February 15, 2005

Seth Godin vs. The United States of America

Seth Godin complains about the "persistence of really bad ideas", for instance, the U.S. State pulldown menus in so many web applications:

This means everyone from Texas or New York or heaven forfend, West Virginia, has to scroll all the way down in order to buy something.

This scrolling led to a similar breakthrough to enter your country. Afghanis get a big break (so do people from Andorra) but those in the biggest online consuming country on earth have to scroll all the way down to the 'U's.

No wonder so many people abandon shopping carts online.

As he points out, country lists are even worse. Far more annoying in my opinion than the 50-state list is the 130-some-odd country names in a country pulldown menu.

Seth doesn't propose any better alternatives. He suggests it'd be easier to just type in the name of the state. Problem is, people make mistakes. Even with two-letter abbreviations. Quick: identify MS, MO, MI, MN. Or AL and AK.

Here's a quick-and-dirty alternative, that lets you see all the states in one glance, and quickly pick one:

Doesn't consume any more space in a form; you'd click on the little down-arrow thingie to launch the little popup selector, pick your state, it automatically populates the form with the correct entry, presto, done.

Posted by brian at February 15, 2005 09:35 PM


Where exactly is that nifty little form found? Thanks!

Posted by: James Paden at February 16, 2005 06:51 PM

I whipped it up in OmniGraffle on my Mac in about 3 minutes 30 seconds flat. First went to Google, searched for "list of united states" and found an alphabetical list, that I selected, pasted, cleaned up, chopped into 5 handy columns, colored blue, and laid out in that mockup.

So no, it's not from an actual site, but it should be.

Posted by: Brian Dear at February 16, 2005 10:21 PM

What's wrong with going to a select box and pressing the first letter of your country/state/whatever? You can even press it several times to see the next selection with the same first letter.

Posted by: Sergey at February 19, 2005 12:25 AM

Sergey: in Firefox (and, I assume, Safari and Opera etc.) you can just type the whole word into the drop down.

Posted by: Firas at February 19, 2005 07:30 AM

One little point: pulldowns presume wide screen estate. I just finished a piece on building for smartphones and mobile devices, and mentioned that pulldowns make life much easier if you're using non-traditional entry methods such as a stylus or navpad.

Also, you missed the other American entities: APO, Puerto Rico, Guam... YOU FORGOT GUAM!

Anyway, I don't see why people don't employ the kind of parsing libraries that allow you to type an airport code or a city name into a flight enquiry box, and get something meaningful back. Or do a smart cross-check with the zipcode. (UK address fields can be simplified to two entries: house name or number, and postcode.)

Posted by: nick at February 19, 2005 11:16 PM

Why do we even type int he city and state at all? Wouldn't it be much simpler to ask for the zip first and pre-fill?

Posted by: pb at February 20, 2005 01:04 AM

Brian, I was able to whip up a quick mockup in HTML and CSS; it's not perfect by any means (mainly because it's pretty tough to use a SELECT element to do it in a cross-browser-friendly way), but it's a start.


Things I'm not doing: checking the viewport of the window to make sure that the hovering div will fit, using a pretty image in the upper-right to close the div, or using an auto-complete (like Google Suggest) in the freetext state entry field. They'd all take more than the 20 minutes this took me to mock up. :)

Posted by: Jason at February 20, 2005 02:16 PM

How about something like Google Suggest - that would be a good solution I think. Type a few letters and whammo.

Posted by: Joe Crawford at February 23, 2005 10:31 AM

I agree with the zip code idea. Let people enter a zip code and fill the city and state fields. Not only do you get to not worry about how to enter a state, but you get the city as a bonus.

Yes, this only works for U.S. addresses, but realize for Non-US addresses the "state" field is frequently meaningless.

Time for someone to make a form that uses some Ajax to do this.

Posted by: Mr. Nosuch at February 24, 2005 06:32 AM

And by Ajax I mean XMLHttpRequest:


My inline link gots eaten. Comment sp*mmers have broken my Interweb.

Posted by: Mr. Nosuch at February 24, 2005 06:34 AM

:( Please stop "Ajax" -- it is "XMLHttpRequest."

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