POSTS FOR 2004

Suggesting Improvements to Blockbuster

Web Standards1073 words6 minutes to read

I downloaded Macromedia Central today. I was browsing the Macromedia website when I came across it, and I thought it looked interesting.

One of the features that they have is a listing of movies playing, and movie times in your area. “That’s awfully useful”, I thought, “but it would be better for me if this information was available as an RSS feed of some sort.

I did a bit of digging around, and looked up some movie and video rental sites, when I decided to visit Blockbuster.com. For those not familiar, Blockbuster is a major retail video chain that rents and sells movies on VHS and DVD. I worked for them back in High School as a front counter guy, but got fired for breaking up with my girlfriend (who was also an employee).

Blockbuster Video

Anyways, I’ve never particularly cared for Blockbuster’s website. It’s never been very useful to me. Nonetheless, I figured I’d go looking for a list of RSS feeds.

Nothing.

So, I hunted around for the “Contact Us” link, and came across a form. This form asked for tons of information, including my name, address, phone number, etc. I hesitated to fill it out because I felt it was unnecessary in order to make a website suggestion. I was about to fill in the information anyways when I looked at the URL and realized that they weren’t using https://. Shocked, at the request for this kind of information without a secure server, I decided to dig through the source code to see if by some freakish chance that the email address was listed. Sure enough, it was.

I fired up Thunderbird, and tapped out the following email:

To Whom It May Concern:

My initial suggestion was to implement RSS feeds into your website, so that those of us who use RSS Readers to check the latest information from the internet might be able to see what the New Releases and Upcoming Releases are. It would be terribly helpful, and I might be more likely to rent or buy movies from you than I am right now. It’s a hassle to try and remember to visit your website to see what’s just coming out, and getting promotional or advertising email is just plain irritating.

But as I went to fill out your contact form, I realized that you guys are asking for some very sensitive information, and you’re not even using a secure server (https://). Being a web designer, I simply looked at the source code in hopes of finding an email address, which I did. Personally, I don’t believe that I should have to give you all of my personally identifyable information to you, just to ask a question or make a comment. Secondly, if you ARE going to REQUIRE it, use a secure server — at the VERY least.

I also find the text on your website more difficult to read than necessary. Luckily, I use the Mozilla browser, so a simple CTRL+[Plus] will raise the text size a bit. Viewing your site in Internet Explorer for Windows, it is impossible to increase the size of the text. This is definitely a usability drawback. Perhaps it would be useful to implement a widget that allows users to switch between your normal stylesheet, and one where the fonts are larger. This allows you to bypass the flaws in IE/Win.

Also, your overall code could use an update too. You’re still using extensive tables for layout purposes. Tables are bandwidth hogs. The onyl reason to keep them would be for Netscape 4.x users, but those are down to a mere 0.4% as of March 2004 statistics. There are more people using Palm’s, PocketPC’s, and WebTV than there are using Netscape 4.x. Switching to either valid HTML 4.01 or XHTML 1.0 Transitional for markup, and using CSS for any and all layout purposes, you’d be able to slash your source code by a good 60–70% (just by eyeballing your source). Do you know how much this will save you in bandwidth costs? I’m sure you get millions of hits per day. This savings could really add up for you.

Another benefit for switching to standards-compliant code would be that users of non-standard devices (including PDA’s, web-enabled cell phones, blind or otherwise disabled users) would still be able to access a text-only or slightly styled page, and your site would be more accessible to these people. I’m sure that they like to spend money at your stores too, and I’m also sure that they care more about being able to access and use the information from your website, rather than being shut-out because they don’t use the same types of browsers or computers that the rest of us do.

I’d like to suggest a few articles that could really help you improve your mindset when it comes to the web, and how that enlightened mindset can truly help your customers:

It is not my intention to harass you or belittle your work, but I thought you guys might be able to appreciate some valid customer feedback on the usability of your website. Improvements aren’t a bad thing.

If you’d like to contact me about my suggestions, you can reply to this email. If you don’t care to think about or try to implement my suggestions, that’s obviously up to you. I’d just like to see something better come of Blockbuster, and that’s really what the spirit of this email is really all about. Although I’m not at all affiliated with them, I know that the guys over at Happy Cog (www.happycog.com) are quite skilled at this sort of thing, and even if you were to choose to use your own people for any potential redesign project, these guys are definitely some people you should hire as consultants.

Thank you for your time,

— Ryan Parman

I hope that they don’t think I’m crazy or anything, although they most likely won’t do a thing about it, but that’s probably the worst that can come from this. The best thing would be if they redesigned using XHTML+CSS to the benefit of all of their customers, AND set up RSS feeds so that I can check the new movies.

We’ll see what happens.

Ryan Parman

Ryan Parman is an experienced software engineer, open source evangelist, and passionate user advocate currently living in Seattle. He is the creator of and , and worked on DevOps and Security at . He is now bringing learning into the digital age as an Engineering Lead and Site Reliability Engineer at . Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than .