaming is occurring. This would be on the “honor system”: well-behaved software would periodically report that it was streaming. One benefit of this opt-in method is that streaming devices could send additional metadata: e.g., instead of just “ON AIR (Some computer is sending video),” the user would see “ON AIR (Joe’s PowerBook G4, streaming video over RealPlayer for 4:34)”.


Fig. 2: Thanks to this lit-up “ON AIR” sign, the user knows that there is some device recording them, and exactly which device is responsible (in this case, the “smart television”).

Of course, neither of these methods is a 100% guarantee of detecting live video being streamed: for example, a phone that was using its cellular data to stream would not be detected.

Conclusion:

This could probably be a legitimate product!

PROS: Would be a good value-add option for a router manufacturer. “This router will light up if it detects outgoing video/audio!”

CONS: Might cause the user to become extremely paranoid upon realizing that their watch, tablet, computer, phone, external monitor, fitness tracker, headphones, and dozens of other devices could all be surreptitiously spying at any time.

Battle to the death (metaphorically) when getting customer support over the phone, thanks to the new “phone support roguelike” text adventure system! Customer support will never be the same again.

Background:

Sometimes, getting technical support from a company requires making an actual phone call. Like the audio / voice kind that people used to do in old movies!

Typically, one ends up in an “on hold” scenario in which soothing music is intermittently interrupted by the message “representatives are busy, your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.”

The Issue:

Since this is a very non-interactive process, it is easy for users to feel bored, un-engaged, and unvalued. It’s very likely that a caller will be on hold for half an hour or more, and the hold music loses some of its charm after it repeats five times. (If you want to re-live the experience, try searching for Cisco CallManager Hold Music).

Proposal:

Instead of just having the calls answered in the same order they are received, a company could reward the most attentive callers with faster service—in other words make the customers prove their dedication and loyalty!

Here are three proposals that will accomplish this:

Proposal #1 of 3: “Arbitrary Questions”

This is the simplest to implement (Figure 1): while on hold, a caller will need to occasionally answer simple questions (e.g. “What is two plus two?”). If the user pays attention and answers the question correctly, they remain in their position in the customer support queue. But if they make a mistake or fail to answer, they move down in the queue. Thus, attentive callers get faster service.

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Fig. 1: This “customer support flowchart” shows a hypothetical “Arbitrary Question”-based customer service queue. Note that in this case, the penalty for failure is extremely high—complete disconnection! This makes it the world’s first “customer support on-hold roguelike game.”

Proposal #2 of 3: “Text Adventure”

This proposal is inspired by text adventure video games (e.g. Zork) or the famous series of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. In this system, instead of being presented with simple math questions, the user is asked to survive in a fantasy adventure.

An example text-adventure-themed question might be:

“Your party of adventurers encounters a horrifying army of mummies in the crypt. Do you:

  • 1) Attack them with your mace
  • 2) Throw a lit torch onto their ragged forms
  • 3) Try to retreat
  • 4) Try to convince them that your quest is noble”

This system has the disadvantage of requiring more effort to write, but it has the advantage of potentially being more engaging to the audience*. ([*] This requires that the questions are tailored to the audience correctly: users of a municipal railway line might not as enthused about the mummy-crypt example above as customers for an online board game store would be.)

Proposal #3 of 3: “Battle Royale / Thunderdome Tournament Brackets”

In this system, a tournament bracket is generated to include all callers in a specific interval of time (say, 5 minutes). These users are then pitted against each other in one-on-one trivia battle: whoever answer the most questions correctly advances in the technical support queue, while the loser is moved down in the queue.

This could reward the most loyal fans of a company, since the trivia questions could be themed around that specific company (e.g. an Apple technical support call might ask “Which of these individuals was a co-creator of the original Apple Macintosh?” and then have a list of names).

Conclusion:

All of these systems allow the “on hold” process to be more engaging, thus (presumably) increasing brand loyalty and customer satisfaction.

PROS: Adds a sense of danger and adventure to even the most trivial technical support question.

CONS: If you call for customer support, but you don’t know that much about the product, you might ALWAYS have to wait for hours while the true fans destroy you in (say) Samsung-themed trivia questions.

