Bing Advertisement strategy

I was looking for desktop configurations in google. Landed on a page. It showed me a Bing ad, with the same search words I had used in Google.

So the flash file of the ad picks up the search query (from where?) and uses it inside the flash file. And yeah it is animated and shows each letter being typed in. Very innovative, one search engine using a search query typed into another search engine

Pouches and Bottles

I saw Crocodile Dundee recently. It is a good movie. Based in Australia, it somewhere had this mention of a walkabout. Here is how walkabout is defined at UrbanDictionary

A spontaneous journey through the wilderness of one’s choosing in an effort to satisfy one’s itchy feet, a need to be elsewhere, the craving for the open road, that space over the horizon…yes… something like that… you can’t quite touch it so you have to go find it because it’s you just know it’s there…Or maybe it just feels good to go walking around …

In urban settings sometimes I use a cycle for this purpose. Sometimes there is a vague purpose about the whole ride. I might need some tool. Or someone mentioned a temple being built somewhere which has lots of broken high quality stones, which I could use to sharpen my tools. And so on.

I was on one such ride today. After cycling for about 3 hours in the sometimes cloudy sometimes surprisingly sunny weather, I broke a sweat and needed a bottle of water. Now I had two choices. The common man here in Bhilai goes for the water pouch. Priced at Re 1 or Re 2, the format, package and the price is right for the market here. But a friend from Bhilai recently sent a watsap message which said something bad about the local pouch water. Chemical contimation, etc etc. Ok, so I thought I will get a full bottle of water. Pouch would have been more convinient, as I would have to  stick the bottle between the cycle carrier. Ok so I went to a store and asked for a bottle of water. I don’t want cold water I said.

Now nobody who buys a bottle of water in bhilai, wants warm, kept out of the cooler, bottle. The person who buys a water bottle and not a pouch also does that to signify his social status. This is not a 0-1 thing. They might also believe in bottled water being more safer. But the social status angle is sure there. Also water pouches are usually stored in ice boxes with ice. As they are kept by small shoebox stores, pan shops etc, and even if they have an electricity connection they do not simply have the space for a cooler, or a refrigerator. Needless to say the water pouches are not that cold. This is another point where a water pouch buyer goes and buys a water bottle. He may be a water pouch drinker himself. But today is the weekend outing with his 3 year old kid and his wife. And today he can splurge on a water bottle. And if you see his budget, splurge is not a wrong word. He spends almost 3-4 times for the same commodity. The only thing he wants is his bottle cold.

Now the bigger stores have usually a cooler, given to them courtesy either Pepsi or Coke. The cola wars have made sure that every dick and harry corner store in even remote villages has either one of them. Off course if the cooler is from Coke, you won’t see any Pepsi drinks.

Now back to my thirst. I asked him for a warm water bottle. Drinking cold water after a long warm ride, I knew was a bad idea. Anyway I am off terribly cold water for some time now. Now this itself,might have been surprising for him.

“I don’t want cold bottle, Bhai”, I said again, as he approached the cooler. He got one bottle from inside the cooler and gave it to me.

“I kept it just now. It is not cold”, he said. He was right, it was in the cooler for maybe half an hour.

“20 rs”, he said.

I reached for my wallet, and my other hand rotated the bottle trying to find the MRP.

Rs. 18, it said.

Now from experience I know that if someone wants cold drink, or cold water bottle, these stores take Re 1 or Rs 2 above the MRP. This practice is throughout India, and you  might have come across this surely. At such situations I don’t like leveraging the law. So many laws and policies are such a joke anyway. And as soon as you mention any law, the whole cloud of the law system, the courts, the police etc come into picture. It might well sound intimidating, like somebody wants to report if they don’t comply. A very unpleasant situation.

“But this says Rs 18. I don’t want cold water. I know you guys take 2 Rs for the cooling. Why don’t you give me warm water?” I asked him. Maybe he could not imagine anybody not wanting cold water.

He proposed he will give me some other brand, at Rs 16.

No, I said. This is not about money. Do you have any reason why you are taking 2 Rs more from me. Above the MRP?

I have been in such situations before and they make me excited. Excited in a very negative way. My fight or flight instinct begins to take over. And I have even sometimes paid more. Or sometimes not bought and went away. Sometimes got into a word fight for 15 minutes and then got the water for MRP. The only difference today was how calm I was about the whole thing. In fact smiling the whole time. The women at the cash counter could not understand the situation at all. Everyone paid Rs 2 more. How could this guy refuse. When I saw no, these people are not budging, I moved on.

