Monday, December 18, 2006

I hate software that thinks it is smarter than me

And that goes double for websites.


Twice in the last few weeks I have had issues with websites that identify that I am in Australia and adjust themselves accordingly. The first time was when I went to book tickets for travel on the Inter-Island ferry for when I'm in New Zealand, and got a helpful message to say that for my own good they were only going to show me the most expensive class of ticket, because that class lets you make changes at the last minute and that's exactly what overseas tourists need, so you should be eternally grateful, you disorganised foreigner, you.

I tried accessing the site through a proxy server, but then they wouldn't let me buy any tickets at all. So in the end I had to call my mother and walk her through the process, which required me not only to give her my credit card number, but to deal with frightening levels of computer incompetence:

"Okay, you should see a screen with a list of different sailing times in front of you. What do you see?"
"Ooh! Oooh! Ooooh!! Look at that!!!"
"What is it, Mum? What does the screen look like?"
"Ooh, I don't know, really. It's not meant to be like this, is it?"
"I don't know, Mum. Describe it to me."
"Well, it's just sort of, you know... Funny."


"Now click the little button next to the ten o'clock sailing."
"There isn't any button."
"Are you sure? Because there's one on my screen, and I'm on the Australian version of the same page you are."
"No, there really isn't. Really."
"Okay. Look at where it says "ten o'clock." Now move your eyes just to the right of that. What do you see?"
"Well there's a little grey circle there."
"That's the button. Click it."

These were just two of the highlights of the process.

The more recent occasion, however, was even more irritating, because the website didn't even warn me that it had detected my location and was showing me country-specific information.

It was an online bookshop that I ordered two books from to send my parents-in-law (in New Zealand) for Christmas. I found the store by searching Google for bookshop online Australia. When I entered the site, everything was priced in Australian dollars. There was a big button saying "Shipping within Australia is free for purchases over $50". And when I checked the shipping times, the estimate was 5 days, which is at the pessimistic end of the range for mail within Australia, but not that unusual around this time of year.

So I bought the books. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Today, nearly three weeks later, they finally arrive. In a package postmarked New Zealand. Which means that I have bought books from New Zealand and had them shipped to Australia, only to turn around and post them back to New Zealand and have them not even bloody well arrive in time for Christmas. Not to mention the environmental cost of shipping stuff back and forth between two countries twice.

And all because the website discovered I was browsing from an Australian IP address and sneakily pretended to me that we have something in common.



Anonymous said...

That is so frustrating!
Can I profit from your frustration and get the name of that NZ book site, though, please? :)


StyleyGeek said... will take you directly to the New Zealand version of the site (I later discovered). I was on which is the one that pretends to be Australian.

So now that I think about it, it may not be that it was detecting my location via IP address. It might have been that because I searched for "bookshop online Australia", it returned the Australian version of the site (, which is the one that doesn't freaking tell you they are SHIPPING FROM NZ.