Category Archives for Technology
I think I’ve posted before about the increase in the Dunning–Kruger effect and unconscious incompetence across the networked world, and how everyone thinks they’re an expert because they Googled it once. Especially so when it comes to web development, everyone thinks they’re an expert.
And so we have Virgin Mobile who for the last few years have allowed me to pay my phone bill online, until a few months ago when their support for Safari suddenly broke, meaning not only Macs, but iPhone users can no longer pay their bills. And it’s not that the support was intentially removed, otherwise they’d show a message saying Safari isn’t supported. It’s a bug, because you go through all the steps for payment and it barfs with a message about cookies not being turned on when it tries to push the payment through their payment gateway. Nice. And it’s not a cookie problem, because I double checked, and I’m a … umm, expert. The message actually seems to be coming from the payment gateway or phone account authentication gateway though, or some wrapper around it, because it’s styled completely differently to the rest of the site, which in itself is a stupid oversight.
I tried to report the problem, but their online form for contacting them has the same problem, it barfs with the same cookie error when you submit the form. So I called them and they said I must have cookies turned on to login. Well, I can login fine, and 15 minutes of stepping them through the process, and two different machines, a Mac with Safari and a Windows XP machine with Safari, finally satisfied them that they had a problem and they escalated it for me. I even offered them my help at the time, to come in look at their development processes, quality control and staffing, because it’s what I do, but they passed on that.
So guess what, a month later I haven’t heard anything, and I try to pay my bill and it’s still got the same problem. And I call again, and again they don’t believe me, and again I step them through the process and they agree to escalate it as a bug. And guess what happened today a month later? Yep, the same thing.
Virgin Mobile keeping SMSing me to say I haven’t paid my bill, and I keep SMSing them back that I can’t until they fix their site. I no longer recommend Virgin Mobile to people, and I now put them in the same camp as Vodafone when I left them several years ago. Customer service fail, customer satisfaction fail, software development fail, testing and release QA fail. Virgin Mobile, company fail.
What is it with RSS readers these days that they only work with Google Reader? Particularly those for mobile devices such as the iPad. I get how syncing with it would be a good feature, but not at the expense of standalone feeds. It’s not like pulling feeds is technically difficult, there were hundreds probably thousands of RSS readers in the early 2000s, and they all did the heavy lifting themselves, without dependence on a third party service. And I should know, our company at the time developed a fairly popular RSS reader application for windows around 2004. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not like any of the standards have really changed at all.
I think it’s just lazy, lazy developers calling a simple API to get the data from Google Reader and then calling another couple of pretty basic platform APIs to display them in a list.
What if I don’t want to use Google Reader? What if I don’t trust Google? What if I don’t trust Google with the already incredible amount of personal data they have about me that they sell to advertisers? What if I simply don’t trust a company which makes all its money from selling me to advertisers?
I blame Google Reader for the decline in feeds and feed reading, as people not wanting to use Google are pretty much stuck without much of a choice in RSS readers.
It’s very tempting to write my own and be done with it, and one of its features will be “doesn’t support with Google Reader”.
“Key stakeholders in the MySQL development community are joining together to turn the tables on Oracle and select a distinctly brighter future for the project. This fifth column will create a unique new order, where inclusiveness and community-driven development replace the arbitrary constraints of top-down development. We queried Kurt von Finck, one of the members of the MariaDB inner circle, to learn more about the group’s plans.”
“Having done the research and analysis, here are the most important SEO factors, from the highest priority to the lowest.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome tool for sharing digital media, and it’s free, so you can’t really complain about it. But it’s ugly. Like really really ugly. Ugly in the way it looks, and more importantly ugly in the way that it works. Ugly to the point of making you only want to use it when you absolutely have to. So ugly that it makes me want to actually pay them for a good looking and nice to use version, instead of having to use the free damn ugly and user unfriendly version.
The main problem for them is that it’s written in Java, most likely for source sharing with the Windows version. But code sharing isn’t an excuse for a shoddy user interface. Shoddy interfaces are usually due to shoddy development practices or a lack of user interface engineering experience.
Let’s start with the first thing that appears when you open the application, a little window prompting you to sign in. The text all over this window seems to be just randomly placed and aligned, with some text right aligned with the window edge and others centre aligned, spacing between each seemingly randomly selected. The “Not a member of SpinXpress2 yet?” text for example is right aligned between the “Forgot your password?” text and a button, which are bother centred, with all three having different font sizes and different vertical spacing. It just looks dumb and amateurish.
The “LOG IN” button, what should be the most significant button in the window, is butt up against the right edge. And buried under the gaudy orange and green logo and tacky “GET SHARE PUBLISH” text, in the top left of the window, is a very small unlabelled button, that you miss if you’re not looking for it. It’s actually a second login button. The “LOG IN” text that appears on the right is some kind of link to this other button.
And why “LOG IN” in capitals? If it’s a text prompt, why not “Log in” or “Log In”. Speaking of “LOG IN”, nobody uses “LOG IN”. Ever. It’s either “LOGIN”, or most sites these days use the more user recognisable “Sign In”. There’s a “SIGN UP HERE” pseudo-button underneath it, so it doesn’t make any sense.
Now I’ve run the application previously, so my email address is already in the Email field, but it’s disabled. Why? Why can’t I enter a different email here to log in as someone else? And if there’s a reason, then why doesn’t it tell me? Or failing that, why put it in an edit box, make it static text!
