The only website that closes at night

The revolutionary thing about the internet is that it's "always on". Do some shopping at midnight in your PJ's? Yep. Watch a movie at 3 AM from bed? Absolutely.

Which is why I was astonished to discover a website that has "normal business hours" and actually closes at night. Of course it would be a government website, namely the Social Security Administration.


How did I discover this?
I recently heard it's possible to estimate your future social security benefits on the Social Security website, so I decided to try it out. But following the link that says "Estimate Your Retirement Benefits", I was greeted with a CLOSED message, which is probably the only website in the world that actually closes at night.

Turns out since it's 10:22 PM here on the West Coast, I'm outside of those normal operating hours for those East Coast servers.

Seriously, what in the world?

<rant> Please don't send an email like this to customer support

In this episode of "the life of a business owner..."

People say the darndest things when writing in to customer support. Here's a recent example sent in to FolioHD.

"My service is still not working. My business depends on the reliability of this website and if this can't be fixed I'll have to switch providers immediately."

Do customers think support people are more inclined to respond faster if they include a line like this? Do they subconsciously think a slight threat is going to get their problem fixed any faster?

The unfortunate fact is that 99 out of 100 times, the "problem" is a user error (at least in our case - in this particular instance, a misconfigured domain name). But when you're the service provider, it's never the customer's fault -- and I'll gladly take on their problem as if it were the most important thing in the world, but because I want them to have a good experience, not because of their tone.

There's just something inside me that hopes they don't correlate their slightly threatening tone to what got their problem resolved, because it really doesn't help.

</rant>

Disincentivized

  • It was announced today that illegal immigrants will now be eligible to receive back tax refunds even though they've never actually paid taxes.
  • Today I went to pick up a prescription that cost me over $100 because my new Obamacare insurance doesn't cover it. My old insurance was 1/4 the cost and covered everything.
  • I'm working on filing my taxes and am astounded at the amount of money I'm handing over to Uncle Sam. And I'm seeing less in return for it than ever before.

I'm beginning to wonder what the point is of working hard all day, sometimes nights and weekends. I work more than I should, to the point it sometimes starts to interfere with relationships and social activities and I have to constantly keep myself in check, but I've chosen to do it because I enjoy it and because I want to get ahead.

But with every action our government takes, they take away my incentive to actually try to get ahead.

Why should I work hard to pay for a $100 prescription, where if I made less money, I wouldn't pay anything at all?

Why should I work to pay my rent, when the government would chip in and help me pay for a place just as nice if I made less money?

Why is the government handing out my money who have done nothing to earn it and who haven't gone through the legal routes to be here?

This system doesn't work. The people on the low end of the pole have no incentive to work hard because they are being handed everything. And the people on the upper end have no incentive to work hard because they'll get the same benefits regardless of how hard they work.

Welcome to the new America.

Resort fees, dealer fees, convenience fees, and other bogus charges

Typically when we buy something, we're accustomed to paying the listed price, plus a mandated tax on the item. But recently we've become accustomed to seeing additional fees on purchases that aren't listed in the purchase price. This is already common practice for things like utility bills, cell phone bills, and car rentals. But over the past decade, this practice has extended to the internet in some incredibly shady ways.

Ever booked a hotel room and been forced to fork over an extra $15 or $20 a night at the front desk, on top of what you already paid to book the room? You may or may not have been aware of this charge called a "Resort Fee", a completely bogus charge some hotels are resorting (no pun intended) to, in order to maintain profit margins but still appear competitive on their price.

How does it work? Imaging you're filtering for 4-star hotels, then sorting by price, lowest to highest. "Wow," you say, "I found an amazing 4-star hotel for $90 a night!" Not so fast. If you look closely, you'll see a Resort Fee of something like $20 per night, payable to the hotel upon arrival. So what's going on? Well, for that hotel to appear in the top results for the price range, they lower their price but make back that amount in the form of a fee that isn't included in the price.

I recently came across an incredibly shady example of this fee on a Travelzoo deal:

"A resort fee of $15 per night is not included and will be paid directly to the hotel. This fee covers Wi-Fi, pool access, spa access (may be limited), fitness center access, newspaper, phone calls (may be limited), in-room coffee, in-room bottled water, self parking, valet parking and additional inclusions."

Travelzoo is all about great deals, but if you factor in the extra $15 you're going to have to fork over, you have to question if it's really that great of a deal. But the most offensive part is that this hotel is communicating this fee covers things like self-parking, coffee, fitness center access, and even pool/spa access! We all know even the most basic hotels have offered this forever at no additional charge. This is a blatant way to make back the profit they would have lost by actually offering a deal.

These tactics extend to things far beyond hotel bookings. Ever bought a car and thought you got a great deal? You should watch this video about the four square model, the model that every car dealership uses to make sure they make a certain profit on every car sale. Oh, and that dealer fee you may have paid from anywhere from $200-$750? Yeah, that's just a bogus fee - doesn't actually cover anything. It just goes toward making your purchase price appear lower.

Fortunately, there are some sites that actively try to give you an out-the-door price, which I really appreciate. Stubhub shows you your out-the-door price per ticket to an event. Southwest shows you the out-the-door price on an airline ticket - it includes all the bogus government fees.

I have declared war on these types of bogus fees. I try to avoid them as much as I possibly can and I hope I can convince you to do the same, when at all possible.

"Don’t give people what they want; give them what they need."

TL;DR: This post is an incredibly petty example of how Lexus improved an already perfectly positioned parking brake. Seriously.

"Don’t give people what they want; give them what they need." - Joss Whedon

We've all heard this quote a thousand times; sometimes I use it to my advantage in my design work. It's easy to discount others opinions when you think what you've done is superior. But this post isn't about me...

I used to own a 2006 Lexus GS 300. One of the best features of this car (in my opinion) was the location of the parking brake pedal, located above where the left foot rests.

I liked the position of the parking brake because of my bent toward efficiency. I was able to park the car in an efficient manner:

  1. Left hand: on steering wheel
  2. Right foot: on brake
  3. Left foot: set parking brake
  4. Right hand: turn off car

This is in different than other cars where you might need your right hand to pull an emergency brake in the center console. (Using your right hand for two actions takes twice as long to get out of the car.) In my Lexus, all four limbs could be doing something at the same time. This sped up the process for exiting the vehicle.

Then my car got totaled.

This may surprise you, but one of the biggest criteria for my future car was a parking brake system that was as efficient as my GS 300.

I wasn't able to find anything that matched up.

In fact, it wasn't until I found the new Lexus GS 350 that I was blown away.

The 2013+ Lexus GS comes equipped with an automatic parking brake. When Auto mode is enabled, the parking brake is automatically engaged every time the car is in park.

I never would have thought of such a feature. If I were dreaming up the world's greatest Lexus, I would have asked them to leave the parking brake foot pedal in the same spot. However, they went ahead and eliminated the need to even think about my parking brake at all.

This kind of innovation is what creators - both designers and otherwise - should be thinking about. Too often are we asking others for their opinions on our designs or creations. We need to make sure we're stepping back and thinking about what our users actually need, and not what they're asking for.