Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Noncommutative Webforms

A story:

Today I was filling out a webform. It asked for some address information.

Pretty normal. 

First it asks for state, with a blank text field. I type Kansas.

Still fine.

Then it asks for zip, with a blank text field. I type mine.

First alert goes off.

Then it asks for country, with a drop down. I select USA. It changes the state field to a drop down, erasing my previous entry!

Second alert goes off. Third alert goes off.

This webform, is for a job, doing NLP for a major tech company.

At this point, I nearly stopped applying.

Why does this matter?

The first paper I read when I started getting interested in data-science was by DJ Patil. I'll admit, I was skeptical as hell, and I don't mean in the haute Cathy O'neil way.

One of my favorite points from his paper, and what convinced me that smart people were doing data science was his little observation about building smarter webforms for data entry.

So, this company isn't even using the basic advice from one of the most popular data science papers of all time?


This is a perfect example of noncommutativity. It is NOT the same to:

  • ask first for a state, then ask for the country which changes the entry field for the state
  • ask first for the country which changes the entry field for the state, then ask for the state
So which is better?

The astute reader(or even beginner web programmer) will say... zip code.

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