Join 3,564 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Dark Patterns
September 17, 2010 7:28 AM   Subscribe

Dark Patterns is a list of deliberately user-hostile web site design patterns typically intended to deceive or exploit unwary users. These range from the trivial and clumsy (interfaces designed to impair price comparisons) to slyer tricks such as sneaking add-ons into shopping baskets, making specific options deliberately hard to find and spamming all your friends, typically after getting permission on a false pretext. Among the offenders listed are the likes of Ryanair, CreditExpert, various travel and electronics shopping sites, and, of course, Facebook, which has its very own pattern.
posted by acb (69 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
I propose that "getting screwed when some web service silently changes your privacy settings" should be referred to as "getting zuckerpunched".
posted by mhoye at 7:48 AM on September 17, 2010 [38 favorites]


The sneak-into-basket stuff is unbelievable. That can't be legal, surely?
posted by afx237vi at 7:52 AM on September 17, 2010


Is "making it hard to cancel" really a design pattern? Seems like that predates the internet.
posted by smackfu at 7:56 AM on September 17, 2010


That Ryanair example belongs in the sneak-into-basket section too. Really slimy.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 8:03 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Caveat Emptor. Publicly broadcasting what companies indulge in this kind of nasty behavior is good! Thanks for the info.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:08 AM on September 17, 2010


Ryanair could probably fill a bingo card of these.
posted by acb at 8:15 AM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is "making it hard to cancel" really a design pattern? Seems like that predates the internet.

I thought the same thing until reading about L.A Fitness' sign up/cancellation policy. They allow signup on the internet (instant, easy) but only allow for cancellation in clubs and via snail mail. If the reason you want to cancel your membership isn't laziness, and is instead "relocated to an area with no LA Fitness clubs," INTERNET in, SNAIL MAIL out, is pretty shitty, and an intentional web design "flaw." bastards.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:16 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who signs up for a gym online, anyways? Doesn't that seem like a terrible idea?
posted by smackfu at 8:17 AM on September 17, 2010


This is a great resource, especially for teaching ethics in technical communication and professional writing, which I am going to be doing soon! I'm going to share this link with my colleagues.
posted by Tesseractive at 8:26 AM on September 17, 2010


Greedy capitalists are greedy.
posted by punkfloyd at 8:30 AM on September 17, 2010


Seconding and tripling the comments re. Ryanair. At first, its website appears to have been designed by an ADHD-afflicted schoolboy after his first HTML lesson. Then it slowly dawns onto you that everything in the site has carefully been put together to screw you while remaining (more-or-less) legal. The insurance scroll menu is just one particular touch of evil.
posted by Skeptic at 8:33 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


How about the design pattern where the fee to join a site is buried in the small print after a wall of text?

http://www.metafilter.com/newuser.mefi
posted by smackfu at 8:36 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who signs up for a gym online, anyways?

Internet Tough Guys.
posted by Tavern at 8:38 AM on September 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


This is excellent, and I hope it continues. eMusic should have an entry for what they did to me years ago and, astonishingly, are apparently still doing. They send you an email advertising audiobooks or free mp3s or whatever, and if you click on the link, expecting to find out more (i.e. what you get, what it costs), they instantly log you in, sign you up, and take your money. All in the one click, without a word of warning or any request for authorisation. It amazes me that there are no consequences for this ridiculous shadiness (even apart from the absence of legal repercussions, eMusic is still well-liked and regarded as a legit iTunes-esque business), and all the other ridiculous shadinesses described on this site.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:39 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, on re-reading the complaint I linked to, that person is describing a different (but also shady) kind of behaviour. I hope that means eMusic has cooled it with the nonsense I described, but I don't know, and I'll never give them another cent of my money either way.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:42 AM on September 17, 2010


They send you an email advertising audiobooks or free mp3s or whatever, and if you click on the link, expecting to find out more (i.e. what you get, what it costs), they instantly log you in, sign you up, and take your money.

