Data entry and human behaviour

Data Entry

The first television broadcasts were actually radio broadcasts with a person on a screen reading the radio messages. In data entry we still see the same aspects. Did you ever wonder why we still feed a computer system with data as if we were writing an address on an envelope.

In the old days we knew how to contact, or how to write, but we needed additional information for the postman in order to find the person we had in mind. So we started with the smallest granularity, namely John from the Smiths family. Than we specified the street and the house number, the postal code and city ending with the country. And we do know that the order differs per country.

Now take the recent example, and I’m sure you’ve recognized it in your own environment.

Whilst the system could help you much faster if you would start with the largest granularity, data entry systems and especially contact information is still done in the old way. By starting at country level the system could immediately advice that it will not be shipped outside the US and if they did ship outside the US, system could provide the right postal code pattern, address format (house number before or after the street), could validate if the state is located in the country, if city is located in that state, if street is available in the city, and if person is living in that house. Now you need to wait until all fields are filled before you get the frustrating message, that Alabama is not a state of The Netherlands.

I have hope that this will change, Car navigation systems do not care anymore how to enter the address, provide the information you have, and they suggest the missing parts. Let’s place a browser in the car navigation, or change our way of working in the browsers …

3 Responses to “Data entry and human behaviour”


  • I’ve been advocating a change in the format of webforms for many years. Asking for a country name first allows for the rebuilding of the form to suit the address structure of the country concerned.

    After that, though, I part company with Winfried’s views. Unless one lives in a country whose addressing system lends itself to rapid addressing (The Netherlands, Canada, United Kingdom …); and unless there is validation software installed behind the form (and how many of those are there? I’ve only ever found it on the sites of companies producing validation software), then the order of the fields should be in the order in which the customer will naturally order that address. This reduces the barrier the customer has in filling in the form – less concentration, fewers stops, easier data entry.

    It will be many years before culture changes so that people write their addresses according to thechnological requirements rather than postal, and I think we need to work within the current cultural norms to ensure high data qulaity and customer-centric service.

  • Thanks Graham and I fully agree with you on this point. However I refuse to accept the status quo. This phenomenom will not be changed that disruptive as e.g. the way we search for information. In the old days (and still some companies work with that) we thought for the audience, we tagged the ‘search words’, created the index words, and forced people to search via that index (like we still were using paper books). Google, et.al. changed that completely, i.e. let the audience give any word they like and we ‘search’ if and where it is available. Nowadays everybody is used to that new style.
    We need to provide the industry with these new (web)forms to fill in the addresses in the most effective way, in the beginning with an easy switch from old way to new way. And provide this as a mashup that can easily be adopted by the business people (see other blog)

  • The answer is surely give the user what is most usable and convenient for them.

    This suggests that asking the country first, filled out with the most likely answer (either a default of the country most users come from or the country the user appears to be in according to the web), is a definite benefit to the user. As is described before the system can immediately check if the country is allowed and also format the input to correspond to the users expectation for that country.

    In countries like the UK where the postcode and the house number, is all that is really required to complete the address then it is a real benefit for the user to be asked this next. In fact many sites do this. It is even better if the user has a browser that will fill information in. For example I only need to type the first letter of my postcode and my browser will show me my complete postcode. I chose this hit submit and the website fills in my address only asking for my house number.
    In comparison in other countries where the zipcode is less specific then the best the user can get is to fill the address in and then the standard order is most convenient. The best that can be hoped for is some intelligence in the browser that will help in the completion.

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