Hotel booking websites

We recently had a short break on another continent and used a well-known booking website in order to book a hotel. Our booking was based on the information provided on, or rather through that website. There was no other source of information on the hotel in question and it seemed to suit our needs according to what information was available to us. So we were a little surprised to find that the hotel was very basic and did not compare well to the advertisement. We have since taken this up with the booking website and the advertised facilities have been changed. Of course, the website itself disclaims everything under the sun, not their fault, etc.

This leads me though to the question of trust. The web has become a rather tenuous place, what with search results generally useless unless you are very clever with search terms. Results are filled with hopeless information that is generally light years from what you want. It seems, then, that hotel booking websites are going the same way. Rely as they may on their disclaimers, where there is no other source of information regarding a hotel one must ‘trust’ what is published on these portals and lay the blame for any unforeseen issues at their door. Or are we destined to only use them for an introduction and after this communicate directly with each hotel? If so, what use are they?

Someone simply looking to book a hotel and find the best deal is going to base their decisions on what is set out before them by the booking website. Surely these websites need to take a lot more care over their advertisements. If a hotel states that it has a continental breakfast one should not expect just a bit of toast. If it says the room has a coffee maker then a coffee maker should be in the room.

To my mind these companies cannot hide behind the same kind of ‘mere conduit’ ideas that protect Internet providers because they are themselves a service. You go to them so they can help you make a choice. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has already investigated the sector and carried out enforcement actions against some of these websites. Their angle is to do with competition so is not relevant in the case I outline here but I do wonder if the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) may take an interest. I have yet to fully digest the findings as it is not an area of law in which I have practiced. However, the law is not a mystery to me and this is one of those niggling issues that I tend not to drop…

Enquiry forms

If someone goes to the trouble of creating a web based enquiry form I consider it reasonable that said someone would also create some form of acknowledgement on submission, rather than just send the visitor back to the home page! Honestly, its really not hard.

Why do they design sites this way!

Another brain dead website, an estate agent this time. Filling in the contact-me form it pops up the usual Google ‘select all squares that may have had a bike in them last week’ thing. Only it’s hidden under the sliding design so you do not actually know. I found it, but the sliding imagery of their website covers most of the bottom three squares and the buttons, so no way to complete the task.

Good grief. I take it the user testing was somewhat less intensive than that which would have been accomplished merely by showing a screenshot to a brick…

Car manufacturer websites

I’ve been looking round several car manufacturers websites today as I am shopping for a new car. So off I went as you’d expect.

Apart from a variety of cookie notices many of which are confusing, though some are surprisingly good, the vast array of marketing methods used and abused is astonishing. I suppose this should not come as a surprise but the following is a few of the worst:

  • Link to prices is circular and you never get near a price
  • Several pages in and you find the car you came to see is not yet available
  • A car you know to be on sale does not appear anywhere on the manufactures website
  • Link to specifications page gives a 404 error (seriously?!)

I may well add to the list!

Now there are some very good and well thought out sites there – I’m not naming any or shaming any here – but for companies that make a bazillion dollars a year you’d think they could at least get this right! I mean, it’s 2019, not 1993 (ah, my first website, way back in 1993…)

Google’s hopeless reCaptcha strikes again!

Good grief. The infernal recaptcha is used on the car insurance amendment form of a well known insurer. I had to use this today as it is a lot easier than the phone. SEVEN screens of asking me to click every road sign and every store front, then the form would not finish, simply saying ‘field required’ – all were filled in correctly. No way back so I reloaded and started that part of the form over, another SEVEN screens, this time road signs and busses. Finally I got through. So FOURTEEN of these infuriating Google screens later I got to the end of the form. Actually, phoning would be easier, let’s give up on these web forms, as the use of this maddening junk makes it wholly useless now.

Oh yes and still if I dare click for the audio version it just tells me I have clearly mounted an automated attack and blocks all further requests. Clearing all my cookies sorted that one but the voices are generally unintelligible, so little help there.

Again with the photo ID

I need to collect some building supplies. These were ordered online ‘click and collect’, the emails and associated text comes to my phone, and yet I am told I need to bring photographic ID with me. I wonder if they will accept a photo of my passport photo on my phone… if there’s no queue I may well try that out!

Ok I can see the point, after all I already paid for the supplies and I would be really cross if someone faked my name and grabbed them.

Maybe if there was some government-backed ID other than a passport that can prove I am me… oh, wait.

More on Google’s reCaptcha

Ok so now this is getting annoying. Chasing these images round a screen and waiting for new ones to slowly fade in has reached the point now that I no longer engage and will email every website that I need information from to tell them they need to provide it some other way that does not require this ridiculous interaction.

To make matters worse, today I clicked the little headphone icon. Immediately a popup appeared whinging that my network is making automated queries (so, two then, and manual) and I can get no further. Switching to 4G got past that and the audio clip did then work, and is actually a whole lot easier than chasing squares.

