My Address Doesn't Fit, And Other Complaints

Square peg in round hole.

So today, I decided to renew my driver's license online, like any modern person would.

I started the process by going to my state's driver's license website. The first page is to verify my home and mail addresses. Since nothing changed, I hit "Next." The site told me that the USPS address checker suggested modifying my address, and the site does not allow me to move on without making those changes.

Apparently, my address, as "suggested," does not fit in the field. I cannot move on. I must renew like a Neanderthal, like a 20th-century person, writing a check and putting a stamp on an envelope. I haven't done that in ages. My checkbox was hiding somewhere, and somehow, I found a stamp.

Why do people do things like this? A large State government likely hired a giant consulting firm to build a fancy website without paying much attention to details like people who live at long addresses.

So, being a programmer, I naturally looked at the website source (which might get me arrested in some States) and found the Input field. It contains various validation fields, including a max length of 50 and a min length of 1 (I'd like to meet someone whose address is 1 character), but the validation message field says, "Street must be less than 31 characters", and the maxlength field is 30. Did anyone test this? Did anyone with a clue design this form? During my 40 years as a programmer, I was always known for paying attention to everything and having QA people who demanded high consistency and quality in what I or my team did. Stuff like this grates on me.

It's not the only time in my life that grating occurred. Since I retired, website follies have been a never-ending source of amusement. Sometimes, I let them know, but often, websites (such as the one above) do not include any way to report problems. I found a problem with a login to one of my credit card's bank's website, where it told me my up-to-date version of Safari was out of date, and then directed me to a blank template page to explain it. It took repeated emails before they admitted it was broken and a couple of months to fix it.  

One time, I was applying to a mortgage company, and in the middle of the multi-page form, there was a question I needed to obtain an answer later, so I tried to move on. However, it refused to accept the form unless it was completely filled out, so I tried to go back, and the same message appeared. I finally gave up and called them, and they admitted their parent company had foisted this terrible system on them, and everyone there hated it. Why do people do this?

Back when I worked for an online travel agency (one that's now just a brand of you-know-who), years went by before someone installed TeaLeaf on the website (I did mobile; web was not my thing) and discovered that for years, anyone with certain characters in their name would get a nasty exception, and could never give us money for any booking. Of course, the logs were filled with these, but no one ever looked at them.

Even worse, our airline reservation system used EBCDIC and ate many international letters, leading to tickets that did not match the traveler's ID. Hello, TSA!

So many forms, even today, insist that people have two names (oddly enough, the State driver's license system actually supported having only one, yeah, for something) or only provide a dropdown with two choices for gender. Field lengths for any variable item should never be restricted to anything, or if someone insists, use a stupidly long value. Databases have supported something like "varchar" for decades. Perhaps there are backend systems that were originally developed when programmers lived in caves. I can't tell, but why should I suffer because someone insists on using a program written when I was really short?

I remember discussing the entry of a name into something we were writing on mobile, and Product was worried about long names. Apparently in the past a customer had a last name that started with "Ass" and a system had truncated his name on some document to his first name and "Ass". So we tried to alter the page to accommodate longer names without truncation, trying to figure out how long longer should be. Thankfully, on iOS, you can get a text field that shrinks to almost unreadable. Better to lose eyesight than to be named an Ass.

Dates, currencies, names, and other fields globally can be very different, and designing forms should never be a quick-and-dirty job, as people move all over the world, and you never know what limitations they bring with them. It's always best not to make your website and forms meet some local idea of normal and to design your backends to handle variable size data if possible.

Or you might force your customer to mail a check, like a Neanderthal.