Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Web Site that Just Works, and One That Doesn't

In Chapter 2 of Why Software Sucks, I showed you a way in which Just Works. When you type into your browser's address bar, Google's servers figure out the country from which your request is coming and automatically serves up its home page in the correct language, with English available with one click in the few cases where that selection might be wrong. (Swedish shown below)., on the other hand, makes you select your country manually, and won't let you do anything at all until you have done so. This takes 30 clicks for Swedish users, and even 3 clicks for US users, who send 90% of UPS's packages. And you have explicitly check the box if you want it to remember your selection so you don't have to do it next time. (Example shown below)

This feature of Google is a great example of software that Just Works. And UPS is a great example of software that doesn't. But it's actually even worse than that.

A reader recently informed me that Google Just Works EVEN FOR TRACKING UPS PACKAGES! I tried it myself, and it's TRUE! When you type a UPS tracking number into Google, Google recognizes that it's a UPS tracking number and offers to look it up for you, as shown here:

When you click on that link, Google automatically fetches it for you from UPS's web site, as shown here:

No language selection. No need to check the "I agree to the terms and conditions" check box. Two clicks and you're done. This leads to the following more-than-faintly ludicrous situation: Not only does do a better job at its own business than does at's own business, but Google does a better job at's business than does.
Google Just Works. UPS doesn't Just Work.


b said...

your site sucks.
no content- like an app
without features.

b said...

in fact this comment of
blogger sucks.
it makes you login just to post a comment.
thats like pulling out your id
before you can make an oral
comment in public.

b said...

also these word verification on all sites is annoying!!!
software that sucks.
havent google found a solution
to spam detection???

b said...

actually blogger dashboard sucks.
it makes you click severals to move from one blog to another.

Unknown said...

I like your site and I agree with your point of view. Programmers write what their pointy haired bosses tell them to write, without thought of the user.

b said...

what also sucks are sites like
yahoo that make you go thru several pages to reach what you want to , presumably because they want more banner ad impressions.

b said...

this mr platt also sucks
beacuse he is using this site
to spam his books and lectures

William Francke said...

Great idea. I've often been frustrated by UPS' site in particular. Knowing how slow they work, I seriously doubt they will make any sensible changes in the near future.

William Francke said...

"b" sounds very frustrated with life.

Sam Stainsby said...

AT first glance, the example of Google country detection versus UPS country entry seems a bit "apples and organges". I'm not familiar with the UPS site, so maybe I'm misinterpreting what its supposed to do.

(1) Firstly, yes its nice to have features like automatic country detection, but they don't come for free. Don't expect everyone to implement every nice time saving form feature that exists. Although in this case it might be justified for UPS, were it not for:

(2) If Google auto-detects the country incorrectly (and I'm sure there are cases where they will) its not such a big deal. If UPS gets the country wrong, it IS a big deal (I assume, but as I said above, I don't know the UPS site). One user interface doesn't suit all.

Wil Smith said...

I think your site is a great idea. I share in your frustration with all the useless and timeconsuming fluff on so many sites. As for the word verification, it's a neccessary evil caused by all the spam comments that my blog used to also receive. I addded the verification out of protest to someone using my site to advertise without my permission. I'll definately check your site again!

Rob Maurer said...

Ohhh, good job, good JOB Mr. Platt. Everybody hates the things that you hate. I thought I wasn't cool because I can't find a use for moveable toolbars. And I really don't see the harm in telling someone their package is late if they don't agree to the UPS Terms and Conditions. Aren't those Terms telling you that you can't use the package itinerary to plot terrorist attacks? Won't a terrorist go ahead and say that he agrees, when he really doesn't agree?

Fake Coke Can said...

Some people are never happy!

Computers have moved from
copy c:\2006\tax.xls c:\2007\tax.xls to drag and drop with pictures. And who are pictures for? Well my daughter uses them for her kindergarten children. That's the level we've had to lower the computer interface so folk like DP can use them and it's still too complicated for them.

