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Rattling The Cages Of The Local Internet Industry Since 1995

 
Disclaimer:
From time to time people forget that this column is nothing more or less than the opinion of the writer. While I do my best to base this column on actual people and events -- I can't guarantee that any or all you read here is true. If I've written about you or your company and you feel aggrieved then I suggest you simply drop me a Right Of Reply and I'll see to it that your comments or criticisms are given equal billing.

For The Week Ending July 23 1999

Incredible Incompetence From Domainz
Now, while I've previously been a harsh critic of all kinds of monopolies including the exclusive right for Domainz to sell .nz domain names, I've also done my best to acknowledge that by and large, they do provide a world-class service in respect to the speed with which they process registrations.

Partly because of this unquestionably good performance, I've had little problem with Domainz holding itself up as a "world leader" in the provision of domain name registration -- albeit I can't say I totally agree with that assertion.

However...

Visitors to the Domainz website will have noticed that there's a new option titled "New -- July 2, Pay invoice by credit card".

Hooray I thought -- at last Domainz is providing what a number other registrars have been offering for ages -- secure online payments! Even the island of Tonga's Internet registry has had a secure online payment system for over a year.

Having just received a renewal notice for one of my domains I thought I'd save myself a stamp and use this new service to pay the paltry sum of $59.63.

Bear in mind that I chose to do this on Wednesday 21st of July -- a full 19 days after the service was first put up.

Let me run through what happened on a step-by-step basis.

  • I went to the Domainz website.

  • I clicked on the "Pay invoice by credit card" link -- at which time I was surprised to see my browser complain that the secure server certificate name did not match that of the site. Sure enough, there was a mis-match, the secure server being referenced by IP number instead of the domain name for which the certificate was issued. -- I chose to proceed anyway -- my confidence buoyed by the bold "BNZ Buy-Line" logo which I assumed must mean that this site met the minimum standards required by the bank.

  • I filled out the required fields, taking great care to ensure that I got the amount I was paying exactly right. I also printed a copy of the completed form for my records.

  • I clicked on the "OK" button to submit my payment.

  • When the system returned a page headed "Confirmation of Payment" I printed out for my records and then noticed that, according to this receipt, the "amount" was now $5963 and at the bottom of the page was the advice: "The money has now been deducted from your credit card and forwarded to Domainz."
Initially I thought I must have left out the decimal point when I entered the amount -- but no, checking the printed copy of the filled-out form I could see that I had entered the amount exactly right -- decimal and all.

Naturally, being more than a little concerned that I'd become a victim of perhaps the most appalling lack of testing and attention to detail I've seen in many years, I rang Domainz to find out if I really had been billed for one hundred times the figure I'd entered -- they couldn't tell me; they'd have to check and ring me back.

Oh yes... in an attempt to find the Domainz phone number I foolishly clicked on the "Domainz Home" button to go back to the front page of the site -- I got a "Host Name Lookup Failed" because the link was to www.domainz.co.nz not www.domainz.net.nz, oh dear!

To their credit, they did ring back shortly afterwards and advise that I had not been billed for the incorrect amount.

Clearly the problem was simply a formatting error in the software that produces the Confirmation screen.

IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
Now while it might be tempting to write this as "just one of those things", I'm afraid that's simply not an option in this case and I'll explain why...

Domainz is a company with reportedly multi-million dollar revenues that holds itself up to be a model of excellence to its peers. Its core business is Internet and a huge amount of its business (outside of payments) is transacted via the Net.

For a company with this background to launch an e-payment system with what I consider to be several significant flaws and what appears to be a total lack of testing is completely unacceptable -- someone needs to be dragged over the coals for this. It's not as if Domainz can't afford to hire skilled professionals to do the work -- they have the money!

This kind of amateurish and unprofessional attitude to design, implementation and testing is what I would expect from a Net-newbie wanting to sell hand-made macrame pot-holders, certainly not, by their own definition, the world's most advanced Internet registry.

I might add that the BNZ are also less than happy with this situation. When I asked them for comment they expressed deep concern that their branding was associated with such a shonky implementation. I asked them whether they had any quality assurance mechanisms in place to ensure that sites using their Buy-Line product met minimal requirements for functionality and accuracy -- they weren't sure (sounds like a match made in heaven).

I were the first "live" customer to use the service I could possibly be a little less harsh in my comments -- but remember, this service (according to the Domainz front page), has been inflicting itself on customers for nearly three weeks!

What's more, I'd already highlighted several flaws in the original form on the 16th of July when I took a cursory glance at the facility.

After Wednesday's experiences with this service I suggested that it be taken off-line until the bugs were worked out. Unfortunately that couldn't be done because the only person authorised to take such action was out of the office for the day.

