Website report for Transport for London’s Oyster site

URL: https://sales.oystercard.com/oyster/lul/entry.do

Site purpose: To allow customers to research and buy tickets, including top-up, for the Oyster card used on London Transport.

Overview: This site has serious usability problems that hinder the customer’s experience. The following points should be addressed. Further issues exist, but these points would dramatically improve the site in the short term. I recommend a thorough usability review is carried out.

# Fares information

Provide single page including travelcard prices, Oyster single fare prices, Oyster capping and cash fares.

Provide same information for price changes in 2007, for easy comparison.

Provide explanation for withdrawal of single zone travelcards.

# Oyster accounts

Once logged in to the Oyster account, allow a way for user to email for help.

When searching help, provide email help link before search, as well as after.

When emailing help, don’t try to create new account using existing account name.

When emailing help, indicate how a response might be received, if at all. e.g. to email address, to account? etc.

When providing top up / travelcard payment system, show prices of travelcards and tickets through the process (currently not shown at all).

When providing top up / travelcard payment system, only show available tickets, rather than providing error message once desired ticket is selected but not available (e.g. single zone travelcards).

When providing top up / travelcard payment system, show status throughout ordering to clarify whether pressing ‘continue’ will activate the ticket and take payment, or just take you to another information screen.

[Report recommendations emailed to TFL on 15th December, 2006, after frustrating experiences with all of the above and the discovery that I will be £200 a year worse off due to the inexplicable withdrawal of Zone 1 travelcards.]

My sister the novelist

My sister Octavia has been taking part in this year’s NaNoWriMo, the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, and she’s done it! She is a NaNoWriMo winner! Her novel came in at 50,250 words (but, for some reason the NaNoWriMo word count squeaked her in with a word count of 50,080), all written in November with extraordinarily little in the way of preparation, forethought or planning. Needless to say, I’m terribly impressed.

To my amusement she wrote the whole thing on my very old Toshiba laptop that took me through university in the mid 90’s and runs Windows 3.1, has a little black and white screen and contains my CompuServe email from back in the day. The battery’s dead, obviously, but it works and there’s no chance she’d get distracted doing anything else on it!

So, how did my sister get into the less than 20% of people who complete NaNoWriMo? My observation would be that the key thing was, basically, committment. She put her social life on hold, set herself a reasonable daily word count, and went home and wrote. She had bad times with nothing to write, but she wrote, and days when she didn’t want to be in the office but instead home writing, but she went to work and wrote in the evening. She was also spurred on by some frankly brilliant emails from Chris, who runs NaNoWriMo, full of motivation, little tips and support. She wanted to do it, decided she’d do it, and did it.

I think it’s not unrelated that a few months ago Octavia decided to run the Nike 10K in London. She had never run before and started a training regime, sticking to it, and resulting in a very impressive run. Basically, she took on a challenge, and succeeded, which makes other challenges that bit more achievable. Probably no less hard in themselves, but it’s easier to believe you can do it if you’ve just done something else that seemed hard to begin.

And what’s the novel about? Not a clue… and I’m not sure it really matters. In talking to her I’ve gathered there are three main characters, one of whom is named after her cat, but the greater emphasis has been on the writing process. At one point she got bored with a character, so she just started writing about another one. Then she decided she’d move from first person to third person for a bit. She played with it and fought with it, and it worked.

I’m allowed my very own copy of the novel if I donate some money to NaNoWriMo. From their site:

Our estimated costs for NaNoWriMo and the Young Writers Program in 2006 total $183,400. This is our break-even point. Half of all money raised beyond above that will go to our Libraries in Southeast Asia program, and the other half will serve as much-needed start-up funds for the 2007 event.

Sounds good to me.

Webcameron

I’ve just been looking at Webcameron, the new website from the Conservative Party bringing lots of videos of David Cameron, leader of the Party, to an internet near you. I’d heard about it, of course, but hadn’t thought much of it until a Labour MP made a (really bad) spoof and put it on YouTube. At that point, I decided to check out the original, and was really struck by how hard the designers have tried to make the Webcameron site look like a Web 2.0 site – similar to Flickr and many of the other funky sites that young and technically aware people go to, complete with a tag cloud and lots of opportunity to comment etc.

I first watched the introductory film that shows David Cameron in his house about to do the washing up while his children scream out of shot. It also features his family’s underwear in the background and he wields a bottle of a green brand washing up liquid. Of course, everyone knows that a lot of work goes into making that stuff look quite so real, and I’m sure there was a lot of attention paid to what did and didn’t appear in shot. I would love to see the versions that didn’t make it, or know exactly how hard they tried to get it all to hang together, and exactly how did the conversation go when they decided that underwear was a good idea. I think the washing up liquid is sort of genius, drawing on product placement techniques to subtly drive home the message about how ‘green’ Cameron is.
The other thing that strikes me is that there’s a limit to how many times Cameron will be able to say that the Government is running scared and Tony Blair has screwed up. He is trying to come across as a nice guy, but every now and then he makes a swipe at the Government that doesn’t really parse very well. I guess that the problem is that he has to address the general public and die hard members of the Conservative party all at once, and make political points while generating a public image of what a great guy he is, which is a hard balance to strike.

Anyway, the site is far more interesting than I had expected, but I’m not sure I’ll be a regular visitor.

Blog comment authorisation

Interestingly, I’ve just been put off commenting on the blog of a blog consultant because the comment process was too difficult to bother with. I decided to write about it here instead. Call me contrary if you will. Check this out:

Chocolate and Vodka :: Post Comment

I read Suw’s blog fairly regularly and think she is one of life’s Good Things, for what it’s worth. She is having a problem learning a new programming language and I thought I could help. I clicked the comments button, and typed my comment (about accessing MySQL at the command line, and it seems to have been resolved as I’ve been typing up this entry).