When you click on the link, how does eMusic know where to take your money from?
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 8:44 AM on September 17, 2010


We should ban posts that use these.
posted by DU at 8:45 AM on September 17, 2010


Oh sorry, I accidentally deleted the line that explained that. It was if you were already an eMusic user, or worse, if you used to be one but had cancelled your account.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:47 AM on September 17, 2010


The insurance scroll menu in the Ryanair made me fume just thinking about it.

I was surprised to see the obfuscation in the opt-in/out on Wired's website. They should know better than to try to screw their subscribers. Sometimes, when I decide to make a purchase, I see things like this on a website, I cancel the purchase entirely. Saves me a fair amount of money.

Take that!, marketing-scum.
posted by Xoebe at 8:52 AM on September 17, 2010


How about the design pattern where the fee to join a site is buried in the small print after a wall of text?

To be fair, the link to sign up is also buried under a wall of text. If the link were at the top of the page and the $5 bit at the bottom, I'd agree with your objection.

Also, on my screen all the print is the same size, except for the headers...
posted by muddgirl at 8:58 AM on September 17, 2010


I was mainly kidding, but I'm sure a lot of people are surprised when they come to that $5 part.
posted by smackfu at 9:03 AM on September 17, 2010


United also has a series of slimy add-on interstitials after one prepares to book a ticket. Priority seating, frequent-flyer mileage boosters, seat upgrades, etc., all of which feature a very, very tiny "No thanks" link in the lower left corner and a gigantic neon "Continue" button on the right side.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 9:04 AM on September 17, 2010


Another good one: go to kayak.com, select Flights. After you type in a destination city, a new box silently appears to "Compare sites in a new window" with Priceline and Expedia already checked.
posted by smackfu at 9:07 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


That Ryanair example belongs in the sneak-into-basket section too. Really slimy.

It's not slimy, it's just lazy. The form field is required, and the default isn't set. Ergo, if you simply don't answer the question, you get a form error. The form error is you didn't pick an option. Which is correct, since you didn't. It then picks the default option--the first option, once again. Nothing slimy about it.

Now, the real question should be, why isn't "No Insurance" the default option? And I'll bet there are about ten dozen layers of bureaucracy involved in the answer to that question, boiling down to something like, "this is how legal advised us." Probably because if you suggest people not get insurance, and something does happen, they'll counter-sue by suggesting that the "EVIL" RyanAir deliberately tried to coerce users into selecting NO insurance!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:09 AM on September 17, 2010


I was mainly kidding, but I'm sure a lot of people are surprised when they come to that $5 part.

I would have joined MetaFilter YEARS before I finally did, but was stopped by that $5 fee. I didn't know about it when I started the sign-up process, and when I got to it, I just abandoned my signup.

I'm glad I finally ponied up, but yeah. It was a surprise.
posted by hippybear at 9:11 AM on September 17, 2010


Like P.T. said, there's a sucker born every minute.

We should test the intelligence and common sense of anyone who has access to the internet or, for that matter, leaves their house at any point in the day.

Folks, the internet isn't any different than any other type of sales environment, there's gonna be someone there to scam you no matter where you are, on the net or IRL.

One bit of advice, read the fine print.

One request, quit bitching about it when you don't.
posted by HuronBob at 9:15 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Probably because if you suggest people not get insurance, and something does happen, they'll counter-sue by suggesting that the "EVIL" RyanAir deliberately tried to coerce users into selecting NO insurance!

There's a big gap between making insurance a sensible default and making users who decided against insurance solve puzzles to get their preferred option.
posted by acb at 9:16 AM on September 17, 2010


I would have joined MetaFilter YEARS before I finally did, but was stopped by that $5 fee. I didn't know about it when I started the sign-up process, and when I got to it, I just abandoned my signup

Interesting... before the $5 fee, sign-ups were almost completely closed (except for what, like 5 minutes right at noon each day?), so for me a $5 seemed incredibly low. I guess they could put it in big bold text or something?
posted by muddgirl at 9:20 AM on September 17, 2010


One bit of advice, read the fine print. One request, quit bitching about it when you don't.

That's one of those libertarian positions which works fine in practice but is utterly unworkable in reality. The average person (in particular the average working stiff who needs to use budget airlines if they wish to travel), doesn't have the time to read a few dozen pages of legalese, or the money to pay a lawyer to read it for them and advise them on what they're putting on the line. It is reasonable to expect that the terms should be more or less sensible, with anything particularly unusual or onerous being highlighted in plain language.

