The Weak Reference

The Weak Reference

Kurser i Domain-Driven Design - Våren 2012

Monday, January 30, 2006

On Shipping Crap. Part II

Some things are just hard to understand. On a daily basis I encounter really badly designed websites with poorly implemented technical solutions, and it’s really starting to get to me. Seriously, when is this, 1997? The web has been used commercially for about a decade now, and it’s not getting any better. We had the first simple web pages with a few images, and some text, preferably on the default grey background of Netscape 1.12N. Then the hype came along and we got insanely over-designed, mostly unusable, web pages that assumed that most users had a 10 Mbit broadband connection (which, at the time, pretty much no one did…). Then the bubble erupted. One would think things got better, and perhaps they did. But it’s pretty far from OK.

Yes, some companies do get it right, everyone’s current favorite, Google, comes to mind with a built in integrity that is really hard to beat. But it really is an exception. And that really is too bad. Unfortunately it looks like recent events in regard to Google’s China venture makes that integrity a bit less shiny.

Let me give you some examples from the last few days:

In the aftermath (or perhaps it’s actually the beginning) of the Oracle PeopleSoft merger I got an e-mail from Oracle asking me to review their new privacy policy and update my registered profile. I usually throw most of these things in the trash, you only have time to read so many privacy policies and update so many web profiles, but I thought I should do this one. So I logged onto the given URL and an ordinary web form was presented. For some reason my area of work was set to "Fishing and Agriculture", so I changed that, and updated some other items. I did however not select a State, since we don’t do states in Sweden. State does not carry any meaning in the contents of a Swedish address. This is surprisingly often a problem with American websites; they assume that states matter in the rest of the world, which simply is not always true. It was marked as a mandatory field, but I must admit, naïve as I am, that I thought I could leave it empty and submit the form anyway. I couldn’t, an error screen was presented stating the missing field, and a Retry button. I hit the Retry button and was presented with the original form, with all my changes gone.

What is going on? This is Oracle, they have been shipping frameworks for building websites for ages, and surely they know how to keep the posted values during the validation phase, perhaps even present the errors in connection to the incorrect field? Any half decent framework will do this for you.

I did take a look under the state drop down box this time and found that they had dug up something called Län, I guess it could be roughly translated to State if you really wanted, but in Sweden, it simply bares no meaning in this context.

Filling out the form again was really not an acceptable proposition; I had already done it once. As far as Oracle is concerned, I’ll be doing Fishing and Agriculture also in the future. So I logged out, only to be presented with the following text:

Partner Application Name:
Logout Status: OK

What a joke.

The number one website category on the unusability chart has got to be online hotel and airline reservation sites, and absolutely worst of the ones I have tried is Scandinavian Airlines' site. Nothing manages to drive me so close to insanity as this one…

In the IDG IT-business paper Computer Sweden the other day, we could read that almost all companies in Sweden they had talked to were unhappy with the result of outsourcing their IT department. The only exception was SAS that considered their IT outsourcing effort a success. I don’t know if web development and maintenance was part of the outsourcing deal, but I bet it was. If that is the case, SAS managers and I have quite a different definition of success.

I don’t want to spoil the fun for you by giving examples, just try it out for yourself! It will fail in new unexpected ways in all its glory no matter which browser/OS combo you use. I think I have tried everything from Camino, Firefox and Safari on the Mac to Windows XP with Internet Explorer and Firefox. They all fail at some point. Preferably they fail with an old-school Mac OS type error code, like -1233456243.

This could perhaps be considered the odd one. Apple is a company that’s offering products in the premium segment. If you are looking for raw power to the best prices, you probably should look for another vendor, why not Dell for instance. But if you look for an integrated whole, where your digital audio player (with video) seamlessly integrates with smooth software running on a beautifully designed computer with a modern and powerful operating system, there’s simply not much of a competition. You will pay a premium for this, which apparently more and more people are willing to do.

But this package falls apart when it comes to the web site. On the surface it’s rather nice, but when you start to use it the flaws appear: Dead links, missing images, incorrectly localized text, weird PeopleSoft pop-ups about expiring web sessions, forms that can not be submitted, and so on. Just the other day I got this message when browsing the Apple Store:
"Skickas vanligen: Momenteel niet beschikbaar
Gratis frakt
Sold out for the Holidays and we hope to have supply again later in January."

That's at least three different languages in one go, Swedish, English, and perhaps Dutch(?)

Another example from the Swedish version of the Apple Store: "Visa status för din Beställningsstatus", which translates to "Show status for your order status".

Apple, just fix it.

So, what does this have to do with software development? It got everything to do with software development. These sites are results of a software development projects, and once again we didn’t deliver.