Hackin’ The Net

rainbow-pcWe bet you have indirectly used an app called HotSchedules and never known it, but if you got a smiling server to bring you food or drink at restaurants like Rock Bottom, Palomino or a host of others, then you unknowingly used it.

Have you ever checked out at the Apple store? Then you might not have realized it, but the happy person who checked you out (and asked “Do you want that receipt e-mailed to you?”) used another app you have likely never seen or heard of.

Welcome to the “hidden” world of the internet, where life is fine and dandy and where there exist hundreds, if not thousands, of apps and programs you probably never heard of and cannot access but which touch your and my daily lives. Some are more visible than others, and some are so well-hidden that they can only be accessed from computers, iPads or iPods on certain company or government networks. And all of them have their very own functions.

A few of them are in plain sight, but without the “tools” which go along they are useless to the average person. That first one I mentioned, HotSchedules, is one such.

Do a search on the app store and you will find it. It’s there in plain sight and costs $2.99, but reading the fine print it says, “Requires a valid and current HotSchedules user account,” meaning that if you do not work for a business (and they are mostly, but not entirely restaurants) which provides you with a user account, having the app will get you nothing. No access and no information.

Go to work at a restaurant using it, add in your user name, password and personal work info and you will get to see your schedule, available free shifts you might want to “pick up” for extra hours and income and you might even be allowed to swap shifts, request future days off and more, all while the app reports what you’ve requested and signed up for to the boss, plus keeping her or him informed who is due to do what when and whom to pay for it. It’s something that pen and paper schedules from “back in the day” never allowed and it’s all a part of the hidden internet.

There are also the receipt, check-out and reservation apps and programs which more and more hotels, stores and restaurants now use. Pay for something at the farmer’s market, gay pride or that school festival at the park and there’s a decent chance if you charge you will get to use an app called Square or one of its cloned competitors. They all are business- to-business apps which allow companies (large and small) to accept credit cards anywhere, anytime. The app comes with a small square holder which has a credit card “swipe” feature imbedded so it can accept your card, check out its approval and then you can sign with a finger or stylus — whether you be at home, an office or at the local fairgrounds.

Want or need a receipt? Enter a valid e-mail address and Square will send you an electronic copy, complete with your signature, and the full itemized list of what you bought and how much you paid for it. Meanwhile the merchant gets an e-mail showing that same screen (signature and all) and an amount which can be cleared at the end of the day so funds go directly into his or her bank account and they can check off just who paid, when and how much. Still need more hidden apps? There are specialized ones which restaurants use (some in association with the very popular Open Table website and app) which allow management of incoming reservation requests. You might book that 6.45 at Palomino, Eagles Nest or Fogo with a few clicks, but at their end they need to know where they are going to seat you, how many are in your party and any special requests, such as a table not a booth or a birthday party or more.

Other businesses use reservation apps and programs to allow iPads to be used at a hotel or restaurant’s front desk. At more than one Indianapolis eatery a table plan appears for the host or hostess on a host station iPad so he or she knows not only what’s available, but when someone was seated, who their waiter or waitress is and more.

Some firms have very well hidden private apps. Remember we mentioned Apple earlier? They have Easy Pay, Mobile Genius and Concierge apps just to mention three. They can only be installed on Apple devices in the Apple stores and only work when connected to Apple store servers.

Designed by Apple software engineers for Apple employee use, they are great examples of what’s out there in the hidden corporate world, though they are far, far from alone as a lot of big corporations have apps that are designed and written for their employees and have to be installed the same way. Most of those we “civilians” never even get to see or find out about aside from when they are used to help us check in, out or order a meal or room.

And speaking of civilians, the governments (U.S., states and others here and abroad) all have apps, programs and areas of the internet where they operate.

This can be anything from taxpayer help to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to things which are much more immediate. In the UK there’s one where you can access the National Health Service and check with a nurse or database if you are ill.

In the U.S. everything from renewing your car plates to checking who owns your favorite radio station is possible if you know where or can find out where and how to look. And trust me, there are many more the military and other agencies use that we can’t see, know about or ever find.

So why am I writing about this topic? Easy! Because I am always fascinated by all things internet and how a lot of the stuff you and I do every day works. While most restaurants, stores and other places will let you “see” if you ask, a lot won’t because it’s against policy or the rules, which is why we get to write this column and share our knowledge.

Next month, some of our annual ideas for holiday gifts…and this year looks to have a lot of choices from a number of different manufacturers. See you in December when we help you wrap up your holidays with just a few clicks and then you can put your feet up and hope someone got you that special electronic gift, too.


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