“Look i am not that thirsty. I will find water somewhere else.” When I was near my cycle, the salesman called me back. Surprisingly the salesman was the person taking the call, not the woman at the cash counter.

“Please take the bottle. And here is the Rs 2. Happy now? He asked”

I smiled again.

Internet Coma – Vodafone UX bug

Vodafone  prepaidhas many different internet packs, with different data limits and day validities. I was using a 1GB pack with a one month validity. This was not an unlimited plan, and once the 1GB data was used, the plan gets exhausted. My data used was at a 90% level with lots many days remaning validity. Since I was planning much more extensive use, I bought a new internet pack of 651 with more GBs.

This is the way this works in vodafone:

  1. When a new internet pack is bought, instataneously they stop the older plan, whatever be the data remaining, or days of validity remaining.
  2.   The user first gets an SMS confirming Recharge of the said amount. This does not have any mention of internet packs or any plan. This is the SMS text, “Rchrg of MRP Rs 651.0 on 17-Dec-14 successful. Tlktime rcvd Rs 1.07, STax Rs 71.61, AccessFee Rs 5578.32, New Bal Rs 381.13. TransID Tn 1231232123. Dial *111# for a/c info.” The main intention of a user installing an internet plan is to get more data, and day validity. This sms does not tell about these two important pieces of information.
  3.  After a few moments we get another SMS. This is what it says, “Your request for Data pack BC651 is successful. Please wait for Data pack activation SMS before using the service. Dial *121# to know your best data pack offer.”  While I might want to know the best data pack offer, but not at this moment. The moment right after I bought a data pack. This message is better suited if it comes when my data pack is about to end. Also the main thing now I need to know is when will my pack be activated.
  4. And then the third SMS hits you in the face. “Your previous internet pack has been overwritten by the new internet pack. Dial *111# to check balance.”

So I not just wasted a bit of data, and a bit of validity. Even after buying another data pack, I need to wait for it to get activated. And the time it takes to get activated is much more than a few minutes. It did get activated. After about 1.5 hours.

 A good UX would have deactivated the old plan only when the new one gets activated. An even better plan would have given be the balance data from the old plan. 

Importance of Permalinks

HFI is a leading usability and human factors consultancy. So I was a little surprised when I came across a small blunder. An example which illustrates the importance of permalinks. Also the importance of experience design.
The page I am talking about is the UI design newsletter page. I got to this page from google search. After glancing through the newsletter I wanted to see the past issues. Near the PDF file icon, there is a links which says, “back to past issues”. What would you expect to happen when you click this link? You expect to see the past issues page.. right? Now click on the image to go to the page, and see what happens.

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If you clicked on the image and then clicked on the “back to past issues”, you would have come back exactly to this page. Because the link that it uses is a javascript link.

<a href="javascript:history.go(-1)">Back to Past Issues</a>

This just uses browser history to find out which was the last page and opens that. Either this is a small slip-up or whoever decided to use the javascript link assumed that the user will only come to that page from the HFI site. In fact people can come to that page from any search engine or any other site/blog where it is linked. Ideally the back buttons should have the link for the list page for the newsletters. The URL could be something like,
<a href="http://www.humanfactors.com/downloads/newsletters">Back to Past Issues</a>

This example illustrates how even technology overlaps into user experience design.

Why companies need UX designers – Ex 1

While I was freelancing, I would get lets of work proposals for UI interface designing and UI development. Frankly I took them only if they paid really well or if I needed work badly. When people asked me what exactly do you do as a UX designer, most of what I say even now is mostly abstract and filled with subjective words such as experience, perception, flow, and so on. I have now realized that it is far better to give them real examples, problems which they most probably would have faced in their lives. And then say that I solve these problems, or even better, I try to avoid such problems in the first place.  This is the first of such blog posts which will give examples from the real world of user experience problems. I have already a bunch of posts dedicated to a specific design problems, but these posts would see the problems at a much higher level.

So the first example comes out of my experience in getting an internet connection in Hyderabad. I have an apartment which is though at the heart of Gachi Bowli, the IT area, still it is in the middle of nowhere regarding internet connectivity. There are no service providers who have their wiring in this area, which leaves only the ones based on Wi-max technology. Reliance and Tata Indicom. I chose tata indicom for two reasons: Having had a bad experience with Reliance earlier. And there was already a tata indicom connection in my building. The initial part was straightforward, I took the phone number from my neighbour and called up. The executive came and collected the documents etc in a day. And then I got a few emails, which were all, of the sort, “everything is going fine!”.

The executive had told me it would take 3 days for any action. Today being the fourth day I re-looked at the emails. I remembered seeing an enquiry number which I could see status of on the indicom site.