I don't know how many times I've said this over the years -- Every commercial site should spend a few dollars and have a site-survey performed prior to launch. Time and time again in this column I've lamented how big and small companies alike have spent huge amounts on having a website built -- only to be severely embarrassed when any number of bugs, flaws and faux-pas are discovered -- simply because nobody saw fit to have a pre-launch site-survey performed.

Of course it seems that the problems I reported to Domainz have now been corrected -- but why did they have to wait for a customer to report them instead of performing even the most basic of quality control checks themselves or commissioning an independent site-survey?

I invite comment from Domainz, ISOCNZ (by email or in the new forums) and anyone else who has anything to say on this unbelievable incompetence on the part of Domainz and their reckless attitude to quality control in such a critical and public component of their service. Let's hope they're paying more attention to keeping the DNS up and running!


Pretty Flash Eh?
As I've said before -- I think Macromedia's Flash is great. It has the potential to offer all the things that can make the Web not only informative but also entertaining.

Animation, sound, cool graphics -- hey, who could wish for more?

Probably anyone trying to use the new TV2 website, that's who.

And what could they wish for?

How about a whole lot more bandwidth and a faster PC?

Yes, I'm sorry to say that despite WebMedia's obvious expertise in the development of Flash-based sites, and despite the huge "fun potential" that these sites offer -- it's all spoilt for the vast majority of Web surfers because it's just too god-damned slow!

When I first tested the site on the day of it's launch it was unusably slow -- but that, so I was informed, was due to a combination of connectivity problems at the TVNZ site and some code-generation problems at WebMedia. Indeed, when I tried the site again a few days later it was much "less slow" but still ridiculous.

"How Slow" I hear you say?

Well -- the main page contains a 176K flash file and, at regular evening Net speeds, that's going to take around a minute and a half to load -- and that's just the intro! I might also add that on my PII/400 machine, the intro consistently refuses to run right through the first time it loads.

Get used to gazing endlessly at the cutesy little animations that run for extended periods while the Flash files load -- you're going to spend a lot of time watching them on this site.

Unfortunately, despite the obvious "Creativity" that has gone into the production of the Flash components on this site -- they don't add anything to the ease of use or utility provided -- in short, they're more hindrance than help!

Wake up guys -- this is the Internet and one of the big benefits of the Net is that you can (on a well-designed site) move at your own pace rather than waiting for the content to roll by like on TV. This is worse than waiting for the ad-breaks to pass!

I'm not going to be too hard on this site because of its Flash though -- because it does offer an HTML version.

You've still got to wonder -- after seeing all this great Flash stuff, why the site can't be smart enough to default to the program listings for the current day when you select the What's On option. I have pointed this out and they said they'd be fixing it -- but when?

Just like the old site however, this new version remains incredibly parochial -- the links to third-party websites such as those operated by the producers or fans of the various programs screened are notably absent! I spotted a few to the official site for programmes such as Ally McBeal -- but only from the "Drama" section -- not from the programme listings. In fact, believe it or not, they don't even run links from the program listings to the related sections of their own site!

Sorry guys -- it's a lovely collection of "fluff" that may be worth a look out of curiosity but you've overlooked the golden rule of website design -- if you want people to come back -- you've got to stop putting obstacles in the way of the information you're offering.

This site is a toe-cover and gets just 4 Aardvarks out of a possible 10. Come on TVNZ, I know you can do better!

WebMedia -- spend some time in the "real worldTM" before you build your next "Flash" in the pan.

 

Worth A Look?
It seems that CNN anchor-men and reporters are fleeing like rats from a sinking ship -- and they're starting up their own Web sites.

  1. Space.com
    This site is the brainchild of Lou Dobbs. It has great potential and if space technology is your bag you'd better bookmark it. I hope they've fixed their bouncing email problems of earlier this week.

  2. ForeignTV.com
    Meanwhile, CNN's "man on the ground" in the Gulf War, Peter Arnett has launched this site which is a collection of streaming video material from all sorts of funny places. Quite frankly it's a big disappointment -- but maybe it will improve (can't get much worse ;-)

  I Can't Believe It's True
Now let's be frank -- either the Domainz e-payment service or the new TV2 website could have won an ICBIT -- but it seems I'm spoilt for choice in this edition.

This time the ICBIT goes to the TV2 companion-site, Shortland Street, and in particular their guestbook facility.

The guestbook completely open and uncensored -- allowing comments such as:

"Fergus the slag should have herpes the big fat root bag"

and

  • "Fuck Shortland Street rulz", thoughtfully posted by someone calling themselves "Shit",

    But wait, there's more... it also asks for your email address without advising ahead of time that it will be published on the site.

    Clearly there are not only decency, liability and privacy implications but, for a programme that has a significant following amongst the young and easily influenced, allowing this kind of language on the supporting website is surely unacceptable.

    PS: A Site-Survey would have picked this up too!

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