Taking the literal absolute-personal-responsibility position is just setting a lot of people up to fail. It's like building car-dependent suburbs and then being surprised at rising rates of obesity and heart disease and blaming it on the individual moral failings of those too lazy or cheap to drive to the gym and run on a treadmill for an hour.
posted by acb at 9:25 AM on September 17, 2010 [15 favorites]


That should be, of course, "that works fine in theory..."
posted by acb at 9:26 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not slimy, it's just lazy.

Dude, it's Ryanair. Occam's Razor says 'evil', not 'lazy'. As Skeptic says, they're not doing this by mistake.
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:26 AM on September 17, 2010


Re. Ryanair's insurance scroll menu: that insurance costs some 5€ per person, which is almost all profit, because the small print is such that it is nearly impossible to collect. Ryanair flies 60 million passengers yearly. If they trick just one third of their passengers to sign thanks to that sneaky scroll menu (a conservative estimate, I'd say), that's 100 million euros extra revenue, just because of a particularly nasty piece of UI design. Crime pays, after all.
posted by Skeptic at 9:28 AM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's not slimy, it's just lazy. The form field is required, and the default isn't set. Ergo, if you simply don't answer the question, you get a form error. The form error is you didn't pick an option. Which is correct, since you didn't. It then picks the default option--the first option, once again. Nothing slimy about it.

The problem is that when most people see "Please select a country of residence" in a dropdown box, they automatically jump to their country without reading all of the options. I personally tend to tab over to the dropdown and hit the "U" key to pull up the United States without even clicking and looking at the options. The fact that it is labeled with "Buy travel insurance" next to it is theoretically enough to warn users that they should be looking for some sort of option to opt-out, but in practice people do not actually read labels like that very often if the function seems obvious from the dropbox itself. A more user-friendly way to present the choice would be for there to be a checkbox next to "Buy travel insurance" that would be checked by default, which when unchecked would disable the dropdown.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:29 AM on September 17, 2010


Interesting... before the $5 fee, sign-ups were almost completely closed (except for what, like 5 minutes right at noon each day?), so for me a $5 seemed incredibly low.

Keep in mind that $5 sign-ups have been around for 6 years so many users have never seen the time before that.
posted by smackfu at 9:32 AM on September 17, 2010


The problem is that when most people see "Please select a country of residence" in a dropdown box, they automatically jump to their country without reading all of the options. I personally tend to tab over to the dropdown and hit the "U" key to pull up the United States without even clicking and looking at the options..

Not only that, but the "No Travel Insurance Required" option is in a random place in the list, between "Latvia" and "Lithuania". One would have to scan the entire list of countries to find it.

There is no plausible explanation for this being an omission or sloppy design. Either their developers smoke crack regularly in the office, or this is a deliberate ploy to make it difficult for customers to opt out of adding €5 to their bill.
posted by acb at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


A variation of 'price comparison prevention' is found on sites like Amazon that allow user reviews but censor any attempt to include price comparison information. For example, a review like "this is a good product but you can get it for $10 less at example.com" will actually show up as "this is a good product but you can get it for [$$] less at example.com."

Now, there's at least one decent argument for this, which is that prices do fluctuate and people may be misled by prices that are no longer accurate, but Amazon already has a means for downranking and commenting on unhelpful reviews, which would presumably include reviews with inaccurate price information. Anyway, I suspect it has a lot more to do with preventing price comparison than ensuring accurate reviews.
posted by jedicus at 9:35 AM on September 17, 2010


Keep in mind that $5 sign-ups have been around for 6 years so many users have never seen the time before that.

Yeah, I know that. "I guess they could put it in big bold print or something." The contact form is right at the top of the page.

A $5 fee is going to turn people away at some stage in the process. It shouldn't happen after they've submitted the registration form and are relocated to Paypal, IMO.
posted by muddgirl at 9:37 AM on September 17, 2010


A variation of 'price comparison prevention' is found on sites like Amazon that allow user reviews but censor any attempt to include price comparison information. For example, a review like "this is a good product but you can get it for $10 less at example.com" will actually show up as "this is a good product but you can get it for [$$] less at example.com."

