Web forms and stereotyping

If your life is so ordinary that you cannot be distinguished from the guy beside you, then maybe skip this article. But most people are unique in some way. I have a little sticker on the wall that says: “Always remember you’re unique just like everyone else.”

How often have you been ready to tear your hair out when something on a form does not apply but an answer is required? On paper you can just skip it or write a comment, but not on the web. Poorly designed web forms may account for a very large percentage of bad personal data in databases. And that stuff gets around. It is bought and sold and used for data matching. So getting it right makes a difference. You’d think people would realize that. You’d especially think that programmers would realize it, but this is often not the case.

I used to live near a small village in Ontario where everyone’s address was simply “Clayton, Ontario.” There was no street and number. There was no post office box. When you went to the general store you got handed your mail, or told there was none. You wouldn’t believe how many hassles this caused with computer systems, even back in those days.

And today, with my general delivery postal address, a few web forms tell me it’s an invalid address because there is no street number. And then there are all the forms that want a postal code for a physical address. I was once actually denied service because the place where i physically live has no postal code. I thought postal codes were for postal addresses?

I have also been denied services, or discriminated against, because i do not live on a street, so cannot provide a street and house number. The post office was one of those who could not handle such innocent non-conformity. So we agreed to fabricate a name for our summer-only driveway and to use the number 2, since i live in the second building. It is not a real address, but it does keep the computers purring, and the bureaucrats feeling less harassed.