But my favourite part of this window is the almost a quarter of the height of it that is just blank at the bottom. It makes you think you’re missing something.
So instead of logging in, I decide to check the preferences to see what else I can do. Surprise! Not only isn’t there a preferences dialog, but there isn’t even a menu bar, so you can’t even quit the damn thing! Later I figured out that the red traffic light on the window title bar actually quits as well as closing the window. Very un-Apple guidelines.
And strangely, behind this window is a floating graphic with a thermometer in it. It has no window controls, so you can’t close it, resize it, hide it or move it. Once you’ve signed in, sorry, logged in, the thermometer continues for a few seconds until the main window opens. Why? It only takes a few seconds. Just change the cursor or something. A better idea might be to open the main SpinXpress window, and login from there and show a thermometer from there. You can only ever login as your original email address, so why not just take me straight to my workspace?
So now we come to the main window. The first time in, a large window text pane will appear on every single page you look at, asking if you came here from Ourmedia, and explaining what SpinXpress is all about. Problem is, it takes up most of the window, and hides what’s underneath it, including most of the FAQ. A menu bar has now appeared as well, but all you get is a really badly thought out File menu.
This window is slightly better layed out, but it looks like it’s using WebKit or similar to layout each of the right hand content panes, which is probably why it looks so ugly. Text regularly gets painted over by graphics, doesn’t fit in the pane correctly, and looks like a badly designed web page.
The left hand pane (or it a web frame?) at times changes the background to almost the same colour as the item text, a shade of blue, which means you can hardly read it. Why they thought a menu needed to be blue in the first place is completely beyond me, let alone the background being the same colour! And considering the right hand pane looks like a web page, these left pane items look like hyperlinks, so they’re a little disconcerting when you click on them, no knowing what to expect them to do. It would be nice if the font was slightly smaller though, so you can actually see the text without the tips of the descenders being clipped by the item underneath it.
I then clicked on Share Media, Groups, New Group in this list, and it prompted me to set up a new group. But it wouldn’t let me cancel it, either with clicking on another menu item, using the standard cancel keys, or via the menu bar. At this point you are locked into creating a group, regardless whether you want to or not. You can however at this point hit OA-Q to quit.
I could go on for hours detailing all the problems with the user interface, many of which are simple no brainers. So it begs the question, is anyone testing or running any kind of quality assurance on this thing before it goes out the door? Certainly not for the Mac version. And this is the scary part. What developers don’t understand about user interfaces, usually corresponds with what else they don’t know about the platform they’re developing for. Mac developers know that the Mac UI is an integral part of Mac software development, as much a part as say accessing the file system, interfacing with the help system, managing NIBs and other resources correctly, writing to the Foundation and AppKit frameworks etc. Mac developers know about the user interface guidelines.
But then so do Windows developers and even Java developers. The Java Look and Feel Design Guidelines came out in 2001, and in the edition I have here, page 62 talks about Layout and Visual Alignment, none of which seems to have been adhered to in the Mac version of SpinXpress.
But does it work? Yes, it seems to work very well. But then I haven’t tested dropping the network from underneath it, force quitting during a transfer, or entering crap into various dialogs etc. So yes, it seems to work quit well, but who knows… And anyway, it’s free so I’m not complaining. Yet.
RSS is a platform independent protocol, for sucking content out of a web site. Give or take. I’ve written a lot about RSS and web content over the years, and in 2007 you’d think the big commercial sites would start to get it right.
Comedy Central in the U.S. is not one of them. Go to their site, I’m not linking, you know where it is.
Problem #1 – the page loads 138 items. 138! And it changes every time you load it. I managed to get it down to 98 once. 98!
Problem #2 – their featured videos start playing automatically, nice if you’re at work or goofing off in a quiet environment.
Problem #3 – look at the page source, the DOCTYPE doesn’t start until several lines in, and there are 228 HTML errors according to w3’s validator.
Problem #4 – the page gets a load error in Safari.
So say you want to subscribe to the video for one of their shows. Look around, see if you can find where to go. Give up? You have to click on the “community” tab in the menu and then the “newsletters” sub-tab. From here you can click “RSS feeds” in the left panel, and finally you get to the list of feeds. All good… or maybe not…
The first in the list is The Daily Show Videos. All I want is the URL for the feed, so I mouse over the SUBSCRIBE button and… nothing.
Problem #5 – it’s all flash, so no, you can’t find the actual RSS feed URL.
OK, so we give up, let’s just click on SUBSCRIBE and see what happens. Click…
Problem #6 – some weird flash dialog appears with the URL in an edit box, giving the impression that I can change it for them.
But luckily there’s a list of all the readers I might be using, and a custom URL for each. What? RSS is platform neutral? Why do I need to select a reader? And what if my reader isn’t in the list? I can understand selecting a feed by enclosure type, I might want Windows Media instead of QuickTime, but seriously, between readers? If it’s just a handy way to automagically subscribe in your reader, then it just adds confusion, as anyone using a reader will already know how to add a feed.
Problem #7 – it gives the impression that RSS is locked to particular readers.
And that’s just trying to get an RSS feed. You can check out the rest of the problems with the site in your own time.
When will they get it? Make it simple stupid.
The video says it all really. They may be common elsewhere in the world, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in Australia. You drive into a car park, and you drive directly into the first available spot. Now if only they’d direct me to the closest to the shops available spot, I’d be a very happy man.