Your phone number must be in the format (540) xxx-xxxx

Well, isn't that the best sign of the times? The software is telling that my phone number has an area code, and 7 other digits. That is news to me. I did not know that. Wow, I am amazed that I was able to function in life without this incredible tidbit of knowledge.

What is more amazing is not that I got this error message from a highflying, expensive, and hyped piece of software, but that I got it after I entered my phone number as: 540-xxx-xxxx. Oh, excuse me, I did not use parenthesis. Who trained software developers by letting them watch Jeopardy? Is Alex Trebec now doing interaction design for software companies? Instead of "I am sorry, but your answer was not in the form of a question" he must now be writing, "I am sorry but your phone number must be in the following format (540) xxx-xxxx."

This is totally absurd. I had not seen usability this poor since the last time I used DOS 3.11. Parsing a phone number is something used in high school programming classes. Again, this gets even more ridiculous when you consider that you do NOT ENTER the parenthesis when you dial the number! So, are they THAT important? Of course not. Neither are the dashes. As a matter of fact, I should be able to enter my phone as 540 xxx xxxx or or 540)xxx(xxxx, etc. I doesn't matter.

What truly matters is that the phone number has 7 or 10 digits, numeric digits. The rest is noise. Just strip the freaking extra characters and then check to make sure you have 7 or 10 digits. If you have seven, hopefully context will identify the area code. For example, if I am filling out a form on the VT website for my office phone number, well, then my area code is 540. But if context is not enough to determine the area code, then the error message can be very clear: Please provide your area code.

Who is writing code these days? Untrained monkeys (no offense intended to well law abiding monkeys)?

Oh, and don't get me started on the date. The same piece (and I use that word deliberately) of software asked me to enter my birthdate. So, I entered Month day, year. Oh no. We can't have any of that. I had to enter it in "following format yyyy-mm-dd". Actually it gave me like 12 different formats, so it was more flexible than the phone. Yeah, right. Some of the formats included time down to the MILLISECOND.

I'll wait till you stop laughing to continue.... Ok? Stopped coughing? Ok, I finally entered my birthdate in the appropriate format yyyy-mm-dd. The software echoed it back and added the time information. FOR MY BIRTHDATE. And it included milliseconds. It printed like this: yyyy-mm-dd 00:00:00.0. So apparently I was borne at midnight, no a millisecond later.

I don't recall if my birth certificate actually had that level of accuracy printed in it. And if it did, I want to know how the doctor measured it. What was the determining factor? Once my head was out? Arms? Full body? And what freaky wall clock to they have that has milliseconds? Or do they have a nurse with some fancy stopwatch timing the whole operation.

So using Jeopardy as an inspiration, in the form of a question, "What is a pretty bad piece of software?"

Posted on 05/02/2008



Computing Usability


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