Chris Alexander

On Engineering

An open letter to the IEEE

Regarding your appalling website

20th October, 2010

This is an open letter to the IEEE, the organisation that produces standards for a wide range of engineering and technical formats. It is regarding a rather unfortunate encounter I had with their website a few nights ago.

Dear Sir / Madam,

I am writing to you regarding the IEEE website,

Last night I decided I would investigate signing up as a student member of the IEEE. I have been meaning to do so for a number of years, and as I am now three fifths of the way through my Robotics degree, I thought it would prove useful to me. Unfortunately, I was unable to sign up as a member, as I was not able to even sign up for an account on your site. The following details explain the numerous difficulties I had.

First of all, your sign-up form makes significant and unreasonable demands on the user. In the first sign-up page alone, you must enter the date in a extremely specific format - I did not realise that dropdown boxes had gone out of fashion so quickly. The additional requirement of an uppercase username is contrary to every single other sign-up form on the web. Additionally, when you submit a form with a non-uppercase username, it goes to an error page which in no way allows you to retrieve the form values you had previously entered; this is supremely frustrating. So if I fill the form in correctly with the exception of one character in the Username field which happens to not be uppercase, I am forced to fill in the while form again (from the beginning) as the provided “Back” button, the browser back button, and pressing backspace to skip back a page all take me back to the very first “start” page of the form. Pressing return in the form is also not linked to the submit button, which is also counter to just about every other form on the web and goes against accessibility guidelines.

If we manage to get all of the first page right at one time, we are taken to the address page. Once again, if we get one single part of this page wrong, we are taken to the error page and given no way of going back to retrieve the previously entered information. This means we don’t lose just the address entered - it means the loss of the first page of information too, so it is required to literally start at the beginning again. On this second page, the arbitrary date format and return key not working problems once again manifest themselves. I’m afraid I can’t comment on subsequent pages, as I got entirely frustrated with the extremely slow progress at what should be a rapid and simple task and quit to write you this e-mail.

Please don’t just give me your cross-browser limitations “disclaimer” you warn the user with before commencing the form. It is a form - that is all. There are innumerable forms successfully implemented on the web that work with any browser, simply because they have been designed and thought about and tested in a way that makes them so. I would be willing to wager that many of the IEEE’s members are more than capable of building a simple form that works in all browsers that you may reasonably expect it to.

For an organisation such as your own to not be able to fulfil a simple form-filling activity on the web is, quite frankly, an embarrassment. I hope this feedback will be passed to the section of your organisation - or, as the case may be, the contractor - responsible for this poor excuse for a website, and that I may at some point be able to obtain membership.

Chris Alexander.