Your insurance quote web site is annoying


If you don’t have an insurance quote web site, look away now; this is just the annual grumble about buying insurance!

Is a simple form really so difficult?

None of the sites I tried were pushing the boundaries of HTML5, yet apparently browser support is still an issue. #fail

I don’t need help typing a date!

Actually, with a few less drop down lists around, this is one area that has improved a bit since last year. Top marks to the sites that just let me type the date in, but points for trying if the year isn’t a drop down; I don’t need reminding how old I am by scrolling back through the years thankyouverymuch. Having said that, I might need a little help typing the right date but ironically the only time I got it wrong was with a drop down, where I put the current year in for my date of birth by mistake. I was helpfully told that I was too young when I hit submit, but if you insist on having a drop down, what’s the point of including invalid values?!

On the subject of dates, is it really critical to know the exact date I got my license? I think ‘a while ago’ should cover it after this long. A few sensible companies agree, just asking how many years you’ve had a license, up to 3-5 years ago.

Are you trying to catch me out?

Forcing me to negotiate a confusion of check boxes to opt out of your exceptionally interesting marketing communications is just rude. Please choose check boxes or radio buttons and stick to one or the other, and don’t keep swapping the meaning of yes and no. A single opt-in check box would be favourite.

What did I say?

If you want me to verify that all the information I entered is correct, it would be really useful if you showed me all the information I entered! (The paperwork arrived through the post today, and luckily it was all correct!)

“Other, please specify”

The subject of another post that has been resting in my drafts for ages. The most trouble I had was specifying what claims I’d made in the last 300 years. One or two included ‘hit an animal’, while the rest had a bunch of more or less accurate choices. After initially doing well to ask me what I thought of their site, Aviva were the recipients of a QI style klaxon: unfortunately the questionnaire stumbled when it asked for my phone number should I be happy to discuss further. Maybe they don’t have email… or reply to blogs… Basically, let me answer the question accurately.

“I’m Not Here To Be In a Relationship”

Insurance companies should probably read about The $300 Million Button. At least John Lewis got this right.

How much?!

Maybe it’s just me, but an option to enter a voucher or special offer code is a blatant reminder that you’re not going to get the best price. Not to mention the annoying trend for ‘cash-back’ sites, which never really fill me with confidence. I think a grand total of one managed to show some sign that the hand-over had worked and some cash back might therefore be forthcoming. Even then it was a rubbish quote sadly. I guess it’s just an online continuation of getting renewal quotes that are more expensive than new customers, or all that no claims nonsense.

Who am I?

Straying worryingly close to the day job here, but despite discounts for taking more than one insurance product from the same company, I don’t think any of the sites gave me confidence that they were connecting the dots. Some reference to other policies at best, but not really much use while looking for an all inclusive quote for three new policies. The three separate letters that arrived today confirmed my suspicions. I expect I’ll get three renewal reminders again next year as well.

Ok, ok, I’ll stop now… until next year!

Get off my hashtag


I’m still not completely convinced by hashtags on twitter. On the plus side, they can make following what people are saying about a show (#bbcrevolution) or an event (#iod2010) easier. On the other hand, these are a few random thoughts about the downside to hashtags…

Hashtags are common property, which is not a problem when people are cooperating to join threads of conversation, but it’s easy to see how that could #fail:

  • I might think #iod is a great tag for Information on Demand, but there are plenty of others who think it means something else.
  • An ‘official’ hashtag can avoid some of the confusion but, even if you manage to stake your claim to something unique enough, you can’t control it. While #bbcrevolution was talking about denial of service attacks, I was thinking about how easy it would be for anyone to launch a denial of hashtag attack. Not to mention when marketing tags get hijacked.
  • If there isn’t an official or obvious hashtag for something, it’s easy to end up with multiple hashtags. A bit of discussion can usually get things on track, but it always seems a little odd talking about the tag, rather than the subject of the tag.

And finally, the situation that got me thinking about hashtags in the first place. When different people use the same tag for almost the same thing, especially if one of those uses is much noisier than the other(s). In this case, tweets related to the Current Cost meter, and automated Current Cost meter readings have both used the #currentcost tag. Not a huge problem, except it would be easy to miss interesting information if the tag was swamped by even a few tweetjects posing meter readings:

“seems a shame that @mmnHouse is inserting the #currentcost hashtag to their house temp and elec reading. creates major noise” @yellowpark

“thinking we need a new hashtag for #CurrentCost stuff: one for bots and noisy automated stuff, another for discussion. what do people think?” @dalelane

“@dalelane How about #CurrentCostData ? I agree my searches are becoming muddled with people’s bots, and not information on #currentcost” @cumbers

“@dalelane Agreed – It frustrates me no end having countless #currentcost tweets popping up all day!” @markphelan

“thinking we should use a specific hashtag for tweeting #currentcost data to avoid creating noise. any suggestions? #ccdata ?” @yellowpark

“Moving from #currentcost hashtag to #mymeter with a data format for auto graphing.Join in discussion at http://is.gd/7b0si (via @ScaredyCat)” @stuartpoulton

So one solution is to agree on uses for #currentcost, #currentcostbot, #ccdata, #mymeter, etc. which is likely to work reasonably well for the Current Cost audience, but it may not be as practical for every situation.

Alternatively, as well as being able to mute retweets, it would be handy to be able to mute selected people using a hashtag in a way you’re not interested in. Even better if lists could be muted: if I could mute any tweets containing the #currentcost hashtag from anyone in my @jtonline/tweetject list, this problem goes away.