Avoid being stressed out by non-stop negative news with this new local news app idea, which will report positive happenings as well! And if there aren’t any, it will fabricate them out of nothing, so don’t trust it too much!

Background:

There are many phone apps that provide neighborhood-focused local news updates in real time (e.g. “Nextdoor” and “Citizen”).

This can make a person aware of every single burglary, car accident, “suspicious dog,” and other strange happening that may occur in their general vicinity.

The issue:

While this information can be useful, it often leads to an unrealistically alarming and paranoia-inducing view of daily life.

For example, in a large city, a person is almost always within a mile or two of a robbery or burglary, and these apps will constantly ping the user that crimes are being committed on a non-stop basis in the user’s immediate area.

Proposal:

In order to combat this relentless deluge of negative news, we suggest a modification of the local news app to provide a more “balanced” coverage of what’s actually going on in a neighborhood (Figure 1).

For example, perhaps someone snatched a purse from a cafe, but also at that same time, a kindly neighbor rescued someone’s cat from a tree.

In a “normal” news app, only the purse-snatching would be reported, but here we also report the cat rescue.

 

1-optimistic-local-news

Fig. 1: A neighborhood news app tends to only report gruesome happenings and dangerous things (left). This makes sense, but it also encourages a pessimistic view of one’s neighborhood. On the right, we see a “balanced” number of positive items as well: for example, the negative item “Horse theft” is balanced out by a new map marker for the positive item “very contented horse.”

Conclusion:

If we want to design this app in an extra-cynical fashion, it could just completely fabricate all of the positive situations. As an example, it could randomly populate neighborhoods with fictitious feel-good news like “jogger is complimented on their nice hat” or “dog-walker is high-fived by impressed neighbor.” The fabrications will be harder to detect, since there is no local government department dedicated to collecting statistics on cool and uplifting local happenings. Note: this scenario may negatively affect the reputation of the app if the truth is revealed.

PROS: May reduce the stress of urban living and counteract some of the negative features of constant news updates.

CONS: Crucial “negative” news (e.g. “Huge fire approaching! Evacuate!”) could be drowned out by nonsense like “Extra-fluffy cat spotted at corner of Main and 2nd!”

Don’t get on another video chat until you’ve fixed your crazy mountain-dweller hair with this incredible “green screen wig” lifehack!

Background:

When on a meeting with video chat, people generally like to look at least vaguely professional / presentable, even if they just rolled out of bed 5 minutes before the meeting.

The issue:

There are two main problems in video chat for people who want to project a corporate-approved professional image:

  1. The background should look non-disastrous.
  2. The person taking the call should not look like they have been living in a cave for weeks (Figure 1).

Several videoconferencing applications have solved problem #1 by adding a “virtual green screen” feature, which can automatically transform the user’s messy room into an expensive-looking modern mansion interior (e.g. the house from the movie Parasite).

1-hair-disaster

Fig. 1: This videoconferencing individual may be harshly judged for their unkempt appearance. If only there was a technical solution to this (besides using a comb)!

Proposal:

Fortunately, we can use the exact same green screen technology to allow the user to fix up their hair situation.

The implementation is simple: the user wears a cut-out green screen “hat” (Figure 2) that allows the computer to superimpose a flowing mane of magnificent hair behind them. Hair problem: solved!

2-hair-green-screen-example

Fig. 2: The head-attached green screen could be secured in place by a hairband, or it could be glued to the front of a pair of headphones.

PROS: Should save millions of hours per year in hair maintenance for videoconferencers.

CONS: May promote a new standard of unrealistically majestic hair.

Fix your “webcam eye contact” issues with this incredible new “swivel camera” laptop idea! Your conference calls will feature totally natural and not-at-all-unsettling eye contact from now on.

Background:

Most laptops include a built-in camera, typically located just above the top edge of the screen.

This type of camera is generally marketed as a “video chat” or “conference call” camera.

The issue:

When a person is on a video call, they tend to look at the image on the screen instead of directly at the camera. (Of course!)

So from the camera’s perspective—and the perspective of the remote video chat partner—the person using the webcam isn’t making eye contact, and is instead looking down semi-randomly.

