5 Things I Can't Believe Websites Are Still Doing
The general consensus is that the Internet went mainstream sometime around 1996. That's important because it means that for a decade and a half, the experts have been spouting off about how "in the future," all businesses will be dependent on connectivity. Well here we are, we've arrived at the future, and even the corner dildo recycler has a website.
And many of them have no fucking clue how their audience thinks or acts. Otherwise, why are they still ...
Making Me Create an Account for No Goddamn Reason
How many of you have gone to a retail site, loaded up your cart with a hundred dollars worth of shit and gotten right up to the point of paying when you were blocked by a "you must create an account" sign up page? How many of you said "fuck that" and closed the window?
That's not a rhetorical question -- the answer is 45% of you will just bail out on the purchase, rather than give them an email address, wait for confirmation, click on the confirmation email, etc. When one "unnamed company" decided to finally get rid of that annoying piece of shit and just let customers shop in peace, they found an extra $300,000,000 in sales by the end of the year. In the first month alone, they generated an additional $15,000,000.
"Hey, can one of you clean that up before someone trips and gets hurt?"
For some reason, this pisses me off more than when a site tries to charge for what is free elsewhere -- it's actually nice to think that the girls on bangbus.com are being paid and that there's not just a dude holding a gun on them off camera. Likewise, I have no problem with ads on a website -- we're not running a goddamned charity operation over here. But then you have the businesses that operate under the, "We won't allow you to give us money or traffic until you also create an account with your personal information" business model. That's what needs to die.
Spend a week apartment shopping online and see how many of them don't require it. Many make you sign up before you can even see the listings.
Wait. I have to pay for the right to shop? I'm the fucking customer! I'm walking in the door with money to spend on a new apartment, and you're going to throw up a barrier to stop me? Don't these places make their money off charging the landlords to list with them? You know, the way advertising has worked since the dawn of civilization? Try to imagine a car dealership putting up a big wall around the lot, with a sign saying browsing their inventory costs 30 fucking dollars. You'd laugh your ass off.
And the thing is, it isn't getting better, it's getting worse. I'm one of a growing number of people who routinely goes without cable service because I don't see the point -- the few shows I watch, I can catch online on my own schedule. That's the way all programming will work in the future, right? And I'm doing it legally -- I watch Gordon Ramsay curse fuck-shaped bruises onto the eardrums of Hell's Kitchen contestants on Fox.com. There are banners all over the page, and ads inserted periodically throughout the video just like in the TV broadcast (three run before the show even starts). I'm fine with that.
So when I saw this fucking bullshit, it made me wonder if their executives had ever spent more than two minutes online at any point in their lives. That's a link to a page warning viewers that they've signed a deal with Dish Network so that online episodes will only be "immediately" available to Dish Network customers -- everybody else has to wait eight days. So now if you want to see the episodes online, you'll need to -- you guessed it -- create an account connected to your Dish Network username and password. Which would piss me off even if I had a Dish Network username and password, which I don't.
So... I guess I just can't watch their show any more. I mean, there are absolutely no alternatives for me to see it. It's not like there are, say, thousands upon thousands of websites out there with copies of the show for download, without making you register or log in or pay to see it. I know that those sites don't exist because if they did, they'd be violating copyright laws, and that's illegal. And even if they did exist, they'd be impossible to find. We'd need to invent some sort of way to search them out, like some kind of engine made for searching. And I don't see us having that sort of technology for at least another hundred years.
Related: Goddamn It, Trump
Hiding the Information I Want Behind Bullshit
Want a fun, hardcore drinking game? Go to a random restaurant's website. Once you're there, follow these rules while browsing it, and when you're finished pass your turn to another person, having them pick another restaurant:
Every time the menu comes in the form of a downloadable pdf file, you have to take a shot. Feel free to modify this rule as you see fit because if you have a lot of restaurants in your area, you'll be dead from alcohol poisoning before midnight.
Every time you find one that's made in Flash, complete with glitzy animations in between every link, take a drink. Note: if you don't know what Flash is or how to tell if a site is constructed with it, just take a drink, because it is.
Every time one of their sites invites you to follow them on Facebook or Twitter, take two drinks and punch the person closest to you in the face. If you're the only one in the room, punch yourself because by now you should be drunk enough that you're actually considering adding the restaurant as a social networking contact.