Then I saw that she asks users to verify they are real by typing in the captcha code. No probs, I thought, I can just about make out those letters. And then I scrolled a little further and saw that I needed to add a username and password and I’m told that the blog doesn’t allow anonymous comments. I’m happy to tell her who I am, but, um, there’s nothing on the comment form about how to get a login or just give her info about me for one little comment. So, I stared at the screen for a while and read the comment form a couple more times in case I’d missed something. Then I thought about how my comment might not be that welcome, and lacks insight, and probably won’t solve her problem, although it might be helpful, um….

Then I noticed ‘Create Reader Account’ further up the page and clicked on that. And then I clicked a link on that page to actually, you know, get to the page to create a reader account. And by this point I was really wondering how much I cared about commenting, which meant that when it asked me for too much information (I’m not even sure what, to be honest) I pressed the back button and decided the barrier to commenting was too high.

Keen as I am to give low level, unrequested technical help that might not be appropriate, I then glanced around for a way to email direct, but could see no contact info. At that point I had invested enough in the process to choose to whinge about it here, where I already have a login, and, with the combined forces of Askimet and WordPress, Suw can come and tell me I’m a fool on my blog without any nasty barriers to entry (apart from my slightly dubious site design, my one-time approval queue, and her lack of inclination of course…).

The PM Programme has a Flickr account

This made me laugh today: Flickr: BBC Radio 4 – PM Programme. There are several things that are brilliantly entertaining (in a techie way) about this in my view.

1. It’s a free account

2. The pictures are TINY and out of focus. Gloriously amateurish.

3. They haven’t set up a proper url for it (e.g. http://www.flickr.com/photos/radio4pm/)

And the blog is fun as well, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/pm/, with Eddie Mair keeping the blog in keeping with the programme very nicely indeed. I think this is far more interesting than the Newsnight content. Newsnight try a bit too hard, while PM seem to just be having fun with the possibilities. Good stuff.

Yell.com vs Yellowikis.com

As my English teacher almost used to say, compare and contrast the logo, branding and feel of Yell.com and Yellowikis.com.

When I did just that, I found it hard to work out how Yellow Pages could think anyone might confuse Yellowikis for Yell.com, but the BBC reports that they do. The bit that really got me:

Yell is arguing that the use of the name Yellowikis, the yellow logo used by the service and its positioning at the top left of the website “amounts to a misrepresentation which may result in third parties associating the website registered in your name with out client”.

Logo in the top left? Yell really made an innovation there…

Free ad space for artists

Gawker Media, publishers of Lifehacker amongst other things, have a great idea for their unsold ad space: they put art work in it. Traditionally this space is used for in-site promotion (the latest features, mailing list sign-up etc.), cross-site promotion (sister sites) or free ad space as sweeteners for clients. The genius of putting art work in the gaps is that it makes the sites look really cool, while raising consumer interest in those spaces on the page, thereby raising the value of the ad space that is sold. I would be really interested to know if it’s helped their click thru.

You can read more about their policy on Gawker Media’s website.

TV licensing for BBC television streaming

The Evening Standard yesterday made a big deal about a potential £1,000 fine for people who watch the World Cup at work. I laughed because the angle of the story made it seem like it is somehow everyone’s right to be able to watch football at work, but the more serious point is about how the TV licence applies to internet broadcasts.

It seems pretty obvious to me that if you receive a TV broadcast from the BBC then you should pay the licence fee, but internet streaming is not the same as television broadcast. This issue came up when I was trialling the BBC iMP player recently, and someone in a focus group I attended said he didn’t have a TV and his only access to TV programmes had been through those available after broadcast on a downloadable basis. He didn’t have a TV licence, and it wasn’t at all clear whether he’d need one or not. It’s a blurrry line, not least because the TV licence pays for BBC radio and BBC internet services, but is only paid by those with televisions. As a payment model, this is obviously something for the BBC to watch out for as more and more services become on demand. According to the TV Licensing authority

If you use a TV or any other device to receive or record TV programmes (for example, a VCR, set-top box, DVD recorder or PC with a broadcast card) – you need a TV Licence. You are required by law to have one.

This makes it appear that payment is based on reception of the broadcast (through a TV card for example), not the internet streaming. It could well be that a distinction could be made between a live broadcast streamed on the website, and a service that lets you watch again after the broadcast. It seems pretty arbitrary to me, though.

Google calendar

Oh My Word! Google Calendar is amazing. Granted, I’m used to Outlook calendars, which are pretty awful, but Google Calendar just seems to do so many things so well. My experience with electronic calendars has been so poor in the past that I currently happily use a paper diary. I don’t think Google Calendar will take me away from paper; after all paper is easy to carry around, doesn’t run out of battery, and you can do fuzzy things with it like write small for things that don’t matter, or put lines through series of days (yes, electronic does this too, but I find it far more distracting in electronic format than on paper), or write in different bits of the day to represent different sorts of item…. Anyway… Google Calendar does have some amazing potential, mostly in its ease of colaboration and open standards. You can also customise it just enough to make it your own (e.g. you can set up a custom view of just the next 6 days, say, rather than standard week view).

As I say, though, the key thing is in colaboration. Google Calendar lets you share your calendar, or just your availability, and it lets you subscribe to multiple other calendars as well. So, I can imagine clubs and social groups setting up calendars that members can subscribe to. It also does some clever-sounding stuff with invitations and RSVPs that I’ve not played with yet, but look very promising. And it’ll integrate with Gmail (it thinks it does already, but I found that was very clunky at the moment).

Enough of the rave. Check it out yourself. It’s fun (and made me go ‘wow’ a lot today…)