NYTimes & Yahoo! Answers silly usability glitch

It took me about five attempts to submit a customer service complaint to the NYTimes using their online form the other day. It would be absolutely trivial to fix this glitch. Yahoo! Answers has the same annoying “feature” on their site. Don’t these companies employ usability specialists? (Uhm, or doesn’t somebody there use their own sites and care to improve the user experience?*)

Usability glitch on the NYTimes customer service form

Here is what happened. The form on the NYTimes home delivery customer service page is a big empty box waiting to be filled out. But when you fill it out even just halfway, you are told that you have used too many characters. You can only submit the form with 250 characters or less.

However, the form neither counts the number of characters for you nor gives you any hints about the permitted length based on the size of the box.

So I kept revising and revising until finally the site accepted my note. How hard would it be to offer a smaller box AND let the user know how many characters have already been entered? (I won’t even dare suggest they accept longer forms.) Other forms do this so it can’t be that impossible.

Consider that the reason the customer is on this site is likely due to something that has gone wrong with their customer experience, so what are the chances that they want to be annoyed further?

Another example of this same issue comes up on Yahoo! Answers. There is a limit on the length of comment you can leave on a resolved question. But there is no indication of the extent to which you went over the character limit. Users are contributing free content to the site, it’s not a good idea to alienate them by offering annoying experiences.

While I understand that unnecessarily long commentary could be inconvenient in both cases, the 250 and 300 character limits seem excessive in both cases.

* Yes, I realize the complexity at these organizations and understand that just because a couple of employees know of a problem, it doesn’t mean that it will be solved.

2 Responses to “NYTimes & Yahoo! Answers silly usability glitch”

  1. Noor Says:

    This is a super easy one to fix, too.

    I don’t know about NYTimes but Y! does hire ux researchers/usability engineers. I don’t know how they’re structured but my guess is that they probably don’t have enough UERs for every product so some things may not always get the usability attention they need.

  2. cmh Says:

    The new, Web 2.0-y version of Evite tries to count characters for you, but the Javascript counter can’t keep up properly. This leads to neat stuff like “248 characters remaining” (of 250) after I’ve typed three full lines of text; “246 characters remaining” after I’ve completely emptied out the text box; and “max characters exceeded” errors when the counter still says “78 characters remaining”. I was surprised by how awful it is.

    My poor Web 1.0 brain hasn’t wrapped around any “real-time character count” algorithm yet, though… I can’t figure out whether it really should be as simple as “onKeyPress display this.length” or if there’s more to it…. :)