In his sample chapter DP says that programmers what control so ask things like "Do you want to save this file?" Wrong, they want users to take responsibility. I had to talk to a workmate because his wife would continually ring him so that he could help her over her computer ignorance. The clincher was to help her find the file she saved that morning but couldn't remember where. Strewth. She was taking a company's money and couldn't find a file she created. Then expected our company to pay her husband while he found it for her.

Some people don't belong near computers.

Unknown said...

And then there are situations like this:

You go to a site (this one), and the site recognizes that you are in Taiwan. Nice. And so it translates the page into Traditional Chinese. Very nice. But the person (me) reading the page (this one) is an American in Taiwan who only reads English. And there is no way to tell the site (this one!) that I need to view it in English! I can't believe you criticize others when your site is worse. At least UPS allows me to choose the language I need. Yours doesn't. I had to use an online translater to read it.

Also, you are asking for my google account so that I can write here? Who are you? And you want me to give you my google name AND password? How do I know what you're doing with it? I created a dummy google account to write this.

Nice site, Mr You just keep criticizing the programmers -- but don't practice what you preach. That's very easy.

David A Allen

Unknown said...

David (comment above, not David Platt), this website appears to be powered by (if you take a look at the bar at the top, and the url when posting comments) so this is a feature of all weblogs.

It does suck that you can't change the language though - great example. It is really hard to program software that "Just Works", just like it's really hard to anything really right. It sounds like a great idea to spread the word about good software, and consequently reward those programmers with more revenue so they can continue to produce more and better software. Mediocrity is the real problem - too many people being prepared to accept it rather than putting in the hard work to create something that really shines.

Jonaboff said...

i think you're being immensely hard on UPS here. the autodetect feature of google has been known to wind me up immensely, as when it does go wrong, or when a 3rd party site redirects me to the US homepage (me being in the UK) it is very difficult to get to the uk homepage without actually typing in the location bar. infact, google's own desktop search software loads, and i have been unable to change this to

also, some points about UPS:
1/ i agree that it is important for UPS to get the right country, and as such, auto detect software is not practical

2/ what happens when you want to enquire about shipping in a country different to the one you are in? (such as a business person away from home on business) using google's approach with no easy way to navigate between different country's homepages, this would take many clicks, and often, typing of long url's. also, some internet accounts result in an IP address that is not compatible with such services. have you heard about wikipedia's recent block of every broadband user in Quatar? this is software that just works, logging your IP to provide security even when you have not logged in (logging in being so time consuming, and all...) because of the way Quatari internet is set up, vandalism from some users resulted in a nationwide block of high-speed internet users. one of wikipedia's best editors in Thailand was also recently blocked due to vandalism from their IP. here, enforcing individual user accounts with log ins would be a better option, but then it wouldn't "just work"...

3/ since you only have to do it once, and it is not difficult (even if it does take 33 clicks!!!!!!!1!!1!!ONE!!ONEONE!!!1! :O :O) what's the big deal? it simply ensures that you get the most relevant information

i hate websites who use autodetect features on IP addresses for this reason: they assume that you are enquiring about your own location. software that makes assumptions isn't software that just works!! ironic, isn't it, that your site has problems highlighted by david above? try hosting it on a server that just works.........

Dave said...

The blame for crappy s/w rests more with clueless business types who can't be bothered to define a market, the users in the market and their goals, their preferred interaction styles, and the right product + usability design focus.

Programmers will build what you tell them to (mostly). If you give them no direction, they'll do what they can.

The clean design of Google applications is the Google brand. Talented s/w developers are required, but it takes more than that.

Jonaboff said...

i agree with Dave, and the other people that say programmers write what their bosses tell them to write. don't blame the programmers, their job is the coding, not the design.

Jonaboff said...

I have another point: If all s/w developers took your approach, there would be loads of very good, easy to use software, but no excellent, powerful professional software. The problem with easy to use software is it has a tendency to restrict the creativity of the user with simplified interfaces, and fewer options. The current market caters too much for IT professionals, whereas what you're proposing caters too much for technophobes. The problem is targetting; everything is a compromise, nothing is perfect for any one market, except perhaps the industrial applications which sell for 000's of dollars.