Any time you see a welcome message, make one of your friends drink. However, there are special rules for this one. If any of the following words appear in that message, your friend may call it out and you not only take his drink for him, but you take one of your own. If you can, in response, call out another word on the list, give the drinks back to him plus one for the word you found. Repeat this cycle until the words are exhausted or one of you is hospitalized:
Freshest, delectable, ingredients, pride, dessert(s), modern, appetizers, local, fun, exciting, atmosphere, casual, mouth-watering, culinary, pure, quality, taste, hip, experience, and shitless.
If you see -- wait, are you still conscious? Guys? Guys?
As this comic from The Oatmeal points out, as does this XKCD, businesses can't seem to figure out that we didn't pass their website on the sidewalk. We got there by typing in the name of the restaurant (or store, or whatever) into the browser because we want to know when they close, or how to get there, or how expensive they are. We do not need to be sold on the concept of food and friends and atmosphere. All this does is make me worry that you're as bad at cooking a steak as you are at making a useful website.
Using Long or Nonsensical Web Addresses
Twitter is 140 characters, text messages are 160. Yet, a link to an ebay auction looks like this:
It had free shipping, shut up.
That's 200 characters there. And sure, I realize there are technical reasons for that, because the database has to generate a URL every time somebody creates an auction, even though it seems improbable that somebody else already created an auction called "DONNY-AND-MARIE-OSMOND-SIGNED-AUTO-MAGAZINE-PROGRAM-JSA" and even if 200 people had, a layman would think you could just name this one "DONNY-AND-MARIE-OSMOND-SIGNED-AUTO-MAGAZINE-PROGRAM-JSA-201." But whatever.
Then you get news sites like the Wall Street Journal, where if you see an article on Google news you want to share, the addresses look like this:
So, the articles in their "article" directory need to be designated with two letters and a 41-digit number. That's good, because if the site generates a quadrillion articles a day, that will be enough to keep them in numbers for the next hundred quadrillion millennia. You want to make sure your website URLs will keep you supported well after the heat death of the next universe that replaces this one. Yes, I know about URL shorteners like tinyurl, that will make the address short enough to Tweet. Why the hell is shortening a URL my job?
But even when sites are just choosing domains, they often don't work very hard to make them memorable. I just heard a radio ad urging listeners to attend some community college. The address, which they read on the air, was http://iccbdbsrv.iccb.org/clusters/home.cfm -- or as it's read aloud: "To find out more, visit eye see see bee dee bee ess arr vee dot eye see see bee dot oh arr gee forward slash clusters forward slash home dot see eff em." Even if you're not driving, you would have to be sitting with pen in hand, waiting specifically for that commercial to come on and hope that you didn't confuse any of the Ds, Bs, Vs or Cs -- there are nine pronounced in that ridiculous URL.
"Wait, fuck, I'm running low on ink!"
But even that is not as bad as this mess: https://www.mxyplyzyk.com/v03/index.htm
That's a store. An actual business that sells products. A means of income for some individual or company, reliant on the traffic it gathers and the ability of its customers to find them. So why in the name of unholy assnuts would they name their website that? Did someone eat and then vomit a bowl of alphabet soup ... whatever letters survived the stomach acid made the cut? No, the real reason is actually much stupider than that:
Oh. Well that makes much more sen- YOU ARE A STORE! When you're talking to someone, and you speak the address out loud, you should not have to stop yourself and say, "Actually, let me just write it down." The whole point of having a text based URL is that it's easy to remember. The whole point of having a store is to make money. If you can't convey the first, you're not going to be able to achieve the second.
Restricting When and How I Can Use Their Site
Got an XBox Live account? Fortunately, Microsoft, being one of the largest companies in world history, has a sprawling website that will let you do anything you need to do... except cancel. No, if you want to cancel your service, you need to call.
And wait on hold. And have a customer service rep try to talk you out of it.
See, guys, the whole point of having an automated website is that it saves time and effort for the people you pay to man the phones, and it's open 24 hours a day. It's convenient for both of us.
But at least their site doesn't close altogether. When I heard about this next one, I thought it was a joke. If I hadn't been doing most of my research at midnight, I might still think that it was. It started with the Ohio Board of Regents giving out educational loans to future nurses through a program called NEALP (Nurse Education Assistance Loan Program).