Forcing the ID card debate?

I just caught sight of a document giving instructions to people who are attending an interview and claiming to be under ‘statutory identification rules’ but not giving any reference to them.

Bear in mind that these days we increasingly do everything online and, in some cases it actually now costs to get paper copies of bills when they can be delivered electronically.

First off, the attendee is required to produce either a passport, evidence of UK nationality, or a full driving licence. Af far as I am aware there is no law stating that I must drive or even hold a passport if I don’t travel outside the UK.

Next, two items are required out of a set: bank (etc) statement; credit card statement; original birth or adoption certificate; utility bill or council tax bill but not a mobile phone bill. it would appear that this aims to find out if your address is correct.

Finally you need to provide your National Insurance card or original letter.

So what if you have no passport, no driving licence, and all your bills are electronic? The only winner here is your NI number.

I’ve seen this kind of requirement elsewhere too. It always makes me wonder that either these various departments are so hopelessly out of date with the modern world that they have not yet caught up to the fact that paper bills are rare, or this is a ay to frustrate everyone so much that, if the ID Card debate is ever restarted everyone will accept them willingly!

General whinging about websites

Parts of my current work got me thinking about how I, personally decide whether or not to trust a site. By trust here I do not mean completely… I mean I trust my bank more than I would trust someone’s blog. But as a generalisation the following is my hit-list, or rather my go-away-fast list where I will leave a site and never return:

  • whois data is privacy protected. Now ok, I have no issue with someone protecting their blog, but if it’s a company I have to ask why are you hiding? You’re blocked.
  • website presents a pop-up asking – well, anything. Typically you get a pop-up asking if you want to take part in a survey, or saying you can subscribe to a newsletter. No, design your website correctly so I can see those options but do not force them on me. I won’t be back.
  • hard to find actual street address. Blogs excepted again, why do businesses hide or make it very difficult to find their address? Bye.
  • paywalls and ad blocker detectors. Nope, not paying, nor am I switching my ad blocker off. The Guardian do not do this but do have an ad blocker detector which puts up a message at the bottom of the page, not in your face. I don’t use it enough to warrant it but I would be far more willing to pay them than any media that fails completely if you have an ad blocker, or which shows a few lines and then requests payment. Remember, the web is a big place, and someone else has probably posted a similar story to that which you want me to pay for.
  • copyright infringement. Harder to see but I came across a local business that displayed, as it’s background image one of our own which is our IPR! Chance maybe, but hey.
  • sites which attempt to persuade you that what they are offering is not in fact illegal. Far harder to spot, these. But a number of my investigations lead me to websites offering things which although not illegal are certainly contrary to our own internal regulations, typically sites offering to write your dissertation or thesis.
  • sites which require my personal information before giving me a price for a product or service. Car hire and insurance companies are bad for this. Why do I need to tell you who I am to get a price? Ok, some data is needed, like age and postcode, but surely no more than that. I just want a quote, and only if I decide to take it up will I then send the necessary details.
  • sites which insist on having whole-frame anchors such that if you click anywhere other than somewhere obvious you are taken to somewhere else in the site or, worse, to somewhere nasty. You get blocked every time.
  • sites that have no privacy notice / set cookies without permission / have privacy notices that are pages long / have daft, unenforceable or obfuscated notices or terms. Come on people this is not rocket science.
  • sites (and, in real life, vans!) where the URL and e-mail bear no relationship to each other. If you bother to buy a domain then bother to also use it as your e-mail domain! Come on, sack your marketing team.

Not a big or even complete list, but those few points are my own personal basis for going further into a website or just clicking away.


Does anyone else hate reCAPTCHA? There was a time where it was simply a matter of clicking maybe three squares but now it’s just plain daft. You click an image and another appears, or doesn’t, and it seems to go on forever. Websites that use this stuff need to be careful because where I see there newer type of challenge, like click all squares that had an ant on them last week or something equally daft, I go elsewhere. I even had to email an ISP because I could not get past the infernal challenge.

And it seems to make no sense. Sometimes I click one of the ‘all squares matching’ types to get a completely new set, and clicking at random then lets me past. Why? And now there are grainy photos too. They might as well post moon shots and ask which rock the alien might be under.

Pretty soon all we will be spending time on the web doing is trying to prove we are human!

I doubt many people process web server logs properly these days, all will use Google Analytics. But it would be interesting to see the number of people that get past a reCAPTCHA and find useful information in the target site vs those that give up. Oh wait – Google have this, surely! Ah, of course, checking their marketing literature states clearly that we are all working for Google as they make use of our actions to do their own thing.

Yes I realise that this blog has one too but it’s old school and simple… probably little use these days but comments are all held for moderation anyway.