Unknown said...

I (a software engineer) welcome David Platt's input for improvement. However,
blaming software sucks is a narrow view of a bigger problem. I agree with "dave" above, the problem is ineffective and unclear communication among ALL parties involved: users, managers, and programmers. Additionally, market focus should be taken into account. Otherwise, you'd be talking out of context.

Unknown said...

Okay. I have to first agree that using a site that is as bad as this one for handling comments doesn't bode well for making your point. Now, while I agree with the frustrations in some respects, and even SOME views (like the UPS main page issue), I completely disagree with the stance that it is a programmers fault. My question is why isn't someone providing better specs on what the programmer should be building? Where are the requirements definitions stating how something should behave? Why are so many ambiguous requirements making their way as far as the programmer? The real solution should be to improve the development process such that user experience is built into requirements. It's the same with security. Don't just put it on the shoulders of the programmer. That's WHY you're in this mess to begin with. To make something secure, it needs to begin at the requirements definition phase. Same with usability. If you want software to be more usable, it needs to be seen as something IMPORTANT to the project. Not an after-thought left to the guy at the end of the assembly line to figure out. And as for the example about the "Do you want to save?" being a bad prompt... if it were to say "Do you want to throw away your work?", I would be willing to bet statistics would show more people would click "Yes" by mistake. Users barely read the question. They think "Yes" gets them what they want. I am willing to bet people would be a HECK of a lot more upset that their work was lost, than being asked if they wanted to save it. Now, that said, sure, improvement is needed, but let's not oversimplify the problem as David Platt seems to do. That will not lead to solution, only rhetoric.

EricFowler said...

"Software that makes assumptions isn't software that just works!!"

The only way to make software that "just works" is to correctly anticipate the user's needs. Users come in many flavors and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all program for all of them. The only way around this problem is to design software as a palette of functions and let users reconfigure it as they please. This raises complexity for each program but the alternative is to write a zillion separate programs for each use - one version of Excel for balancing your checkbook, one for handling scientific data, one charts, one for graphs, etc...

Simplicity is not as simple as it seems. Most of the people who gripe about software design have never tried to design software.

Eric (a programmer)

EricFowler said...

"If all s/w developers took your approach, there would be loads of very good, easy to use software, but no excellent, powerful professional software. The problem with easy to use software is it has a tendency to restrict the creativity of the user with simplified interfaces, and fewer options."

Right. The classic tradeoff is automatic vs. manual transmissions in cars. The auto is easier, the manual gives more control. Automatics are nice (I drive one), but if there were no such thing as a stick shift, there would be no race cars, no four wheel drive, no large trucks ... everything a Dodge Saturn, fit for Granny but nobody else.

I might add that the stick shift was an early technology, it took time to make a reliable automatic transmission, and for folks to learn to trust it.


PirateGuillermo said...

Moreover, there are roads (I live at one end and work at the other) on which automatic transmissions are especially inefficient, inconvenient, and decidedly unsafe. The automatic transmission is far from "just works".

Mr. Platt's criticisms are not especially novel, as anyone who's paid attention to software usability for any time will know. The site seems to be much more about promoting his book and generating buzz. Good luck with that, Mr. Platt. When the bubble reinflates I'll even buy you a latte.

Jonaboff said...

well said stephen. and i think this will be my last post, since i think i have made my point(s) effectively...

Anywho, in the time between my earlier posts and this one, I have visited to Sony website, to be reminded that the welcome page does detect your location, but does not assume that it is correct. There are radial boxes to select either the regional site it detected for you or the global site, a link to the other regional sites, and a checkbox to remember the setting. For me, this is better than Google; 3 clicks for 99% of people, around 5 when the IP filter does fail, and everyone is happy. Anyway. I hope your view of the programmer has improved over the life of this blog, good luck with your book(s)...

Ps. I think the only way for software to "Just Work" would be to develop a neural interface like those from sci-fi., so that the software actually does know what you want ;D What do you think?

AT said...

