The “Afghani Banker” Syndrome

Jun 07, 2006 • 5 minutes to read

It’s about time I added a contribution to the blogosphere lexicon so you too can seem l33t at the next blogger meet up and deride your fellow attendees who haven’t heard of the “Afghani Banker” syndrome as being too “analog”. Best of all, the Afghani Banker syndrome is based on actual data, something I’m not sure most buzzwords can claim (Web 2.0 anyone?).

The “Afghani Banker” Syndrome Defined

The “Afghani Banker” Syndrome describes the occurrence when customers are forced to complete a registration form before they gain access to otherwise restricted products or services. The name is coined based on customers tendency to choose from the first couple of choices alphabetically from a list of options as in choosing the first country in a country drop down list would pick “Afghanistan” and the second job in a job drop down list would pick “Banker”.

Occasionally referred to as the “90210 syndrome” for the unusually high occurrence of the zip code based on the 1990’s television series.

Occasionally referred to as the “Afghani deviation” where it is used as a means to measure the margin of error, for example if 2% of people answered Afghanistan, you can assume a +/- 2% margin of error.


When Visual Studio 2005 Express Edition first launched in November 2004, we had 100,000 registrations the first week. That was huge and there was quite a bit of excitement around the announcement and buzz on how Microsoft was doing the right thing and not abandoning the hobbyist. One of the things we wanted to do was build a better relationship with these customers and that would start by capturing some basic information about them like name, email, country, job role, zip code, technology they are interested in, and programming languages they are interested in. As I wanted to better understand the customers that had registered Express, and since we don’t have the best internal systems, I created my own reporting database to see trends. What we look here is strictly non-PII (Personally Identifiable Information) data, like the top countries, zip codes, programming languages or combinations thereof. What I found was that we suffered from the term I now refer to as the “Afghani Banker” Syndrome. The CIA world Fact book at the time (2004) reported that there was approximately 1,000 internet users in Afghanistan (the number has since been updated in 2005 to an estimated 25,000). When I tabulated the Express registrations, I saw we had > 1,000 Afghani bankers register Visual Studio Express Beta 1. That’s right, we had more bankers from Afghanistan register the product then there were estimated internet users . Second, the three most popular zip codes when registering were bogus - “12345”, “90210”, and “00000”. Third, we had 70 registrations from Bouvet Island. For those who aren’t familiar with Bouvet Island, I’ll steal a partial description of it here, Bouvet Island is “an uninhabited sub-antarctic volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean”, “93% of the island is covered by glaciers”, and “It has no ports or harbors, only offshore anchorages”, “…can be considered the most remote island on the planet”. The Bouvet Island registrations have to be my all time favorite, not just because it had me laughing all day, but because I think it may be a result of having uber Express customers who are cool enough to know that Bouvet Island is the island referenced in the classic Alien vs. Predator movie.

**Bad Decisions Based on Real Data **

Now if you strictly made decisions based on the data, you may have decided that we need to create a localized starter kit for Bankers in Afghanistan, better outreach to Schenectady, New York (zip code: 12345, population 61K+), or that Beverly Hills, CA (zip code: 90210, population: 10K+) had become a little silicon valley, or that somehow Centralia, PA (zip code: 00000, population: 20) had a huge influx of developers move in that increased its population several orders of magnitude, or that we should develop a GPS solution to help navigate glaciers around Bouvet Island. Perhaps. Or perhaps, people don’t care about filling out forms and will literally pick the first choice. If you care about your customers, you should have a healthy skepticism when presented with what appears to be farcical trends.

**Curing the “Afghani Banker” Syndrome **

I’m not sure that this can be fully cured, for one thing, there may actually be bankers in Afghanistan that are interested in programming, but it can certainly be treated. Our team is always looking at ways to provide real value for customers that would make them want to add their correct information. For example, for the RTM release of Visual Studio Express, we dramatically decreased the Afghani deviation by providing real value in the form of free eBooks, stock photography, Windows icons, and free controls for registering the product. Going forward, we want to build on the relationship we have with our Express customers, address their pain points, and even provide special benefits for them. It’s a work in progress so I of course look forward to your feedback on what would be a good, general purpose way to provide incentives for Express customers

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