It has this line:

Your enquiry no is 177963. To check the status of the enquiry please log on to our website www.tataindicombroadband.in/wireless

Now let us analyse the problems with this statement. The first part tells me my specific enquiry number. This is absolutely fine. Also note that this number is a six digit number, so it has 1/100000 chance of someone else guessing this number and checking it.  The second part informs me that I can check the status, but on one condition – “I have to log on” . Since I do not have a login yet, I am stumped. What should I do now? I look at the other emails to see if there is a username or password somewhere. I find there is none. But let us assume there is a way that I can still log on. Which I might find if I search their website well enough. If there is such a page, why isn’t the third part, the permalink for that page. Why would I want to go to www.tataindicombroadband.in/wireless . This is the homepage for different plans, and this would have made sense if I was not sure which plan I wanted.

The problem can be broken down:

  1. I do not know a way to login to see the status of my enquiry
  2. The email just in three lines meanders from the issue of my enquiry status to giving me a choice between their various plans.

I am pretty sure the second part is there because of a business guy, who would have wanted to let users know of their different plans. And that is the problem with user experience. In most corporations designers are still seen as the ones who design UI. I have talked earlier about what ‘design’ actually means as an english word and how it is widely interpreted today. So a designer would never be associated with something like sending an email to prospective customers. This email would be concieved by a business analyst and written by a someone who would have been pressured to remove all the grammatical errors and to make the english more formal.

After the above lines there is this, which would finally of help to the user:

For any further queries, do write to us at customerservice@tatacommunication.com or call our Customer Service Number in your city.
Do remember to quote your enquiry number for information related to your connection.

And this in fact came here because of a scene like this,

Oh, but we also have a call center. Do put the link for the phone numbers and also the email id.

Do post other such problems you might have faced.

Linkedin – I don’t know!

Linkedin is designed quite nicely, and doesn’t have many loose ends. But like proofreading, nothing is 100% foolproof. I stumbled on a designers profile who was a freelancer and liked to travel. I wanted to add the user as a connection. Now linkedin puts a great deal of emphasis on trust, and as it says in the footnote:

Important: Only invite people you know well and who know you.

So linkedin wants you to know that person beforehand as a colleague, or a classmate or a friend. But one of the radio buttons is also:

I don’t know ‘the member’

The point to note here is that someone landed on this page because he wanted to add that person to his network. He may not know that person before hand, which will lead to the selecting of the ‘I don’t know ‘member’s name’ option. Then he would proceed to think of a nice personal note, and type it down in the note box. Then when he clicks on the send invitation button, what does he get? This :

A javascript popup message that says that you are not allowed to invite someone you do not know. All the trouble of writing the message could have been saved if the interaction worked the following way. Just as someone selects the ‘don’t know the member’ button, the javascript message should popup. It would look something like the following visual I prototyped. And it would save the user from a small disappointment.

Gtalk – Disappearing Friends Problem

If you have used Gtalk, then you might have experienced this scenario.

You see a friend who is online and you double click on that friend which opens the chat popup. As soon as you start typing your message, the friend goes offline.

When this happened to me initially it was really disconcerting. Did the friend not want to talk to me? Why did he go offline just as I was about to chat? These thoughts were irrational, because there is no way someone would  know who is about to chat with them. They must stem from the emotional side of the brain. And after a moment some people might even realize this. Another problem caused by this is if I don’t want to send an offline message, and I think a friend is online and type a small message fast and send it. It may go as a offline message. The rational reason is that gtalk takes some time to get updated on status info, and if you act during this window the above mentioned problem occurs. But is there a way to avoid these wasted and frustrating moments? How can the user experience be improved concerning this problem?

The problem here is that Gtalk updates the friends’ information (which includes, offline, busy and not busy status and status message) every once a while. There are two ways of updating such a system. Either the push or the pull. But this problem sure proves one thing the data is not pushed from the google server to our machines. It is our machine which requests the data after every  time “t”, and  updates the information. This “t” could be constant or a variable. Now there might be a reason why they are using pull instead of push, which I have no way of knowing. Is there a way the user experience can be improved keeping the ‘pull’ way of getting data?

Yes there is. You can chat with someone after you double click on that friend. This is an action which can be tracked. Is google tracking this action? Ideally it should and should update the data as soon as I double click or even hover over a friends icon. From firebug I have seen that each request does not take more than a second. And mostly it is less than 500ms. The time lag I have experience, which is always more than 5 seconds makes me believe, it is entirely time based. Does someone now the details on this one?