Saturday, August 29, 2015
Fatal Error: Neglecting Error Handling
For a long time, I've heard great things about Airbnb. Friends have recommended it for making travelling to places, such as Europe or New York City, finally affordable and as a good way to meet locals.
I have been eager to try Airbnb, but haven't had the opportunity until earlier this month. I was travelling to Vancouver for a conference and was put off by the B grade hotels in B grade locales charging on average about $300 a night.
Upon checking Airbnb, I was delighted to find a few great listings. I narrowed it down to one that sounded perfect. I was a bit nervous that the place didn't have any feedback from prior guests, but I decided to go ahead and book it. I was excited because not only was I getting a good rate, but it was in a great location.
But due to fatal errors with Airbnb and their partners, I won't get the chance to book any rooms with them any time soon or perhaps ever. Their site has an error that blocks the process of booking and they offer no workaround.
As a former web developer, the issue doesn't seem like a huge problem. Yet it is a necessary step that without completing stops a traveller worst than a wicked case of Montezuma's Revenge.
In brief, the problem is that some Airbnb's room renters require a guest to be authenticated. This process requires uploading a photo of government-issued identification. Suffice to say, my wife and spent over an hour trying every permeation offerred to do this several times and it never worked. Airbnb offers no error message to inform me of any problems on their or my end. I had no idea what was going wrong, instead I'd just be redirected back to where I started with no word from Airbnb on how to proceed. No alternatives are offerred nor is any way to contact customer support. As booking lodgings is often time sensitive, access to very fast, preferably live, customer support is essential - another one of Airbnb's problems. So despite finding a great room, I could not book it.
The problem is so prominent and fatal that it should not have been overlooked by the company. The fact that it was missed speaks to a lack of adequate quality assurance that throws their whole service into disrepute.
I don't mean to pick on Airbnb - but this case is a great example of a company that has done very well developing a great online service, designing an attractive and generally usable website, and achieving a critical mass of users to make the service viable.
They obviously put a lot of very skilled work into all those crucial components of any digital media business. The business analysts, developers, designers and marketers should be proud. But the the company obviously hasn't done an adequate job of error handling and user testing.
Having worked in this field for many years, this is not surprising as testing is often neglected. In the rush to get products live quality assurance testing - let alone user testing - is frequently sacrificed. Sometimes it is not done at all.
Testing is not the most fun part of launching any digital media product (it might actually be the most boring and certainly the least sexy). But neglect it at your peril. All the hard work of launching a great product comes to a grinding halt when a simple bug is overlooked.
P.S. I ended up only be able to get an overpriced room in Vancouver's "entertainment district". It turned out to be next to strip clubs and peep shows and be smaller than most hotel bathrooms (and didn't include a bathroom either). Staying at a gleaming new condo in a trendy neighbourhood for less money would have been MUCH PREFERABLE!!!