Online forms make wildly inconsistent decisions on what data is worthy of capture, and how that data is to be structured and classified; editor links to a very unusual one here, and mentions in passing how they almost always omit “Dr.” Recently I’ve been looking for car insurance quotes online, and it struck me how variable the forms were (outside the patently obvious quasi-mandatory chunks that were the same in each case). Some sites felt like putting certain extra details on; some just couldn’t be bothered. Very few let you declare yourself as a doctor; and several omitted information like “marital status.”
The whole process filled me with despair. Most of these half-cocked quotes were far more than last year’s cost, despite me having only just learnt to drive then. And everyone seemed to be drawing their job descriptions from the same crusty 1990s database (“I’ll put you down as typist, shall I?”), which made the whole process agonizing to say the least. So, after receiving a new quote from my existing insurer I was quite happy to acquiesce to their moderate offer, and rang them let them know my details had changed: I was now a married doctor, bless me, good heavens etc. etc. Together, despite not being submissible to some online forms, these two minor demographic shifts reduced my existing quote by 10% (rather handily enough to renew my LRB subscription, but that’s by the by).
Some sites were far worse than others, though: depressingly, one that I genuinely wanted to support was by far the worst. In a fit of ecofriendliness I had torn an advert out of the Big Issue for some sort of conscience-salving green insurance and brought it into work. I know what you’re thinking: “green insurance, my arse.” You’ll be glad to know that I soon received my ecomeuppance. I visited http://www.ecoinsurance.co.uk/, followed the link to some scrappy CIS page in the middle of nowhere, and then clicked on some sort of Web-2.0 massive button. Here we go, I thought, as I was greeted by… a blank page. From looking at the source since then—now my blood pressure has returned to normal—I gather that it’s meant to force the browser to do something mine might be configured to refuse to do, and have to plead ignorance of any possible overzealous security settings in this case. But is there something fundamentally dolphin-unfriendly about adding a simple bloody link, just in case?
Fortunately for all concerned, on the back of the advert I ripped out is a lifesize picture of the floating head of David Lynch. I can stick that over the empty browser window and pretend he’s trying to sell me insurance in a loud, booming voice. MY SOCKS ARE ON FIRE.