Someone tried to access the site after 8pm and found this:
I'm going to be honest with you here... They give no reason for the website's operation hours, so I can only speculate as to what's going on. If you go to Reddit, where this was found, you'll notice the "https" in that screenshot, which means it's a secure server. Since their hours match what we'd expect from an office, I'd have to assume that they own their own servers. And when they shut down the office for the night, the servers get shut down right along with it. And since this is a government funded website, I have to also assume that they haven't yet discovered that computers do not require people to be in the room in order for them to continue functioning.
But surely this is an isolated case, right? I really wish it were. Evidently, the people at a company called Redcats USA had a problem with shutting their stores down every night of the week for what was assumed to be maintenance. If you happened to be caught in the middle of shopping or maintaining your own online store through them, you'd be met with "Redcats USA are temporarily unavailable, please call us to place an order." Yep, even if you were in the middle of paying for stuff you were just trying to buy.
"Oh, hold that thought, we're closing. You'll have to come back tomorrow, fuckhole."
OK, but these are small companies, right? But even the big ones "close" a part of their online customer service after hours. If something breaks and you go looking for tech support online, the company's website will either offer you the chance to email them with the promise it'll be answered in a couple of days, or, if you're lucky, you can chat live with an agent. But you can forget the latter if your device breaks in the middle of the night:
In my experience, the words "live support" are usually followed by "is currently offline." Am I crazy for suggesting that if you are set up to sell me things at 3 in the morning, that you should also have people standing by to help me when that thing doesn't work? And aren't those live chat support guys usually located in India? If it's 3 am my time, it means it's two in the afternoon over there. I'm not even keeping somebody awake.
Locking Me into Your Site by Disabling My Back Button
I'm not talking about virus-ridden "free screensavers" sites or torrent portals interlaced with malware. I'm not even talking about the bullshit places that force a popup when you try to close the page, asking, "Are you SURE you want to leave?" Oh, no, you're right, website about anal fucking. I planned on leaving this window up for all of eternity. Thanks for spotting my mistake. Good eye!
It's this growing trend in "web 2.0" where adding a "#" to the end of your URL virtually disables your "back" button. It's called a "fragment identifier," and there's a technical reason for its existence of which I admittedly have little understanding. So I won't try to explain it here.
But I'm pretty sure it has something to do with this.
What I do know is that certain businesses (that I won't link to because they're not getting any of our traffic) are using it to trap people within the site. Attempting to use the back button only refreshes the main page, and the only way out is to close the window or hammer your back button repeatedly so fast that it outruns the page's reload time.
This is why this pisses me off so much. First of all, it just feels dishonest. Imagine going to Walmart and finding that they don't have what you're looking for. So you leave, no big deal. On the way out, the greeter grabs your arm in a panic and says, "Whoa, whoa, whoa there buddy! You haven't bought anything -- I'm afraid I can't let you leave." He then hits a button that shoots down Star Wars blast doors over every exit, and the only way out is to blow up the store.
Luckily, they sell a key in sporting goods.
Second, if I was still making up my mind, comparing prices with other outlets, I'm sure as fuck not going to buy from there now. I don't care if they're 50% cheaper than every other store in existence, pulling that bullshit just ruined any sort of trust I had for them because it's showing me that they don't have a problem using underhanded tactics.
And it's not just businesses who use it. Twitter had a pretty big problem with it when they first came out, and they actually had to redesign the site to fix it. The same happened with Facebook. My job has me using Google Image Search for several hours a day, and it has become commonplace for me to have to completely restart a browser because my "back" button has been hijacked by some bullshit site hosting a picture I needed of Russell Crowe fist-fighting a corn field.
He's in there somewhere. I can hear him screaming, "OH, RIGHT IN THE EAR!"
Even if Twitter and Facebook weren't intentionally trying to pull the trap trick, it appears that they were. And even if it was just a case of bad coding, it made them look incompetent. That's why they fixed it. Because no matter how you look at it, that simple little back button could have cost them an empire because we as consumers won't put up with that shit. Just ask the $300,000,000 sign-up page people.
I just wish more businesses understood that.
For more Cheese, check out 5 Ways Television Went Crazy Since I Quit Watching in 2003 and The 4 Most Important Things to Know as a Gamer Parent.