Almost anyone who lives outside the US but who has had to deal with US-based websites will have stories of hate about registration forms that complain that your state/zipcode/phone number is invalid, solely because it falls squarely outside the sphere of understanding of the parochial programmer who created the form.
When I still lived in Northern Ireland, I occasionally encountered sites that went one better than this, by giving me no valid option for the ‘country’ field. The list they provided had a fatal flaw: it offered ‘Great Britain’ but not ‘United Kingdom’. As a rule the Customer Service responses to my emails about this problem were less than satisfactory, with most not really having a clue what I was talking about. Occasionally, after pointing out the large clue right there in the name (the part of the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” that isn’t “Great Britain”), some sites would actually change their registration form. Most, however, never did.
It’s well accepted these days that websites should be kept “fresh”, particularly if you’re trying to sell things. You can’t just throw together a site, forget about it, and watch the money roll in. But I decided to do a little experiment to see how many sites keep their registration form up-to-date.
One year ago today the Republic of Montenegro declared its independence from the confederated union of Serbia and Montenegro. Iceland was the first country to recognise Montenegro as an independent nation, quickly followed by Switzerland and Estonia. Within a week it had been recognised by the EU, all the permanent members of the UN Security Council, and, crucially, by Serbia. Before the end of the month Montenegro had been accepted into the United Nations. Not everything moves quite so quickly: it took until January this year for it to be accepted as a full member of the World Bank Group and the IMF, and it wasn’t until last month that it became a member of the Council of Europe.
On the web, however, where things are meant to move more quickly, the Republic of Montenegro still barely exists at all. I surveyed the registration forms of 50 websites that I use or have used to see if they offer Montenegro as an option in their ‘address’ form. The results were horrifying.
After working my way through a variety of DVD and/or CD retailers to no avail, I moved on to the literary world. After ABE and Bookmooch let me down, I thought that Amazon would be different. Unfortunately, not. In fact none of the standard “consumer goods” sites at all, in any field, seemed to believe in Montenegrin independence. Astoundingly eBay not only don’t recognise Montenegro, they never even got around to recognising Serbia and Montenegro, still only offering “Yugoslavia” as an option.
After a little thought, I realised that the airlines must surely be up to date, but neither Easyjet, nor even British Airways (home of the infamous 200 options for the Title field) provided any relief.
Estonian Air, rather interestingly, in a trait shared with Google, offers options for “Serbia”, “Montenegro” and “Serbia and Montenegro”. It’s unclear whether in each case this is a political statement, a simple case of forgetfulness, or an inability to assign users that were previously registered to one or the other, and thus needing to keep the combined entity as well.
In several hours of exploration, the only site I’ve found so far that has actually removed “Serbia and Montenegro” and added “Montenegro” as a separate entry is Dell. One year on, and only one (and I’ll give Google and Estonian Air a half point each) of the 50 sites I checked have caught up with the state of the world today.
The world is a fluid place. In the last 75 years the number of independent nations in the world has risen from under 70 to almost 200. There a number of places that are de facto independent, but aren’t widely recognised yet. None of the sites I checked offer ‘Transnistria’ or ‘South Ossettia’ as options yet, for example. This is hardly surprising, but I’m stunned that one year after independence, almost nowhere online has bothered to update their registration form to recognise Montenegro. Shame on all of you.
As a webmaster I can confirm it is militant ignorance, and a function of the IT department who are either plain lazy, or plain ignorant.
The issue is the database behind the site. If it can’t handle the new nation the website form can’t have it in it.
I tried for ages to persuade the then sponsors of Compliance and Privacy to recognise the correct list of nations, but to no avail. So the mailing list data it collected was “incorrect by design”, a rather challenging thing.
I have a pet peeve about US Centric sites: The USA is always the default. That’s ok. But why is it the only major nation at the top of the list? That is national arogance gone too far.
Hi Tony. I run BookFinder.com, a ten-year-old ecommerce search engine, and an independently-managed Abebooks subsidiary. We’re pretty careful about keeping our forms current, from adding Euro support in January 2002 to our updating our Serbia/Montenegro support in March. It’s not an easy task.
We’ve been considering switching to the Unicode Common Locale Data Repository (http://unicode.org/cldr/) as a source for locale data; every time there’s a change, all we’d have to do is install the latest data pack. It’s unfortunate that there’s not more buzz about it.
There aren’t a lot of reasons for mainstream online shopping sites to add support for areas like Transnistria or South Ossetia, as they can’t reliably receive mail under their own names, not being members of the Universal Postal Union (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Postal_Union#Member_countries).