A more innocuous explanation is spam prevention. If such links would be allowed, most of them would probably end up pointing to fraudulent sites hosting malware or stealing credit card numbers. IMHO, Amazon are doing their users more of a service by weeding them out than a disservice of preventing them from seeing any which may be legitimate.

And Amazon don't block comparison sites; pricerunner.co.uk gets Amazon prices perfectly fine.
posted by acb at 9:40 AM on September 17, 2010


Yeah, count me in on the caveat emptor, this-existed-before-the-Internet crowd.

Rent a car. "Would you like to buy insurance?" Well, the normal car insurance you already have on your own car likely already covers you for many use cases while driving the rental car. And your credit card may also offer protection. But the rental agency isn't going to tell you that, nor are they going to offer you their service with the messaging, "Would you like to buy additional car insurance on top of what you may already have, which means you may not even need this, but it's there, just in case?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:41 AM on September 17, 2010


Not only that, but the "No Travel Insurance Required" option is in a random place in the list, between "Latvia" and "Lithuania".

Random, my ass. I'm certain it's deliberately chosen not to be anywhere near the countries of origin of most of their customers, to minimise their chances of spotting it. We're talking really evil, devious minds at work here, guys.
posted by Skeptic at 9:46 AM on September 17, 2010


Vimeo has a single-click pay button with no confirmation before charging. Then, when you accidentally buy a year instead of a month, they never reply your help requests. By "you" I mean "me".
posted by nímwunnan at 9:49 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a big gap between making insurance a sensible default and making users who decided against insurance solve puzzles to get their preferred option.

But default to what? If you walk up to a RyanAir counter, they'll ask you the same question. Do you want the insurance option? You can't not answer the question and they can't suggest to you an answer, either. Ergo, an impasse. You cannot proceed unless you make a choice. That's not slimy.

The problem is that when most people see "Please select a country of residence" in a dropdown box, they automatically jump to their country without reading all of the options.

So you think RyanAir should make special accommodations for idiots that don't read the directions? Come on.

Not only that, but the "No Travel Insurance Required" option is in a random place in the list

Looks like it's right in the middle to me (I can't access their site from the US). There are tons of reasons why it's not the first option. 1. Their database isn't normalized, so the value for "no selection" could be ID=12... you have no idea. 2. The internal code entry to hold the list selection from the persistence engine isn't ordered; most aren't, so you might have it appear first sometimes, third other times, last other times... again, you have no idea.

As someone who deals with this sort of thing every day for a living my professional opinion is that this is simple laziness on the developer's part and/or a lack of giving-a-shit from higher-ups. That doesn't exonerate them for all the puppy-killing and kitten-roasting they do in their spare time. But this is not the hill I'd make my stand on.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:51 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a fantastic resource, thank you.

It's missing the most common and pernicious anti-pattern, "default to on". Typically used for users to not-opt-out of spam. "Thanks for signing up! Don't not click this button off if you don't not want our valuable marketing messages!" I particularly hate sites that turn the "spam me!" button back on every single time I modify my user profile somehow.

Sites should design defaults for what users are likely to actually want. Of course, that means no one would ever ask for the spam.
posted by Nelson at 9:57 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you walk up to a RyanAir counter, they'll ask you the same question.

A Ryanair counter?!
BWAHAHAHAHA! Boy, you clearly have never interacted with Ryanair in your life, have you? A pity really, they'd really enjoy dealing with a naive, trusting American.

Check their Wikipedia page. This is a company that openly prides itself of being nasty and treating its customers like scum. It doesn't events have an email address, fer Chrissakes!
posted by Skeptic at 10:01 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


So you think RyanAir should make special accommodations for idiots that don't read the directions? Come on.

Yes, actually. Good design tries to take into account all users, even skimmers, or as you call them, "idiots". It's not so much a factor of "not reading directions", it's a factor of their form fields not conforming to general expectations.