Excellence is rare! Congratulations on your discovery, Mr. Platt! Perhaps things will improve when the average desktop PC can easily pass a Turing Test (meaning it can converse with a person in such a way as to be mistaken for another person). For we all know that human beings rarely misunderstand one another! :)

Nate T. said...

Well, where to start, were to start. . .

What strikes me funny is almost all the comments don't seem to be about the article but about the writer and his general gripes, which I comment on later. . .

First, though, this article is interesting. I have really hated UPS's site for having to select the country each time (doesn't matter if I tell it to remember, because cookies aren't saved). I have also been very annoyed at selecting the "agree to terms and services"

However, I still rather click all the way through when using UPS rather than track it with Google. I do find your observation that Google does a better job than UPS, however, do you really want Google to be storing your tracking information (sender and receiver and package detail) on their servers. You better believe Google stores all search information. What is being shipped UPS is to remain between UPS, myself, and the other party (shipper or to be shipped to).

Not to mention that by the Terms and Services of UPS your use of Google to conduct the tracking is in violation of "Without limitation, you are not authorized to make the Information available on any web site. . ." that would be not even on Google.

So, I take UPS anyway.

. . .

As a developer I very much relate to a lot of your gripes, on both ends of the scale. I guess I am far right and far left when it comes to software.

In comments to the Yahoo news article that linked me to this site...which article it appears everyone else was commenting on. . .

------ And I break away for a bit to comment on software that "Just Works" - I love Mozilla Firefox 2, with its on-the-fly spell checking in web forms. About time.... ------

As a developer I have understood there are "norms, best practices, and standards" that are to be followed, which include things like the warning dialogs and other obnoxious junk. I put those in there because that is the standard. Sometimes though it is taken to the extreme. Like some software computer manufactures system restore disks that ask 4 to 5 times before letting you do the system restore. Or at the pump There was this one gas station that would ask 6 times if I wanted a receipt printed before it would even let me pump gas.

But, you better believe that many times I have clicked close on an unsaved document and been very glad it warned me, especially when I tend to have many documents open at the same time (MDI such a great thing). So even on my own programs I have that feature, the standard save warning.

I agree with the post by "Adria" that us programmers want the users to take responsability. As a developer as well as a tech I have seen far to often where if the user would read the box first they would know exactly what to do to solve any problems, instead they click and then get upset when things don't do what they thought.

As to "Alex" comments, yes the stats would easily show that more users would be upset if the software asked if you want to throw it away, people would click yes far more often then no. Even as a user I have caught myself doing that with the WordPerfect Template Macro warning, it asks if you want to "disable" the macro, but forgetting to read as I sometimes do so used to dialog boxes, I expect it is asking if I really want the macro to run as most other programs would ask. So I have caught myself clicking the yes and not getting my macro, and saying "doh," and starting over making sure to click no. Now if someone at the very beginning of this "standard" picked the better wording, and everyone had gotten used to that, maybe it would have been better, but changing software now would just really frustrate the users.

I do agree though most of us developers (programmers, coders, call us what you will) prefer the control. Why do you think we got into programming computers in the first place. . . we want to tell the computer what to do, we want the control. Most of us are probably "control freaks" as some would say.

I would bet the statistics would show programmers also tend to drive manual transmission cars (though I have never looked at such stats). I can't stand automatic, and never will buy one unless they stop making manual. Automatic cars simply "Don't work" because you have no control over your speeds. The last time I had to rent a car the stupid automatic (since rentals only are automatic) would drive uphill without my foot on the gas if I so much as took my foot off the break. That makes no sense to me, why would it move forward especially defying gravity if I don't push on the gas peddle?

I do also agree though that software has too much fluff and bloat. Take anything Microsoft, they are trying to be the "what works" to everyone in the world so they created a very bloated and fluffed up system. WordPerfect however makes very very powerful, simple for those that need simple, yet powerful for those like me that need the power and control, and no fluff or bloat. WordPerfect Suite 8 on 128 to 300 MB (depending which apps and features are installed) space running in under 64MB of ram has more power, and yet much more simple than even the as-of-yet-to-be-released Office 2007 will have which I expect will end up taking up around 2GB of hard drive space running min of 512 or 1GB of ram.

