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Personal: Internet problems, multiple issues on multiple providers!

Ooh, what fun I’ve just had with 3 different internet connections (, “3” and O2 on the iPhone) trying to resolve a one second accidental click I made!

This is a bit of a rant, but does show a few problems with the way user interfaces, websites and customer services work.

Part 1: Where Richy blocks himself
Beebware Ltd (the company I’m the Managing Director of), is a reseller/partner of for reselling ADSL and ADSL+ (on 20cn and 21cn networks) within the UK. Entanet have just announced some changes to their partner control panel and I logged in to have a look.

I notice a few new items in the control panel (of my own account) and a section labelled “Blocked: No (_block_)” so I click on _block_ to find out exactly what it means (as it’s just a link and Entanet have a number of those throughout the site to act as “Information panels”). Click on it, the page reloads and it changes to “Blocked: Yes (_unblock_)”. Crap! I click “_Unblock_” and it’s back to normal – phew!

Everything is fine until about 10 minutes later when I start getting

Error: The requested URL could not be retrieved . Access Denied. Access control configuration prevents your request from being allowed at this time. Please contact your service provider if you feel this is incorrect. Generated Wed, 25 Mar 2009 20:52:42 GMT by (squid/2.5.STABLE6)

Crap! I think I know what’s happened 🙁 The block has kicked in anyway. Oh well, not to worry – I can just log in to the control panel and fix that

Part 2 – Where Richy realises the proxy isn’t configured correctly
So I try and go to the secure (https) partner pages of Entanet… Browser sits there, sits there and then times out. Hmm, worrying. I then try various Entanet pages: and all produce errors or timeout depending on if it’s a secure site or not. Drat – it appears haven’t been thoughtful enough to include their own sites in their proxy servers white list! Damn.

Oh, well, I’ll try a work around with my Apple iPhone…
Part 3 – Where Safari doesn’t like the wilderness
I pull up my Apple iPhone and start the Safari web browser, I then navigate to the Entanet partner pages. I then have to try and log in using my 17 character email address and my 20 character mixed-case numerical and lettered password on the iPhone’s keyboard: not fun!

I eventually log in and get to the accounts page and pull up my account. Oh – there’s the “Blocked: Yes (_unblock_)” section – I’ll try clicking on “_unblock_”.. Hmm, didn’t seem to work – I’ll zoom in on the iPhone and try again… And again… It appears that their “_unblock_” link doesn’t work on Safari on the iPhone. Dammit!

Oh well, I’ll try and use the 3rd internet connection we have available – this one over the “3” (Three) mobile network.

Part 4 – Having fun with 3 (Part 1)
We have a “3” 3G USB Mobile internet dongle for emergency usage or when we are heavily on the move, so I connect it up to my desktop… No drivers found on the device and we can’t find the CD. Not to worry, I’ll use it on my partner’s laptop which is in the other room, except I can’t copy the long password from my desktop machine and the laptop has a dead battery which can’t retain a charge… Fair enough – machine number 3 comes in to play for Three and I pull out my 6+year old laptop and hook that up. Success!

Well, nearly – our Three Pay As You Go (PAYG) internet account is out of credit: but luckily it’s got my credit card details in. I tell it to top up the account by £10 and done! But I still can’t access internet pages: I try and then “convert” it to a “1Gb mobile broadband” package – but we can’t find the password needed. I then have to remove the SIM card from the dongle to get the password reset: it says it’ll send the password via a text (SMS) message, but nothing turns up in ten minutes. I try and shut the dongle down to give it a chance and it crashes! Meh!

Part 5 – Let’s try calling tech support
I decide to bit the bullet and call’s customer support. Their reseller/partner team is gone for the day (it is 9pm at night), so I try their conventional customer service number hoping they can tweak it -I get through quite quickly to somebody, I tell them the error message making sure I tell them it’s generated by their proxy server and that the page is appearing on all sites. Their advice: Reset the router/modem and the computer and wait 10 minutes. No dice – I’ve already tried resetting the router several times and my main desktop, iPhone, laptop and partner’s Mac and all suffering the problems. I then mention what I did in the partner control panel – “Ah, yes, I see – it is blocked!”, yep (shame I had to point it out as a possibility though!), “You’ll have to speak to customer services”, “Even though I accidentally blocked myself?”, “Yes”, “Ok, can you put me through”, “No – they are only available 9am to 5pm tomorrow”, “So, I’m stuck until then”, “Yes – sorry!”.

Aaargh! Well, let’s see if I can at least get some internet access via the Three dongle.

Part 6 – Having fun with 3 (Part 2)
I reconnect my laptop and try again with the 3 connection. The text message comes straight through and I manage to login! Woopie! I then go to the “Order addon” (as I’ve got to convert the £10 to the 1Gb topup), select the option only to be told “Sorry, this service is currently unavailable.” Dammit again!

I then decide to call 3: so I click on “Help and Support” and I’m given a form which then emails them (hmm, if this was my primary connection and you only allow access to your website when I’m out of credit, how am I meant to read your reply?). No telephone number – bad telecommunications company! I start filling in the form to see that “You can expect a response in about 5 days”. Five what now? 5 whole days! Wow.

I then decide, screw it for tonight, but I’ll just check – and lo and behold, our Entanet internet connection is working again as if by magic!

Aimed at
* Use buttons and POST forms for “items that change settings” – links should just take you to information pages or other webpages: they shouldn’t change things!
* Try and document or list what each item on your user interface does: manuals, FAQs, documentation, “help question marks” – anything!
* Don’t be inconsistent with your user interface design: if you use hyperlinks next to items to take people to information pages, don’t then use one link to actually perform an action!
* Check your browser compatibility
* If something has an “do” option, make sure the “undo” option (if offered) works as well!
* Give technical support staff the ability to fix issues like this and not have to refer to customer services
* Allow your own sites to be accessed through your own proxy server

Aimed at Three:
* If you can tell which mobile number I’m connecting to your mobile broadband service through (and you’ll display that number to me), you also know I have possession of the SIM card with the 6 digit reset code printed on it. Not much of a security hurdle there – especially since you then send the new password to that same SIM and number.
* 5 days to reply to an email? I personally get complaints if I take 8 hours to reply to an email (and I’ve had customers complain that I’ve taken one hour before!)
* If you provide internet access, don’t assume people have working internet access to read your reply
* If you are a telecommunications company, provide a telephone number for people to contact you on!

Don’t blindly click on links when you aren’t 100% certain what they do!

One Comment

  1. I WAS going to have the new tv advertized “3” mobile internet service with their dongle microwave hookup. Not any more. Yours is the last criticism I want to read (after dozens) about “3” service, complexity, nonsense.
    I won’t be using them.

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