Proposal:

We can solve the “video chat participant is not making eye contact” scenario by reducing the angle between the camera and the screen.

There are two straightforward ways to do this:

  • Solution #1: Move the laptop much farther away, so the camera and display are at nearly the same angle from the video chatter’s perspective.
  • Solution #2: Move the camera so that it is in front of the display. This is the solution we will be exploring.

Implementing Solution #1 is impractical with a laptop, since it (in most cases) needs to be relatively close to the user.

But Solution #2 is easy: we can put the camera on a swiveling arm and allow it to swing down to the middle of the screen (Figure 1).

Eye contact problems solved!

2-laptop-eye-direction.png

Fig. 1: Left: a normal laptop camera. Even though the chat participants are both making eye contact with the image on their screens, they are actually looking down from the perspective of the top-mounted camera. Right: now that the camera has been “swiveled” to the center of the screen, the chat participants are making eye contact in a natural manner.

PROS: Solves the weird eye gaze issues inherent to video chatting.

CONS: Adds a new fragile plastic part to snap off your laptop.

Bonus Part 1: A simpler solution:

  • Solution #3: The camera doesn’t actually have to move in order to have its viewpoint moved to the center of the display: the same result can be achieved with a small periscope (or fiber optic cable) that hangs on the laptop lid and redirects the camera view to the center of the screen.

One could imagine that such an aftermarket attachment could be manufactured extremely cheaply. Perhaps this is a good crowdfunding opportunity!

Bonus Part 2: Overly complicated solutions:

  • Solution #4: Create a partially-transparent laptop screen and put the camera behind it. This would probably require a new and highly specialized LED panel manufacturing process.
  • Solution #5: Edit the video feed in software, changing the user’s eyes in real time to always point directly at the screen. This is probably feasible, but it could be somewhat unsettling. (See also the related “touch up my appearance” face-smoothing feature on Zoom).

Related Idea:

See also: the laptop camera prism idea for including multiple people on a single machine on a conference call.

Never face “decision paralysis” due to a few one-star reviews on items you’re buying online, thanks to the “SURPRISE ME” purchase randomizer!

Background:

In the post-online-shopping world, there are now nearly innumerable purchasing options for every style of item.

If a person wanted to buy a particular style of baseball cap in the pre-Internet world, they would have the following option:

  • Go to a store
  • Purchase one of the, say, 4 or 5 suitable caps that are in stock.

But in the Internet-shopping era, the process is as follows:

  • Go online
  • Find literally thousands of options at nearly all price points
  • Find hundreds of reviews for each cap, ranging from “This hat saved my life ★★★★★.” to “This hat burned down my village and destroyed everything I ever loved. However, shipping was fast: ★★★☆☆.”

The issue:

A person may be unable to decide on a suitable purchase due to two factors:

  1. The overwhelming quantity of options (“overchoice“).
  2. The incredible amount of information available about each option (“analysis paralysis“). This is especially seen in purchasing of consumer electronics (e.g. a new stereo system or a television).

The solution:

Fortunately, the solution is very straightforward, and can be implemented by any web shopping site (see mockup in Figure 1):

  1. The user finds an item on the web site that is similar to what they’re looking for.
  2. The user adds this item to their shopping cart with a special button marked “SURPRISE ME.”
  3. Instead of adding the exact clicked-on item to their cart, the web site adds a similar randomly-chosen item that costs anywhere between 75% and 125% of the price of the clicked on item.
  4. The user is not informed of the actual contents of their shopping cart at checkout, only the total cost.
  5. A few days later, the mystery item arrives at the user’s house by mail.

1-shop-online

Fig. 1: Here, we see an online store that has a “surprise me” button that will allow the user to purchase a random item that matches their requirements (at left). (This is an alternate version of the situation described in the “solution” section above).

Conclusion:

Using the system above, decision paralysis can be avoided. This increases both the rate of all-devouring consumption of your customers, AND your company’s profit margins!

PROS: Could be legitimately implemented, probably does not break any local or national laws!

CONS: The rate of returns might be extremely high.