I agree that this particular example is probably due to laziness and ignorance on the part of the Ryanair designer, rather than maliciousness, but bad design can't excuse negative outcomes.
posted by muddgirl at 10:04 AM on September 17, 2010


I disagree, Civil_Disobedient. The Ryan Air form is deliberately misleading. It is designed to trick people into buying insurance they didn't want. Your comparison to a live interaction at the ticket counter is off the mark - the analog would be something like,

"Hello, Mister_A - what is your country of origin?"
"Howdy, ma'am, I'm from the good ole U. S. of A.!"
"Right-o, that completes the insurance transaction."
"Come again, Miss Lady?"
"Sir, I have other customers."
posted by Mister_A at 10:05 AM on September 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


Looks like it's right in the middle to me (I can't access their site from the US). There are tons of reasons why it's not the first option. 1. Their database isn't normalized, so the value for "no selection" could be ID=12... you have no idea. 2. The internal code entry to hold the list selection from the persistence engine isn't ordered; most aren't, so you might have it appear first sometimes, third other times, last other times... again, you have no idea.

The rest of the list is sorted in alphabetical order. "No Travel Insurance Required" is in the middle of the list, neither conspicuously outside of it nor in order with the rest of it. If the countries were in random order, or ordered by some internal code (order in which Ryanair added them to their itinerary perhaps?), then perhaps I'd buy it being the coders being too sloppy to normalise a key value. But given that everything is in order except for the profit-losing special value which is shoved into the middle of the list suggests deliberate calculation.
posted by acb at 10:05 AM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Or a lazy programmer who copied and pasted it in the wrong place. Not that I've ever done that.
posted by smackfu at 10:07 AM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


You cannot proceed unless you make a choice. That's not slimy.

The choice of insurance vs no insurance isn't asked directly. It's implied in the question "what is your country of residence?" That's much less clear than the in-person scenario.

Looks like it's right in the middle to me (I can't access their site from the US).

I just did, and it's just like in the screenshot, positioned between Latvia and Lithuania, in an otherwise alphabetical list.

(Btw, if you pick "31" and "September 2010" from their drop down lists, you get an alert that says "Your departure date is invalid. undefined has only 30 days", so I'll give you that they're lazy.)
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 10:10 AM on September 17, 2010


We should test the intelligence and common sense of anyone who has access to the internet or, for that matter, leaves their house at any point in the day.

It could be argued that scams like these constitute a sort of free-market intelligence test on their own nickel -- though exactly how the score is imposed is more ambiguous. "You lose: Pay stupid tax, please"?

(SOCIALDARWINBURGER)
posted by tspae at 10:11 AM on September 17, 2010


Check their Wikipedia page. This is a company that openly prides itself of being nasty and treating its customers like scum. It doesn't events have an email address, fer Chrissakes!

I suspect that Ryanair get away with it largely due to them being Irish, and thus sponging off Ireland's affable, romanticised image. If they were American or British or from anywhere else, their bad reputation would drive away customers like a bad smell, to the point where they'd have to change (and rebrand) or die. But given that they're associated with Ireland, every time Michael O'Leary denies climate change or threatens to eliminate in-flight toilets or gets caught sneakily adding more hidden fees or trying to pawn off a Scottish airport as being near London or something, he's just a cheeky, mischievous, grumpy-but-lovable leprechaun, a sort of Bernard Black of air travel.
posted by acb at 10:13 AM on September 17, 2010


I'd suggest to all those trying to believe that Ryanair's insurance scroll menu is due to lazyness, rather than sheer evil, to go over to Ryanair.com and make a test run. That should be fun.
posted by Skeptic at 10:15 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or a lazy programmer who copied and pasted it in the wrong place. Not that I've ever done that.

If so, it's terribly convenient. And Ryanair's history of dealings has to be considered.

Once is coincidence, twice is bad luck, and all that.
posted by acb at 10:15 AM on September 17, 2010


RyanAir's sales page has no design accidents on it. Well, maybe one, I'm surprised the "no travel insurance" choice isn't below the scrollbar.
posted by Nelson at 10:21 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Looks like it's right in the middle to me (I can't access their site from the US). There are tons of reasons why it's not the first option. 1. Their database isn't normalized, so the value for "no selection" could be ID=12... you have no idea. 2. The internal code entry to hold the list selection from the persistence engine isn't ordered; most aren't, so you might have it appear first sometimes, third other times, last other times... again, you have no idea.

