The New Solitaire

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, the PC Doctor, posted a question today. He asked if blogging has become the new Solitaire, keeping workers pre-occupied at work and possibly driving down productivity, the way businesses feared computer Solitaire would when everyone got a desktop computer back in the nineties.

Ah, that first office computer…

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I remember the first computer I got at my office downtown (not to be confused with my office at home, from where I write this). We were running what was probably the second or third newest version of DOS (that trend continues to this day). About all we could do was send emails (from some long-forgotten DOS-based interface) and use whatever the second or third newest version of WordPerfect was. If there were any games to be had back then, we didn’t know about it.

Some of us did figure out how to access other peoples’ email though, and I actually caused a fictional meeting to occur between two of my friends. I sent an email from each to the other asking to meet at a designated time and place about “an exciting new project.” Each one thought the other asked for the meeting and here’s the incredible part: they had the meeting and never figured out that it was bogus. They just started talking about all sorts of stuff and never got around to the “exciting new project.” That was almost as funny as the stuff some guys did back when we first got (and immediately hacked) voicemail. In the interest of CYA, let me note that I told both our IT department, who had asked me to fool around with the program to see if it was secure, and the two attendees about the joke; no one was offended and we all laughed about it.

We eventually got some two or three year old version of Windows and I remember that our IT folks went to great lengths to remove all the games. I really appreciated that when I was stuck on planes and in airports for hours and hours back in my traveling days.

Much later, we finally got access to the great big ol’ internet and, I guess because they knew we could find worse on the web, they actually left the games on our computers.

Did a ton of people play computer Solitaire then? Probably, but here’s the thing. There are two kinds of Solitaire players: those who play it for a while because it’s new and then lose interest (I went through that with Minesweeper back in the day) and those who become semi-addicted and play it all the time, either to avoid work or out of boredom, etc. The first group of people are not going to let it interfere with getting their work done. The second group would find some other diversion if the game was not available.

So is it the new Solitaire?

My observations from walking down the halls at my office lead me to believe that the new Solitaire is comprised of the same sort of things people did before blogs: computer dating services, online home listings, chat programs (for those who have figured out a way around my firm’s firewall) and a collection of flash-based online games (including, of course, Solitaire). Then there’s all the online newspapers, fantasy football pages and other online content. It may be different in other offices, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone reading or writing a blog at my office.

For most people, these diversions don’t interfere with their work in any material adverse way. For others, they do. But, again, if it wasn’t this it would be something else.

What about the Web 2.0 companies?

One of Adrian’s points is that all these people at work who are typing away at their computers doing what looks like work, but is actually surfing, taging, reading and writing on web sites like Technorati, Flickr, Bloglines, Delicious, Engadget, et. al, are creating mad value for these Web 2.0 companies at the expense of the companies who are paying their salaries. I’m certain this happens, but I don’t think it’s happening more with these companies that it did previously with Yahoo, Google and The New York times. It’s the same time wasting- only with cooler stuff.

Meet the new Solitaire…

So while I don’t know for sure, I suspect that, to paraphrase The Who, the new Solitaire is the same as the old Solitaire.