Stay informed about current events and local news with this incredible printing tip that resurrects the printed newspaper, with a twist: the paper is replaced by your own skin. Fortunately for you, no printing press is involved.

The issue:

Using your phone to read the news has three major downsides:

  1. You have to hold your phone. You could easily drop it!
  2. It uses battery life, which might be in short supply depending on how often you can charge your phone.
  3. A barrage of linked “clickbait” articles (with interesting photos) attempt to lure you away from reading any serious journalism.

Proposal:

Here, we propose to re-introduce newspaper kiosks, but with a twist: instead of providing a newspaper, the kiosk simply prints the day’s news onto your arm, as mocked up in Figure 1.

Then, you can easily read it at your leisure, without being distracted by phone messages, annoying ads, and low-battery indicators.

 

1-kiosk.png

Fig. 1: Just put your arm on the surface above, and the printing apparatus will write the day’s news on it in less than 15 seconds. Convenient! Since the system is entirely automated, enough money is saved on wages to afford a full-time 1930s-era newsboy to stand next to it and shout “Extra, Extra!”

The result of this printing apparatus is shown in Figure 2.

 

2-arm-single-color.png

Fig. 2: News of the day, as written on one (or both) arms.

 

The mockup looks quite successful so far, but there is a caveat that will restrict its market size, shown in figure 3.

3b-arms-shaded.jpg

Fig. 3: Variations in skin tone pose a challenge to the printing mechanism. Most inks can only darken the material they print on, which works for skin tones A and B, but results in unreadable text on dark skin tone C. A similar phenomenon is also observed in face-detection algorithms.

Fortunately, there is practical enhancement that will improve the experience for everyone (Figure 4).

3c-fluorescent-ink.jpg

Fig. 4: Luminous ink (non-radioactive) is the solution: not only does this work well for both light and dark skin, but it also lets you read the news in the dark, as shown above. In fact, there’s no way to turn it off, so you can’t even avoid reading the news when it is dark out. Not that you’d want to anyway, of course!

Conclusion:

Perhaps this would be a way to resurrect print journalism.

PROS: Provides great way to stay up-to-date on current events without being distracted by ads and clickbait articles. This will lead to an informed electorate and strong democracy.

CONS: Of limited utility in ares where short-sleeved shirts are not worn. Ideal test market would be a tropical location with a casual dress code.

Improve your cell phone reception AND easily use your cell phone even in bright light with this new incredible fashion accessory: the cell phone cowl!

The issue:

Using a cell phone outdoors can present two main problems, as shown in Figure 1. Specifically, you may be far from a tower (and thus, get poor reception) and the harsh light of the noon sun may make it very difficult to read the text on your phone, especially with the recently-popularized “dark mode” user interface themes.

1-bad-reception

Fig. 1: A) This cell phone is far from a tower, so it gets bad reception (and the battery drains faster). B) the harsh glare of the sun makes it hard to read the screen. Pros and cons of the sun: PRO: allows life to exist on Earth. CON: makes it hard to read Internet comments.

Proposal:

This new fashion accessory, the “Cell Phone Cowl” (Figure 2, A.K.A. “cell phone hood,” or “cell phone wimple”), allows the outdoor phone user to always have a shaded area for using their cell phone.

Additionally, the hood can have a built-in antenna (shown here as an external antenna, although it would probably be possible to run the antenna along the perimeter of the fabric instead). This will allow for better reception even in such remote and cell-phone-inhospitable locations as Downtown San Francisco.

 

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Fig. 2: C) The external antenna (plugged into the cell phone by an old-style phone cable) allows this cell phone user to get 5 bars of reception, despite their remote location. D) The hood / cowl provides shade, allowing the user to read Internet posts while cowering from the harsh light of the sun.

Conclusion:

You should pre-order your cell phone cowl before the waitlist gets too long!

PROS: Brings fashion and technology together at last in a way not seen since the incredible future predicted in “R.U. a Cyberpunk?” (1994 image from Mondo 2000).

CONS: An external antenna might hit door frames if you forget to collapse it before going inside, but an internal antenna would make it difficult to machine-wash the cowl. The horrible price of progress!