Sunday, December 23, 2007

Seeking entertainment by looking at technology failures

Sometimes going to a website and seeing web technology working to make your interaction pleasant is interesting. But more and more I've been enjoying myself looking at when things fail. Today's example is an old one: Google News.

Google tries to do the almost impossible: match news so that you can look at one single headline and then follow the details on many different news sources. It works well on a number of cases, like when all the news sources get the information from the same place. However, on less-covered areas, it has always tried to match stories that have very little in common. Unfortunately links are hard to provide, as all stories are kind of dynamic, but I'll give a hint: look at Science and Technology. As I'm looking right now, here are some things I see:

Headline: This year in technology
Link 1: Mountain of discarded mobiles grows at 'frightening' rate
Link 2: Record mobile phone spending in 2007

Interesting connection there, huh? Here is another one:

Headline: IPhone Sales: 5 Million Down, 5 Million to Go?
Link 1: Apple's Jobs May Surprise With Slim Mac, New IPhone (Update1)
Link 2: Firms settle annuity

It's interesting that's a technology that was in "Beta" for many years. Now it's not in Beta any more, but seems to have still exactly the same problems. Maybe people just don't care enough. As long as it still makes people click on their ads, it's valid. I've actually learned that sometimes having a bad experience in your "local" system makes people click on ads more often. Maybe people just want to find an excuse to run away from your site into something potentially better.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Deeply annoyed with Netflix

I'm a Netflix subscriber, but not a very big user. I don't watch that many movies, so I visit their website quite infrequently. However, tonight it's the third time that I try to go there to add or remove something and I get the wonderful message:

"The Netflix web site is temporarily unavailable due to scheduled maintenance.
It is anticipated that the site will be available again at 2:30 AM Pacific time.
We apologize for any inconvenience this causes you. You can contact Netflix Customer Service at 1-888-638-3549.
Please visit us again soon."

Excuse me, but I'm a client. If they have a "scheduled maintenance" they have to schedule it with me! That's how things should work. That's how things are done where I work. And that's why Amazon does not have "scheduled maintenance" of their website. You just keep it up. Shutting a website down for over 2 hours!!! That's just a sign of bad engineering. No wonder when I interview candidates I see that people have very little knowledge of how to design systems with high availability. Performance, sometimes. But availability...

Anyway, if I was the only person that used my Netflix account I would be very tempted to just cancel it tonight. It's convenient, it's really not very expensive, but I just don't like to support bad engineers.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Online purchasing - hard?

Sometimes I'm amazed by how some people just can't get the online purchasing experience right. Today I was renewing my IEEE membership and... It was hard! They pre-set everything that is in your current membership and then they have this "promotions" page that for each entry and sub-entry, there is a potential dropdown box (that is actually a popup) to let you choose promotions that are relevant to your purchase item. However, I think they forgot to include the manual on what each promotion means. For example (unfortunately I have finished the process already and I didn't really capture a real example):

By my IEEE Computer Society membership, when I opened the promotion popup I received a list that looked like this:

Name - Description
JJ-994M -
JJ-98B -
ABC-09 -


Anyway, I just gave up on trying any of their promotions and checked out with exactly the same I currently have: IEEE Computer Society, IEEE Intelligent Systems Society, print version of the Transaction of Knowledge and Data Engineering and the Intelligent Systems Magazine.

I haven't been reading papers lately as much as I did in the past, but I still do from time to time. So, I'll stick around until maybe I decide that I'll become poor and buy a house, then I won't be able to spend $600 on that any more.