I think the real point is not that the option for "no insurance" is not the default in the drop-down list, or not alphabetized but instead the question is, "Why is it even in the drop-down list?"

There's a yes or no question. "Do you need insurance?" - that requires a checkbox.
THEN if someone answers "Yes" you give them a drop-down.

That dropdown has two kinds of answers - "yes + location" and "no", which in my mind is rather poorly designed.
posted by komara at 10:30 AM on September 17, 2010


forgot to add, "leading to the conclusion that it's poorly designed on purpose to intentionally obfuscate the ability to decline an extra charge."
posted by komara at 10:31 AM on September 17, 2010


Michael O'Leary goes into a bar in Dublin and orders a pint of Guinness.

"That will be 1 euro please" says the barman.

"1 euro, that's very cheap!" exclaims the delighted tightwad.

"Sure, and will ye be wanting a glass with it, Mr O'Leary?"
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:15 AM on September 17, 2010 [14 favorites]


This is a company that openly prides itself of being nasty and treating its customers like scum.

Quite possibly (given the chorus of agreement, quite probably).

That dropdown has two kinds of answers - "yes + location" and "no", which in my mind is rather poorly designed.

Yes, my point entirely. Don't attribute to malice that which can… etc.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:49 PM on September 17, 2010


Also making price comparisons difficult are sites that won't tell you what the shipping charges are until you are at the penultimate checkout page. Yes, their price for the widget is only $5.95, much lower than any of the other sites you've checked. The $19.95 S&H charge, though, makes buying it from them far more expensive than from others. Sites that make me register with them (so they can spam me later), and then want to charge me outlandish shipping fees wind up on my Bad Vendors list.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:58 PM on September 17, 2010


Yes, my point entirely. Don't attribute to malice that which can… etc.

Oh, but I totally will. I don't even make web forms. I'm just some guy, I'm just an end-user. If even I can see how screwed up that logic is (not including a Y/N then if necessary a drop-down) then there's no way those designers didn't know damn well what they were doing.
posted by komara at 1:54 PM on September 17, 2010


Amazon's thing where you have to add the item to your shopping cart to see the price.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:55 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't attribute to malice that which can… etc.

Well, it could be that their web department are utterly incompetent. But that would imply the sort of phenomenal luck that resulted in all their mistakes being either profitable or inconsequential ones, and none of the sort that would adversely affect their (rather successful) business.
posted by acb at 4:47 PM on September 17, 2010


So you think RyanAir should make special accommodations for idiots that don't read the directions? Come on.

No, but nor do I think they should go out of their way to take advantage of this behavior. It would be simplicity in itself to have a checkbox for requesting insurance. They could even have it checked by default (which I would find annoying, but not particularly slimey). What they did looks much more like a deliberate attempt to trick people into buying something they don't want. Then you hide the insurance cost under "Fees, taxes, etc." and you won't even know what happened. Awesome.

Imagine that you go to MassiveE-Retailer.com and drop something into your cart. However, they have changed their cart policy and not only can you not remove the item any more (without paying a "restocking fee". For your convinience), but every item in your cart will be purchased automatically within 15 minutes. And sent next day mail.

Would you say "Oh, silly me, I did not read the Our Check Out Procedure Has Changed page, which would have told me" (admittedly, it's 57 pages long) or would you flip out and start shopping for sniper rifles while looking up the CEO's address on-line?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:49 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Civil_Disobedience, believing that a company about to post an annual profit of €310 million would be using an online payment portal that hasn't been tested, refined, tested, refined and tested again - to maximise profits - is naivety in the extreme!

No-one could possibly be stupid enough to make a user-interface that confusing if it was going to lose them money, therefore the only conclusion I can draw is that they made it that confusing because it was going to make them money.
posted by autocol at 5:51 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Amazon's thing where you have to add the item to your shopping cart to see the price.