WordPerfect simply Works. However, it does much of the things that you "Dave Platt" disagree with. So what "works" for some may not "work" for others. But, for instance I Would still recommend WP even to the novice user because at least that doesn't try to anticipate what the user wants to as much degree as Office, which I have found frustrates the vast majority of users at all levels because they aren't trying to do what MS thinks they are.

So, my point? I both agree and disagree, I am far left and far right on all issues of software development. As a developer, and as a power user, and as a consultant to the "technically challenged" I see it all and have all my own opinions. The point really is make the software to fit the user if at all possible. If like MS your user base is a combination of everyone, well you really just got too much to chew, and we expect the software to "not work."

The market and needs must be determined, and thus UPS is very right when they choose not to auto-detect country. And, I suppose it is their legal eagles that insist they put the "terms of service" that you must accept, not the programmers.

OK time to get back to work and off my soap box.

hendrixski said...

Wow, B sounds angry. I mean, it is kind of a hassle to have to register, log in, and then post, and the posts are kind of long. But he's out of line. Other than that, it's a great blog!

I loved the book "Why Software Sucks". As an Open Source developer I've always felt strongly about the importance of the replies users leave on the project home-page, or e-mail to the developers. Because software exists for the user, not for the programmer. You hit the nail on the head with the book. Good job!

hendrixski said...

Oh yeah, and you may want to mask the web-address as people go through the site... it looks unprofessional to see*&jf^nn$f=4839, in the address bar.

It's not easy, I just tried hosting my own blog as well, I'm still working on making it presentable. It takes time. But keep up the good work. :)

Unknown said...

I agree with David Platt. Yet, I have an even bigger pet peeve regarding software: no instruction manuels. And/or lame help menu's. It's nice to have a great piece of software that promises the world, but time and again, after installing something new, I have no idea how to procede. I really don't like spending hours, or DAYS, hunting and pecking to find out how to get the thing to do what it promised to do.

Anonymous said...

Hurrr, "I shouldn't have to know anything about it! Teh computar machine should read my mind!!!1"

Please. If you're such an idiot that a BACKUP PROGRAM is too intensive to use, you should just step away from the computer.

And note, the programmers DON'T think "easy" is the opposite of "normal", rather, "easy" is there for bitchy people like you who couldn't figure out a normal setting to save your life.

Get a damned life. Preferably in a shack in the woods.

dadedadeda said...

So you're saying that we should model software devolopment after the "No Child Left Behind" act? Dumb down all the content for the idiots in the class who can't learn WTF something means thus holding back the people who know WTF is going on? This is just plain DUMB! If you can't use common sense to figure something out you're in BIG trouble!!! Let's lower the standard to idiots who can't evolve/learn? No THANKS!

Steve Mount said...

UPS should go here:
Very cool ... and free.

JB said...

I disagree about UPS using geographical profiling via your IP. If Google guesses incorrectly you simply end up on another of their search pages that will also search (albeit possibly giving higher rankings to hits from that geographical area so that wouldn't be as good).

If UPS guesses incorrectly and the end user does not notice that (because Mr. Platt seems to advocate for users who want software that "just works" and would most likely be more prone to assume that it does "just work" when it seems to do things automatically for you.), he/she becomes frustrated trying to track a package that apparently doesn't exist (because they are running the query in the wrong country).

Geographical profiling via IP generally will work. But if you go through a proxy server, or an anonymizer (which is a proxy server at the end of the day), it will profile you based on the proxy's IP. If that's in another country, then that's where you appear to come from.

It could put up a prompt "It appears that you are in the United States. Do you want to default to that UPS site?" with a YES and NO button. Then provide a quick country link atop the pages in case you need to switch.

That point aside, it's a pretty minor thing to pick on. I'm sure there are worse offenders out there than a site that does not guess your country of origin based on IP.

If this is the teaser you put out to promote your book, it doesn't say much about the rest of the book.

JB said...

