R. Dinakaran , heads the Internet edition of The Hindu Business Line and writes on technology and social media.

R Dinakaran

Websites and rocket science

R. Dinakaran | Updated on June 02, 2014 Published on June 02, 2014

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Do we understand how technology or websites work? The answer could well be no, even for techies. Sometimes we are clueless when our mobile phone lets loose a few tricks on us - like not displaying the caller’s name though the person is in our contact list or refusing to connect to the internet even if the configuration settings are correct.

This extends to almost everything. My office email system often gets excited and sends a few old emails to random people driving them and me round the bend. Some websites, confound people with enlightening error messages like ‘404 - Page not found’ or ‘Guru meditation’ leaving us wondering what gurus and meditation have to do with website servers. That some servers (or machines) are called Asura or Akash or Asthra doesn’t help either. By the end of the day, after going through error messages and explaining them to our bosses, we sometimes start thinking we have just come out after watching Kochadaiiyaan.

“Is it rocket science”, my boss asks when he gets irritated when the site or an app acts funny and we are unable to set it right quickly. Most of the time, the type of errors we come across certainly make the process of rectifying them look like rocket science, though we know they are much more simple.

Explanations we get from customer care executives of telecom companies or banks show that we probably know more about the company and their systems than them.

Now, what happens if you happen to inadvertently use a half-baked site? I once ordered something from Wang’s Kitchen through their website. I opted for the pick-up option. The ordering was a breeze as the site was well designed. The problem started when the time came for making payment. The payment gateway - PayU - informed me that one of the bank sites was down. I selected another bank, but the gateway started throwing up errors. So, I selected the third option - Airtel Money. The payment went through.

When I went to the outlet to pick up my order, the guy at the counter looked confused and made several phone calls. He then informed me that their site was still under testing and there was no way I could have ordered the food. I showed him the email confirmation of the order. He then talked to a senior executive and gave the phone to me. The executive said the site was under beta testing and the PayU payment gateway was yet to be integrated with the site. Even if I had tried to make the payment, the site would have rejected it, he said.

It took ten minutes for me to explain that I had indeed made the payment and that my Airtel Money account had been debited for the amount. But he was firm. It was just not possible as the system was yet to go live. He relented only after I offered to send the proof of transaction.

Now, how did the beta site accept orders? If the payment gateway was not integrated, how did the payment go through? I don’t know. The guy at the outlet doesn’t know. The senior executive is also clueless. May be it is time to tell my boss that understanding technology and websites is more difficult than understanding rocket science.

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Published on June 02, 2014
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