Sunday, October 10, 2010

Alipay? Alibollox!

Taobao/Alipay are the Chinese equivalent of eBay and Paypal. To buy things, you have to set up an account with both services and register some kind of payment method - mostly Chinese banks, but Visa and Mastercard are apparently supported (although they didn't work for me).

There are a number of hideous, needless errors and usability mistakes on the Alipay site in particular:

  1. When entering your name, you must type it all in capitals. Why? You can automatically convert the string to uppercase if necessary in Javascript. No need to burden the user with this.

  2. You can't enter a phone number with more than 11 digits, it can't have a '+' symbol at the start, and it's validated as a Chinese mobile phone number (must have 13 or 18 at the start). The hell?

  3. The actual payment forms assume that the customer is using Internet Explorer and they're completely broken in Firefox. I'm using a Mac and even on my Vista box at work I use Firefox and Opera.

  4. After finally submitting the form (by using Firebug's console to fix some of the broken Javascript/DOM code: "form1 = document.forms[0]"), we get a page telling us there was a "payment failure" with error code -1, with the helpful message "没有定义的错误代码" meaning "the error code is undefined". Thanks for that.

What's most annoying are the problems that are so easy to fix: allow any phone number to be entered. Don't ask your users to type things in all caps. Don't assume your users are using Internet Explorer (or Windows) - that kind of nonsense should have been left in the 1990s!

Chinese websites and software often suffer from these problems. Everything appears to be written for Windows, even the web sites. Software doesn't declare what language it's written in and assumes the user has a Chinese version of Windows, forcing them to call the program through AppLocale (if they know how). If there's version of the software built for OS X or Linux, it will be binary only and either doesn't work at all or crashes constantly (QQ for Linux). Of course, you can't use an open-source program that tries to use that protocol because the servers detect and ban unofficial clients. Weak!

Another thing: about 99% of Chinese websites appear to be spammy search portals with hundreds of links and no useful content. Is there a way to search for useful content on Chinese sites and filter out all the useless portals?