Problem Reports

A couple weeks ago, I added a link to the bottom of Mowser's content adapted pages that said, "Problems? Click here!". Following the link displayed the Problem Report page that has a short form with a single dropdown where you could choose from a list of common issues I've seen like general error, pages not displaying, images not showing, log-ins not working, etc. and then a single text box in case the user wanted to add more info.

I was thinking it would be a nice way to get some feedback on the quality of our pages, but I honestly had *no* idea how much feedback we'd get. We'll get anywhere from 20 to 100 reports a day from people all over the world. Considering we serve a little over 100,000 mobile pages a day, this means that we'll get up to 1 problem report for every 1000 pages served. That's quite the response, considering that all those reports come from mobile users, who are going out of their way to report problems.

Here's some observations I've made over the past couple weeks.

First, these people are awesome. Even if they're just bitching, getting a bunch of people to tell you what's wrong with your app is *great* feedback. After a few days of being shocked at all the reports, I've been in "bug fixing mode" ever since, trying to track down issues and figure out what's wrong with many of the pages. I've got everything set up so I can see the click-stream of the user as they click on it (if I catch it fast enough) so that I don't have to just see the one page with the problem, but everything that user has done through Mowser, and their phone type, all the headers, etc. It's been very helpful.

Secondly, these people have no shame whatsoever. If some guy in Saudi Arabia is having trouble accessing his favorite Goats-Fucking-Grannies site (and I'm not kidding, btw), he's quite happy to report the problem to us and demand a fix. I'm not one to judge this sort of thing - whatever floats your boat - but man, there's been a few sites that have been retina-scarring to say the least.

Also (I'll stop counting now), people expect *everything* to work. We regularly get problem reports about not being able to see Flash video, able to play their favorite online games, wondering why Java Applets don't start, wondering why 65MB PC-based downloads don't install on their 2003-era Motorola mobile phone. This is the most interesting, because it shows both what people do on the web nowadays (which is a lot more than just read), and it shows their expectations for mobility and it has a lot more to do with just basic access. Being a geek, it also never dawned on me that someone would truly expect to be able to play their Windows-only MSN Games Mah-Jong on their Nokia mobile phone, but they do (I mean, some of these sites don't even work on a Mac or Linux, let alone a mobile phone!).

In addition to expecting everything to work, we get *blamed* for any and all problems as well. If the site they are requesting is down, or doesn't exist and we display an error, they blame us in the problems. 404 pages? 500 Server problems? Why they hell do we suck so much? Each page we adapt has a "View Original Page" link at the bottom of each page (so they can see it's not just us), but it seems people would rather cut off their thumbs than click on that link, and in fact many times simply don't understand that they're using a content-adaption engine. This is despite an intro page which everyone receives declaring this, and the links on the bottom of the page. I mean, hey, I'd love to make Mowser's logo bigger and the link to the home page more prominent, but we don't want to "brand" someone else's content so it has to be small.

In general the reports been quite eye opening and good to have... If you think about it, most sites - mobile or PC - don't actually have anything like this displayed so prominently. Sites try to hide contact info pages as much as possible because it costs so much money to support, and instead direct users to forums instead. I think after things settle down a bit (we're getting less reports now as we fix bugs, thankfully) I may end up doing that same thing, and we'll see if users are willing to engage a forum (and each other) if it's on a mobile as much as they would on a PC.

Okay, back to bug fixing. :-)


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