By the way your criticism of the fact that you have to click on a box to have UPS remember your choice is also flawed. I would not want it to automatically remember my selection. If I'm visiting a friend in another country and access my home country's UPS site from his computer I wouldn't want to have it now default to that country. Or more accurately my friend would not want that. Plus based on your other complaint it would incorrectly direct me to that country's UPS site (because that's where I am coming from), not to the one I want.

A user should always be given the choice to have something remembered for the next time (if the software has a feature to remember your selection). The software should not automatically make that decision for the user. Not every user will be best served by that option.

So you have to click on a box. Boy that is really bad programming isn't it. Doesn't serve your individual needs very well does it. Doesn't matter the fact that it provides a compromise to try and best serve all users. You aren't concerned about other users' needs. Only your own so it should behave so as to best serve your needs.

I understand you are a programmer Mr. Platt. Have you designed commercial applications for the masses? Would they meet the standard to which you hold others to? For a man with your qualifications (I've read your site, you are clearly not a stupid person when it comes to computers), I am amazed at how narrow minded you are about this issue.

Sid said...

30 clicks for Swedish users?

Make that, 30 clicks if you are too stupid to know how to scroll properly and just click the down arrow over and over like a total spanner.

JB said...

Good point Simon. I hadn't even visited the site but you are right. He must be counting clicks that way. Talk about making the stats say what you want them to say...

JB said...

One last comment (hey, the listserv is a bit quieter so I have spare time...). If you are in Sweden and Google mistakenly serves you up instead of the Swedish page, how many clicks does it take to switch over to the Swedish page? Can you do it from the opening page like you can in UPS?

Apples to oranges... it's comparing apples to oranges because they serve two different needs each using an interface that serves those needs well.

And the backup of corrupted pictures is another good point raised herein. For a home user I'd recommend a backup on CD or DVD periodically, then the solution you recommend for ongoing (providing they are prepared to live with the security/privacy risks and make an informed decision to do so). In a corporate environment you have daily backups followed by weekly, monthly, and yearly. So you are rotating tapes (or rotating destination paths if you are backup to network storage). A proper backup system in a corporate environment would have tapes Mon-Fri (Mon-Sun for a 7 days a week business), Week 1 to Week 4, and Jan to Dec, followed by yearly tapes.

Again, for such a well educated person you display very little insight. But you see something and say, "Hey, I like how that works!" and it becomes your recommendation across the board. And whatever does not conform to that is criticized by you as not serving the user's needs. When clearly the only needs you are assessing are your own personal needs.

JCP said...

In general, I agree with you , however, your Google example is a little too simplistic. I have found a very good CRM application called ebsuite. The URL is We use it at Alcatel for customer support servcies, it is faster and easier than using email.

olde sanc said...

You start out with a totally wonderful day. And hey, maybe i just start blogging. So off I went to

I typed two average size pharagraph. I wanna do it right, so why not edit before posting. Right beside the Create Tab is an Edit Posts Tab. I clicked it. What do you think happened?

That tab reads Edit Posts. I thought it was Post. And I thought it means edit what you are going to post, not edit what you have posted.

I lost those 2 good paragraphs. When I hit the back button what met me was an empty box. Who knows those two paragraphs may have connected with someone, now am the one who was rendered a disconnect.

Why do they have to put those two tabs together? It doesn't work!

John Hermanson said...

Dave is correct in that I, as a programmer, have had to do needless and confusing things simply to meet business rule requirements.

For example, your comments in the SciAm article about the retailer search radius. You attribute this to programmers looking for control. Yes, the part about control is true, but not on the part of the programmer (at least not in my case) but by sales/marketing and retailers who don't want the end user to easily find that their are other retailers outside the default search radius.

I find myself in complete agreement with Jacques, you appear to have very little "real world" insight.

Jeff said...

What's your problem with confirmation? If developers didn't confirm that you'd like something to happen, you'd turn around and complain that an action was taken without confirmation. If you spend a little time getting to know the operating system and applications, you'd learn that you can turn a lot of confirmations off. I personally hate applications that let you close without confirming telling you that you’re going to lose data. Sometimes the confirmation dialog also saves you from having to go save 15 different files manually.

