Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Incompatible back and forth, and certainly not stable

If I was ever tempted to think that the World Wide Web was a stable medium, my experiences today convinced me otherwise.

There are still many technical problems (not to mention usability issues) and users are often left struggling in the dark wondering why things don't work as expected or even not at all.

We launched a major online initiative today and had both backward and forward compatibility errors. Before I could be tempted to think the project was jinxed, my other online experiences continued to be plagued.

Problem #1
There were backward compatibility issues with a Flash intro that didn't work in version 7 of the player. It didn't give an error message or instruct the user to upgrade. Just didn't work.

Problem #2
The PDFs for the site didn't work in Adobe Reader 8 as it appears they were created in Acrobat 7 and didn't have full forward compatibility.

Problem #3
My feeds to syndicate my news and cool sites decided not to work, see vacant space on the left. Strangely, they work fine on MyYahoo, but not on my Google Reader or this Blogger blog ( is owned by Yahoo and perhaps they cut off their main competitor Google and Blogger, which is owned by Google?)

Problem #4
I tried to invite a contact to join my LinkedIn three times. I would log in, prepare the invite, hit send, it would then lose my message and instruct me to log in again - repeat ad nauseum. Hope the person doesn't end up getting it three times by some fluke. (Three invites all slightly different, they'd think I want them as a contact just TOO much!)

Problem #5
I assumed that when the problem was solved for problem #1 I could send the fixed file live remotely from home. Nope, my VPN connection won't work. Nothing different since the last time I used it, and, naturally, the error message is cryptically useless.

Problem #6
Okay, this one is old, but it was so horrorific that I am bringing it up as a therapeutic purging. Last year, we launched another big online project and on the day we were committed to go live - an Internet backbone went down. The Net was down for the whole region, but we had to go live that day.

It's tempting to be lured into thinking that the various Internet media are stable as often things work quite well. It's thus easy to forget that there are still a lot of problems to overcome. Problems like users having too old (or in Adobe Reader's case, too new) set-ups, or weird crankiness in a network or server that a layperson would never be able to figure out, or interfaces that just aren't intuitive either through bad design or the lack of fully-established conventions, or sloppy code, or who knows what other mysteries lurk in cyberspace.

So many variables it makes problem solving such true misery, particularly when you can't replicate the problem and all you have to go on is the description of an inarticulate user.

Perhaps as I get older, even more cantankerous, and even less tolerant of these oh-so-many problems the Internet will be stable. But by then I certainly won't be.

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