Monday, May 30, 2011

Some Annoying Website Features

Why is the  "delete everything I just did "  button located next to the  "continue to next page" button on websites that ask you to fill out a lot of data?

The Internet is great.  No, I am not talking about Twitter or Facebook.  The real Internet - the one that allows you to mine all sorts of great data - the one that allows you to work online, communicate online, and make a living online.  And I spend a lot of time on the Internet as part of my job.  I interact with clients online, I file my Patents online, and I send and receive documents to and from clients online - everywhere in the world.  It has truly liberated us.

The fake Internet - Facebook and their ilk - are just showy crap for people who don't know how to use the Internet.  But for a lot of people, that IS the Internet.  But for the rest of us, we don't need a "skin" covering the real Internet, and prefer to access real pages rather than a Facebook page.

Websites are all different, of course.  However, we are starting to see many coders start to coalesce around certain Internet norms.  You can go onto a commercial website and order a part for your computer, your car, or whatever, and the checkout procedure will seem very familiar and consistent with other sites.  That is, most of the time.

Some sites, on the other hand, have annoying features which cause a lot of frustration.  And I think one reason this is true is that the person who writes the code for the site never actually USES the site.  So they have no idea how to make the site work or how people would use it.

Perhaps in 10-20 years, all of this will be behind us - most web sites will have fairly standard formats and data entry routines.  But today, they can still be all over the map.  And some website features can be frustrating and annoying.

Here are some of my pet peeves, in no particular order.

1.  Putting the "CANCEL" button next to the "CONTINUE" button and making them appear identical.  You fill out three pages of forms online, and then hit what you think is CONTINUE only to erase everything and start over.  And no, it doesn't provide a warning pop-up.

2.  Putting the "CANCEL" button next to the last field in the page and the "CONTINUE" button in some obscure location. Same as #1 above.  Why does the coder assume that the user wants to CANCEL and place that prominently, but that the more likely choice, CONTINUE, is to put in an obscure location?

3.  Dumping a page when a person hits "CANCEL" by mistake, without asking for confirmation.

4.  Inconsistencies in filling out data fields - some require you to TAB between fields (such as the parts of a phone number or date field) while others jump to the next field automatically.  Let's pick ONE method and stick with it, eh?

5.  If you have trouble with the site, you call the 1-800 number listed and they say "I'm sorry, but we don't handle the website" - and in fact there is no way to get in contact with anyone who handles any website problems.

6.  The opposite of #5 - you e-mail or call about a company problem, and get a guy who says "I just handle the website" and has no idea how to contact the company.

7.  An entry page that says "click here to enter site" when you type in the URL for the site.  Why not simply go to the site?

8.  An entry page that plays an annoying flash animation, video, or slideshow, before it will let you get to the real page.

9.  Same as #8 above, but it has a "click here to bypass the idiotic multimedia presentation".

10.  Same as #9 above, but the "click here to bypass" is obscured by an error message from the flash player.

11.  Sites that are long on graphics and multimedia content and short on real content.  All car maker sites are like this.  Tons of interactive videos with gushing ad copy, but no where is listed the towing capacity or horsepower of the car.  A website is a data source, not an advertising venue.  Put the Engineers in charge of the website, not the advertising department.  NO ONE WATCHES YOUR STUPID AD VIDEOS, ANYWAY.

12.  Sites that change formats regularly for no apparent reason whatsoever, other than to "freshen" the format and graphics.  Usually, this means your most often used features are obscured in favor of video or multimedia-laden fluff.

13.  Websites so poorly laid out that the only way you can find anything is to use the SEARCH feature or SITE INDEX to find things  (example, finding FORMS on requires you use the index, pretty much).

14.  Sites with no SEARCH feature or INDEX, making it damn near impossible to navigate.

15.  Sites for companies that do not provide their basic contact information - mailing address, phone number, fax number, etc.  I can understand not providing phone or fax, but mailing address?  Come on...

16.  Photo sites that allow you to upload your JPEGS and store them for free.  After a year and 1,000 photos, they decide to reformat everything to a proprietary format, so you can't download your photos anymore or use the site for photo hosting.

17.  Same as #16 above, but they start putting annoying and loud video ads in the sidebar.  Yea, I'm talking about Webshots.  (Update:  Webshots decided to erase everyone's photos - nice!).

18.  Websites with annoying pop-ups, pop-unders, and the latest gag, the slide-up (when you move the mouse over a word).  Snopes is a prime example.

19.  Websites that ask you to update your password every month for security purposes.  How does changing your password constantly increase security?  If someone steals your password, they have a whole month to use it - and can update it when prompted.  I fail to see how this ever adds any security whatsoever.  Just annoying.

20.  CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) blocks that show text so distorted that 9 times out of 10, you can't make out what it is showing (Wikipedia seems particularly prone to this).

21.  Use of CAPTCHA for totally innocuous pages.

22.  CAPTCHA blocks that never, ever work at all (such as the WIPO website).

23.  CAPTCHA blocks that say "entry is incorrect" and then allow you to download the data anyway (WIPO, again).

24.  CAPTCHA blocks that use numbers and letters both, so you can't tell if that is supposed to be a "zero" or an "oh".  Why not eliminate the zero and oh from these and save everyone a lot of hassle?

25.  Paranoid levels of security on websites - sending you confirmation e-mails that you have to click on a link to activate some security measure - all so you can post a comment on the "cute kittens" discussion blog.

26.  Blogsites with paranoid levels of security that won't let you post a relevant comment, but are full of spam comments from Russian Viagra sites.  I think your security measures ain't a-working.

27.  Sites that force you to watch a 15-30 second ad in order to watch a two-minute video.  CNN and YouTube are prime examples.  Um, one reason I stopped watching television was that the ad content was so high.  You think I'm going to tolerate a HIGHER ad content on the Internet?

28.  Sites that provide video-only content, without text versions of pages or other real content.  What is this, Fahrenheit 451 ?  No one is assumed to be able to READ anymore?

This is just a short list I created.  I may add a few more things over time...