So, a fairly random collection of #thoughts on #hashtags. What are yours?

Liberal Democrats can’t win here


Every so often a local Liberal Democrat newsletter drops through the door, and almost without fail they make me less likely to vote for them! The problem is that they include a graph like this (except that they seem to round down the Conservative votes, and they only include the top three parties)…

39% Lib Dem, 38% Conservative, 21% Labour, 3% UKIP

In the latest, Christmas & New Year, edition the graph is titled “It’s so close here!” Ok, personally I’d like to see the space used to explain why voting Lib Dem is worth doing, but I guess that isn’t so bad. Unfortunately they go on to claim, “Gordon Brown and Labour have already lost here!” and “Chris Huhne Wins!” Interesting, so the next election has already been decided based on the 2005 results? That seems like a fairly silly thing for the Lib Dems to be suggesting given the national results…

22% Lib Dem, 32% Conservative, 35% Labour, 2% UKIP

So clearly Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have already lost! Fail. Fortunately past performance is no indication of future results.

Both the claim that the choice is only between Lib Dem and Labour locally, and Lib Dem’s failure to convince people that there is an alternative to Labour and Conservative nationally, reminds me of one of my favourite Simpsons episodes (thanks to Big Dunc for this quote):

Kodos: It’s true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about
it? It’s a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us.
[murmurs]
Man1: He’s right, this is a two-party system.
Man2: Well, I believe I’ll vote for a third-party candidate.
Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away.
[Kang and Kodos laugh out loud]
[Ross Perot smashes his “Perot 96” hat]

I haven’t decided who to vote for yet but one thing’s for certain: the next election can’t come soon enough!

Update: it seems that I’m not the only one this annoys and someone mentioned that Sandra Gidley has done the same thing in the past. Sure enough there’s a graph under the heading “With Labour out of the race, more and more people are switching back to Sandra and the Lib Dems!” on her web site. At least Chris Huhne’s web site discusses issues I’m actually interested in, instead of wasting space; I just wish the local newsletter would do the same. I had higher hopes for Martin Tod since the graph of election results on his site was a pretty reasonable reporting of recent council elections, rather than some assertion of future results. Sadly there’s a familiar looking, “Only Martin Tod or the Conservatives can win here” graph on a recent letter. Very disappointing. (19 January 2010)

Update: unsurprisingly, it looks like the Lib Dems don’t like it when someone uses similar logic on a national scale! I wish the lot of them would stop going on about who can’t win and start spending a little more time being constructive. (27 January 2010)

Update: Just spotted the latest version of the ‘Labour can’t win’ graph on Chris Huhne’s new web site, with the full results this time. Sadly I’m getting reminded that the Lib Dems can’t win the next general election every time I get their leaflets. Twice in the same leaflet on one occasion; guess they must have run out of news for that one. (3 April 2010)

Update: Instead of covering all their leaflets with these negative and counter productive graphs, the Lib Dems should be pushing the, somewhat radical, idea of voting for who you want to win. It seems a somewhat disingenuous to be tweeting things like this…

Amazing YouGov poll unpublished by Sun shows 49 per cent Lib Dem support ‘if u thought the Lib Dems had a signif chance’ @ChrisHuhne

…while telling me not to vote Labour so that the Conservatives don’t get in. (20 April 2010)

Update: It appears they like this kind of graph in Cambridge as well. Perhaps the Alternative Vote would help. (3 May 2011)

Insurance fail


Finally completed one of my least favourite jobs for another year: buying insurance. It doesn’t seem to get any easier, even with the internet and all the price comparison sites. Now there are cash back sites to take in to account as well! Of course it’s only an issue because a competitive renewal quote is apparently too much to ask*. If an insurance company is going to make me haggle with them for a renewal, they’re going to have to do pretty well to overcome my sheer bloody mindedness to go elsewhere on principal. So goodbye Aviva then!

I phoned to encounter the usual menu system, only these days you get to speak the answer. Unsurprisingly the voice recognition didn’t do too well with my request to discuss car and home insurance, and I had to point out it was only a computer a few times before it gave up and put me through. I’d gone with Aviva last year because they had a discount for having both policies with them, but that doesn’t mean they can actually cope with discussing both at the same time. Must be on a whole different web page in the call centre! The first lady I spoke to could only handle home insurance, and give her credit, she did reduce the quote a bit before putting me through to the car insurance line… which was a complete waste of time. He seemed a bit surprised that I wasn’t just phoning up to pay and wouldn’t even contemplate the idea of reducing the price- well done, you just lost car and home insurance business!

The search for a new deal was all fairly standard stuff (web site designers please note, I’d much rather type a date than picking from a list of years as long as your arm!) however I do think companies are losing a lot of business with their unhelpful web sites. I filled in what seemed like an endless stream of almost identical (or in some cases only barely rebranded) forms and at various points just aborted because, basically, computers are dumb. It would be nice to fill in most of the details online but request a call to finalise the process; better than answering a ton of questions on the phone, but with the ability to have any questions answered and do a bit of haggling with a real person.

(* Until recently I’d been lucky enough to renew the same car insurance a few years in a row. That was until I had to make a small claim, whereupon their quote shot up which is just bonkers. Given the number of years I’d been paying insurance without making any claims, you’d thing they’d want to keep me to get some of that money back! Spreadsheet says no though, so someone else is getting the money they could have had.)