You're looking at a new phone. You wonder whether it's right for you. Is the quality good? Can you read the screen in sunlight? How is the software? If you just read the company ads, everything looks great - but is that the whole story? How can you tell more about what using that phone would really be like, before you spend your hard-earned cash?
As modern users of technology, we know the answer to that question. If we want to know things about that phone that we won't see in the ads, we check the user reviews - every product has them.
The company may not tell us that the battery life is short - but user reviews will quickly point that out. The company won't mention that the phone may have signal problems when held a certain way - users will squawk about that immediately. If we want the truth, we'll want to see what people who have actually used that phone are saying!
And though any one review may not be useful to us, reading many reviews will give us a good idea of the phone's real strengths and weaknesses, and how it compares to other similar phones. Reading user reviews, just like talking to actual users, gives us a much better basis for making our decision about that phone. After all, those folks have already bought the phone and lived with it - and we can learn from their experience.
Knowing those things would give us a better basis for making employment decisions - and it would also increase pressure on substandard companies to shape up. Qualified seafarers are needed by the world's fleets. But substandard companies who have been publicly "named and shamed" would have trouble attracting good men.
You can say that we already know about companies' reputations - after all, who gossips more than sailors? But companies come and go, they merge, they change flags and names. A central repository of constantly updated company information, supplied by sailors and publicly available on the Web, would spread the word much faster - and might save some men from miserable experiences. It could shift the balance of power ever so slightly in the seaman's favor.
Think - what kind of company was Azal Shipping? We know they didn't invest in piracy insurance, and took a dangerous shortcut that made them more vulnerable to pirate attack. And the crew paid the price. If they had known more about Azal Shipping, would some of MV Iceberg 1's sailors have made a different decision about working there? Maybe they wouldn't be hostages today.
This idea - making a useful, confidential tool for sailors to "rate" their companies - is one that we've been discussing among the MAG membership, and I wanted to throw it open to the readers of this blog: Would you, as a working seaman, be willing to confidentially rate the company you work for - knowing that other seamen would benefit from what you had to say?
If such a tool existed, how should it work - how could it be made easy to use and easy to access? Can you point us to any existing tools that you use and like to rate other things? Let me know what you think, even if you think it's dumb idea - then tell me why, and what you think would work better.
Knowledge is power. Let's build something that will help seamen!