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CreaBros Oy: Sync(EGroupware, Nokia 5800) == feel like dumbass

Sync(EGroupware, Nokia 5800) == feel like dumbass

Feb 17, 06:00 PM

It’s funny that when digital devices malfunction it is usually the user who feels inadequate. People react very differently some automatically think that they did something wrong, some give up and some think that these problems are some sort of divine inevitability. Problem is that usually there is no way of telling what actually went wrong.

My daily venture to inevitability of failure happened when I noticed that one of the contacts from my phone was missing. This of course was strange in itself, but instead of worrying about it I decided to solve it by synchronizing with the company EGroupware service. I had turned the contacts synchronizing off, because some reason there were a lot of duplicates. I never looked into why that was. Now I decided to enable synchronization, since I figured that I had deleted the contact by accident. Few clicks and crap, all of my contacts had disappeared from the contacts list. What now? Well, the contacts are probably still on the server and indeed that was the case, but how to get the contacts to move back to the phone? Well, EGroupware has method for transferring contacts between private, personal and group. I don’t know what the difference is between private and personal. So I figured maybe the contacts are in a wrong category. First I set the phone to transfer from server to phone only, no avail.
Then I do “Select All” on all contacts on server, which was stupid, should always experiment with a subset, click transfer to private, resync on the phone: nothing happens. Transfer to personal, resync and something happens. Phone says transferring to server. Catastrophe, all the contacts have disappeared from both, phone and server.

Moral of the story? Perhaps I should have known how to use the system before using it or was there actually a way to do it right? I really don’t know. Perhaps I’ll look into the source code and see how it actually decides when to transfer and when to delete contacts. But it seems that system is very fragile to user input. Difficult thing is to determine now where the problem actually is, was it me the user who was dumb. Was it the phone that made the mistake or did the server decide that the since the phone didn’t have the contacts it shouldn’t either. Why did the phone decide to delete the contacts in the first place? Had I done something earlier that caused the contacts to be deleted? Is there a fault in the protocol?

Quite often implementers don’t even themselves know exactly how a piece of software will work with other piece implemented by someone else. Protocol should usually define the expected outcome, but this doesn’t always mean we get the outcome we want, however. It is the job of implementation to make the protocol humane i.e. understandable to the user. If the implementation fails to convey what will be the result from users actions results can be like like above. This tends to be a problem especially with systems that try to be automatic and require very little user action. Should the system have prompted me and told me about 300 contacts will be deleted from the phone and the on next sync that about 300 contacts will be deleted from the server? Well perhaps, but then next time if I delete one contact do I want to see that message? Probably not. Maybe the sync button should have had a message below it that had said 300 messages will be deleted, but then the implementation would have had to do a “dry run” to determine that, but that would have increased the overhead of the application significantly, but in this case I would have been glad of that.

In the end I did get most of my contacts back. First I made a backup of current EGroupware for the whole company. Then I restored the EGroupware from backup, which I knew still contained my contacts. Then I changed the setting from “both ways” to “to server” on the phone and now I have the contacts back. Luckily Creabros is a small company, so nobody else was inconvenienced but me.

Kalle Kuismanen

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