Oh for a declarative experience
Want to go on holiday to France. Want to take the car on a ferry. Want to sail to Cherborg, or St. Malo, or Le Harve, or Caen. Flexible about time. Looking for best price. Want to book on-line. These are my goals. Not unreasonable goals, although as soon as I add “I want to have a ticket booked within five minutes” I enter the real of dreams. Currently, it is not possible to realise my goals.
What I want to be able to do is enter my broad travel criteria into a aggregation website and then filter my search. Imagine an excel spreadsheet where I enter my criteria:
The results appear immediately:
And as I change the quantity in my search fields, the results fields immediately update:
That is the declarative paradigm that is conspicuous by its absence on so much of the web. Rather than flexibility, the ferry booking sites send me down an imperative, step driven journey. I cannot adjust my criteria without starting the process again- and that means re-entering all the data I have already provided.
The story doesn’t end there. After fighting with a number of different websites I finally find a ferry crossing that matches my requirements. Condor Ferries. The price is alright – £160.00. I Don’t want to book it there and then, I need to confirm it with my wife. She says “OK” so I return to the site to find that the booking form has timed out. There had been no option to save the quote. I have to start again. I go through the process again to find the price has suddenly jumped from £160.00 to £280.00. Unhappy, I ring the company to be told their system has a real-time flexible pricing engine that changes according to demand. The price lower price is no longer available to me. (At least they didn’t have the cheek to put a premium for the booking over the phone rather than the internet). Indecisiveness gets the better of me so I put off booking till the following day. Once again I go through the pain of step-driven booking wizards. And lo-behold, the price has dropped again to £160.00.
I started with some “wants” and I’ll reiterate them. I want a declarative web experience that meets my expectations and helps me painlessly realise my goals. I want travel booking forms to enable me to push and pull different levers to refine my choices, just like I can change fields on a spreadsheet. Finally, I want to be able to save quotes to return to them later. I don’t want the web to be like a high pressure salesperson who tells me this price is only available if I make a decision now.