You laude google for their work, however, IT'S STILL A CONFIRMATION. If I enter a UPS tracking number, why doesn't their site just take me there? They've got the "I'm feeling lucky" button, why isn't their site smart enough to know that you're feeling lucky? (by the way, Live.Com has the same functionality)

When developing software, you have to develop for the lowest common denominator. Those of you with mid to advanced skills must understand that. And if you have mid to advanced skills, you should also know that there are methods to avoid the confirmation dialog, or you aren’t as advanced as you’d like to believe.

Most applications have an undo, but they also have confirmation. The inexperienced user will not know about undo, but they will know about confirmation. Users need to quit blaming developers for making software safer to use. What's so difficult about hitting ALT+Y or the space key or enter key when a confirmation comes up?

You’re like the people who complain about spam in their e-mail inbox, but go out to the snail mail box everyday and don’t think twice about how much spam they have in their snail mail.

(Now, here's a wonderful user interface, word verification, then tab expecting to go to the next field, instead you're taken to the blogger comments. That's real intuitive.)

And comment moderation, don't want too many bad ones to show up, huh?

Unknown said...

The people who are observing that "if Google misdetects country of origin, it's no big deal" seem to me to be missing the point. The UPS tracking number is (at least in the United States, where I'm writing) 18 characters long, 16 digits and two letters. If I'm not mistaken, that's enough to track more than 6000 quadrillion discrete packages. With (only!) 6 billion people on earth, that would be 10 million packages for every man, woman, and child on earth. If the two letters were used to index country of origin, there would still be plenty of digits left to identify individual packages.

Bottom line, there should be no need for UPS to have to identify country of origin up front. What if I'm in Rangoon, trying to track a package that's being shipped from Hong Kong to London? Which country code should I choose? Logically, the tracking code is assigned when the package is shipped, independent of destination, so I guess I should pick "China - English", but I shouldn't have to guess. The tracking number should simply be unique worldwide, and should contain the information UPS needs to determine where it was shipped. I can't believe this isn't already the case. And it should NOT be necessary for everyone to agree to some legalese to track their package. If I walk into a UPS store, and provide a tracking number, they don't ask me to sign a disclaimer. If UPS detects someone abusing the information their website provides, they should deal with it on a case-by-case basis. This is clearly an "edge case" anyway, and the edge cases should not be the standard for everyone. Anyone whose aim is to abuse the information is going to agree to the disclaimer and then ignore it anyway, so it really doesn't provide UPS much benefit, and it does annoy some legitimate customers -- mostly, I guess, people like me who overlook the box the first time, and have to make two passes at it.

In fact, I just selected the "China - English" option, and entered a tracking number for a domestic shipment, and the New Jersey delivery was confirmed just as it should have been. So being forced to choose a country up front is irrelevant if what you want to do is track a package, which is surely what 95% of the people coming to the UPS website are there for. "Track a package" should be an option on the home page, but it isn't. The UPS website sucks more than is necessary.

NgCH said...

Perhaps UPS can take a leaf out of EPSON's website design. Unfortunately, it cannot detect my country of origin automatically, but it does have the next best thing. A pretty menu.

The first time I entered EPSON's website, it gives me a menu where I select my continent, followed by my country, so that I can go to the localised version of the EPSON website. Sure, I have to make 2 clicks, but it is way better than UPS's website, and it don't think the website creators took a lot of effort to create the menu.

What makes the EPSON website even neater though, is that it can remember which country I chose and give me a shortcut link. For example if I chose 'Singapore' (I'm a Singaporean, by the way), I'll see a box saying "Do you want to visit EPSON Singapore?" clearly on the menu. One click, and I'm back to Singapore's version of EPSON website.

Not exactly Google's idea of idiot-proof user-friendliness, but I will be very happy if all website programmers create such menus for this purpose.

BTW, both Fedex and DHL drives me up the wall too with their silly countries' menus ripped off from UPS. What is it with those courier service websites anyway?