Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bad user experience, @foxnews

I noticed a trending article on Facebook about a soldier that wasn't being allowed to stay with his wife.  Turns out that some landlord in South Carolina has decided he wants to win some Grinch of the Year award.  The soldier is home on leave - two weeks ago his daughter (his first child) was born.  The landlord says that because his name isn't on the lease, he's a "visitor" and visitors can't stay for more than 7 days.  He's threatening to charge the soldier with trespassing and double the woman's rent for violation of her lease if the soldier remains.  (Is the baby's name on the lease?)

Anyhow, what struck me right away was that FoxNews said it was a solder who was being evicted. If he's an electrical engineer, perhaps he's a solderer but they probably meant soldier and how has no one caught this yet?  (Even in Chrome when I typed solder in the sentence above Google give is a gray wiggly underline as probably wrong.)

I saw that no one else had yet suggested the landlord evict the baby I mean, she must cry a lot, right?  I bet the other tenants are probably saying "Let the dad stay. It'll help mom and it's another person who can help comfort the wee one so there's less crying. (They say "wee one" in South Carolina, right?)  Anyhow, I thought I had a clever and amusing thought to add to the general discourse, so I tried to do so.  But I was foiled.

There is a required field where you are forced to enter your political view.  It's an open-ended field, but there's no suggestions about what's appropriate. But I can tell you that the following aren't just from my trying to get past this screen:

  • this is stupid
  • no
  • independent
  • libertarian
  • agnostic
  • hostile
  • gop
  • republicane
  • moderate
  • demecrat
  • green
  • dnc
  • unsure
  • undecided
  • I miss Ronald Reagan
  • Obama when he delivers
  • fiscal conservative
  • compassionate conservative
  • socialist
  • Donner (OK, I guess that's more party than view)
  • Blitzen
  • marxist
  • marxism
  • communist

I tried to examine the page's source to see if there was an acceptable list of choices, but I couldn't find one.  It is FoxNews, though, so I assume the choices are probably Republican or (something insulting).

In all seriousness, it is a really bad idea to offer an open text-entry field and then limit the available choices without telling someone what they are.

There are several better ways to get this information:

If it's absolutely necessary at the time of sign-up...

However, I would argue that this is not necessary.  Every item you demand (they also demand date of birth) will cost you in attrition - people who will not complete what they consider to be overly invasive or onerous.  It's important to weight the value of some information against no information.  Best practice: ask the minimum necessary to identify the person.

(1) Offer a selection of options or a list of choices to select from.

(2) Accept any option and create rules in the backend to attempt to interpret responses.  New responses can be flagged for human review and classification. Once classified, if someone else enters the same response in the future they'll be classified the same way.  (We did this on a project where we tried to reconcile search terms on a website into meta-categories without any AI behind-the-scenes.  Slightly manual but people tended to repeat the same things others did with little variation and soon we had critical mass.)

If it's not absolutely necessary at the time of sign-up...

(3) Require the field at a later date.  They've already invested enough to sign-up, answering one more question later (on their third visit, after a month, etc.) will be better received.

(4) Place it in the Profile Center and explain why providing the information will improve the experience (recommend specific articles or authors or viewpoints).

(5) Use Behavioral Analysis to guess (where do they go on the site? If we present story A and story B, which one do they click on or spend more time on? What kinds of articles do they click "like" or share? When they post comments, are the responses positive and negative? And what is the political viewpoint of the people they are interacting with in the discussion?)

(6) Use Progressive Profiling - through instant (one-question) surveys, ask innocent questions that help you refine your understanding or assumptions about who a visitor is.

(7) Use Data Augmentation/Append - there are companies out there that have data on people.  You can buy that data to fill in the gaps in your own data about people's political views, shopping habits, credit history, browsing habits, etc.  (Most of my readers will think this is creepy and get mad at me for even mentioning it, but it is an option.)

Bottom line, reduce friction.  If the goal is to build a community who contribute to the discourse (increase page views, ad views and time spent on the site), make sure you're not preventing them from participating.  You want to make sure you're reasonably protected from trolls (and your community can help self-police) but you don't want to shut-out legitimate people who want to participate.  (Ok, so my funny comment... legitimate? Maybe not a great contribution the discourse but you almost had all kinds of information on me and the license to email me in the future.)

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