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Don't Make Crappy Websites, PLEASE

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It's now 2007. The Internet has been around for many, many years now, and has been a popular fixture of the common man's life for over a decade.

So why do highly eminent tech leaders like Microsoft still produce crap content on the web? Why do we continue to make idiotic, bone-headed site designs as if it were still the heady, exciting year of 1993? Have these people never even heard of usability testing?

I speak, of course, of the abysmal atrocity that is the Xbox Live billing site. A couple of days ago I got a snarky email informing me that Microsoft wants to fleece me for a few more bucks so that I can continue to play games on Live and give them yet more money for games I played ten years ago. Naturally, being rather stupid and pointlessly addicted to Live, I wandered on to the site this morning to oblige them with my Washingtons.

Now, let me be clear on one thing: I don't want to go boot up my Xbox to pay this bill. The email, and therefore my entire memory of the fact that I need to pay the bill, is on my computer. My computer is not my Xbox 360. I also have plans for every evening this week, meaning I'm probably not going to fire up the Xbox at any point and go "oh yeah, gotta pay the Live bill."

Therefore, as a customer, it is of paramount importance that I pay my bill online, right now. Live is, after all, an Internet-based system, so that should be no problem, right? There's a little "billing" link right there on the page when you sign in to Live, so I figured all would be well.

More wrong, I could not have been.

I clicked the Billing link and was taken to a bland, Microsoft blue-and-white page with absolutely no useful information on it. There was a little blurb about the prepaid Points card I got for Christmas and promptly blew on Contra and Doom; nothing about paying my subscription bill.

Worse, there's a little box in the corner of the page marked Frequently Asked Questions. It's always a bad sign if you have to put FAQs on the actual page.

Get a load of the FAQs that populated the list initially:
  • How do I read this page?

  • How do I use a new payment method?

  • How do I find information about the services I have?

  • How do I update my credit card expiration date?


Public service announcement: if you have to write FAQs about how to use your site design, for basic and trivial operations which hundreds of thousands of people will need to do on a regular basis, YOUR DESIGN SUCKS AND WHOEVER CAME UP WITH IT NEEDS TO BE DRAGGED OUT BEHIND THE BUILDING AND SHOT REPEATEDLY!

Just sit a moment and let the sheer, enormous idiocy of this sink in: the page loads, by default, with a link to an FAQ, describing how to "read this page". It's not just random, either - I reloaded the page several times (even opening new browser instances to be sure I had a new session) and always got back the same list of FAQs.

I have never - not once, not in 11 years of web surfing - had to ask any of those questions about an online service before. Ever. Even back before we all knew what "shopping cart" meant and before Jeff Bezos descended in holy light to deliver us the (patented) goodness of online retail.

So I stumbled around in here for a while, and - I'm ashamed to admit - read the FAQs. All of them. I never did figure out how to pay for my bill from the site itself, which is also a problem I don't think I've had with a website for at least 7 years now - so not in this millenium.

I did eventually find out how to do it, thankfully - apparently, to pay a bill, I have to "Modify my membership" (from "having a subscription" to "having a subscription" apparently). Well, darn. I can't believe I was so dumb as to expect to pay my bill inside the billing area.

It's Two Thousand Fricken Seven, Microsoft. I know you're nostalgic, but 1993 was not all that great of a year. Please let your web designers know that the world of technology has moved on, and that their pathetically outdated skills are no longer needed. If you really have trouble comprehending web usability, I know a couple of six year olds that could explain it to you.
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