My understanding of this is that it's to circumvent minimum advertised price (MAP) guidelines. If Amazon is selling an item below the MAP (MAPs are a separate discussion), they can circumvent the policy by showing you the actual price once the item is in the cart. At that point it's no longer an advertised price used to get you to consider an item, but an actual purchase price.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:59 PM on September 17, 2010


And, more importantly, Amazon added a button to let you remove the item without leaving the page. So, to see the price, you click twice on the same page. That's not a bad trade. (Time vs. Savings)
posted by 47triple2 at 10:07 PM on September 17, 2010


No-one could possibly be stupid enough to make a user-interface that confusing if it was going to lose them money, therefore the only conclusion I can draw is that they made it that confusing because it was going to make them money.

Exactly. There is a lot of poor UI on the RyanAir site, but none of it encourages customers to make choices that save money.

This is a company that charges a compulsory 'check-in fee', not shown when the prices are originally displayed. They charge you for using anything other than the most obscure payment cards, revealed at the last stage of the booking. They awarded their one millionth passenger free travel, but then went back on this and she had to take them to court. Another court forced them to provide wheelchairs to passengers with disabilities, a ruling to which Ryanair responded by adding a 'wheelchair surcharge' to all tickets.

Hanlon's Razor is an excellent tool, but in Ryanair's case, their overall behaviour cannot be adequately explained by stupidity. We are left with an assumption of malice in pursuit of profit and that appears to explain, for example, the insurance drop-down pretty well.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 7:25 AM on September 18, 2010


Surprised that nobody's mentioned GoDaddy, or would that just be a case of HORRIBLE upsell attempts to existing customers?
posted by mrbill at 9:03 AM on September 18, 2010


Civil_Disobedient: "Yes, my point entirely. Don't attribute to malice that which can… etc."

Incompetent people can still be malicious.

Hanlon's Razor derives from Occam's Razor, which in turn refers to otherwise equal alternatives. Also, the idea of "malice" here is complicated by a conflict of interest: it's not inherently malicious to want to benefit yourself.

If you walk up to a RyanAir counter, they'll ask you the same question. Do you want the insurance option? You can't not answer the question and they can't suggest to you an answer, either. Ergo, an impasse.

This actually doesn't prove your point because that's not "the same question" as what is asked on the site. Your IRL scenario actually involves two questions: 1) Do you want insurance? If so, 2) what country? By this token, RA's website violates the Principle of Least Surprise at least three ways: in combining those two questions into one ("Have you stopped beating your wife?"), by putting the "No" option in a list of countries (category error), and by not alphabetizing the "No" option properly (so it isn't actually an alphabetic sort, the list is sorted according to positions set by a human). And that's just critiquing them on one point.

P.S. I have never been trained in computer science.

So, not only would they need to be a company whose website is being written by people with little, no, or imperfect computer science experience, but they would have to be a company that approves this stuff to be released onto live servers for the purpose of generating the vast majority of the airline's revenue. Ryanair isn't a tiny company, so it turns these possibilities into assumptions required to be the correct explanation, more than the "intentional" choice.

Furthermore to your example, can you imagine going up to the RA counter and having them repeat,

RA: What country will your flight insurance be purchased under?
You: Huh?
RA: What country will your flight insurance be purchased under?
You: Insurance?
RA What country will your flight insurance be purchased under?
You: ...

It simply wouldn't happen (and that's even with my clearer paraphrasing of the question). No company would antagonize their customers that way (pace TSA). In person, that is. Why? Because it's malicious and customer-hostile.

You might counter with, 'Oh, I'd just say 'no' after the first instance of the question." But would you? Would people who hadn't already been having this conversation realize what's going on? In an airport, where "what country are you from" carries extra weight? What if the counterperson kept repeating the question because "No" isn't an option on the screen s/he's looking at? All equally as likely as their database forcing them to assign a country ID for a negative option because ten layers of bureaucracy decided not to allow nulls in a table or whatever.
posted by rhizome at 11:18 PM on October 4, 2010


« Older Lady Gaga for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Net...  |  Late yesterday the much-hyped ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments