Live Your Train Myth in Greece

www.trainose.gr is the web site of OSE, the Hellenic Railways Organization. I recently had a chance to use the web site to look at some of the available train routes. My first impression of the way the web site works can be summed in a few words:

“Don’t use it.”

The whole web site is a very thin layer of pretty images over a completely bogus, useless and broken piece of crap. The site’s front page has all the nifty icons, bells and whistles that you would expect from a modern web page, including semi-transparent drop-down menus, and links to social networking applications:

www.trainose.gr front page

Even this front page has various style & functionality bugs which reduce its usability for foreigners, or make things harder for Greek people:

  • The width of the page is hardcoded to 1024 pixels or more. If you happen to be on a mobile device, e.g. an Android-based phone, you lose.
  • Some elements of the web page overlap other useful bits, e.g. the language switching images are hidden under the search box.
  • There’s a magnifying glass left of the search box & a mysterious double triangle at the right of the search box. Try guessing which one actually submits the search terms. As a bonus feature, none of the three search-related elements of the page are correctly aligned with any of the other two.
  • Many images on the front page display hardcoded text in Greek. Translating the inline text with services like “translate page” in Google Chrome is therefore impossible.
  • None of the images have useful ALT attributes or captions.

More importantly, though, the front page — littered with crappy design bugs and untranslatable images as it is — is where everything pretty stops. Click through any link of the front page and you are bound to hit sub-pages that seem to have jumped out of a time-machine and the early 90’s era of web design.

Here’s what you see if you try searching for train routes, for example:

train route search page

Putting the horrid colors aside, I can’t begin to fathom what the designer of this page had in mind. Some of the obvious problems of this web page are:

  • Is the user of the web site really expected to know the names of all train stations by heart?
  • Is the user of the web page really expected to know how OSE spells the name of each minor city or village in Greece?
  • The date-selection popup dialog indicates that at least some effort was made to help the user select the appropriate route. Why did this effort at increased usability stop before it even began to yield useful results?
  • The selection of descriptive terms for page elements is at best a joke. Does “reservations” also mean “availability”, or did the translator just fall asleep on his keyboard before translating both terms?
  • Do I really care how many seconds the search will take? Hint to the website designer: I don’t. The search results is what I’m mostly interested in, and I don’t really care how many picoseconds of cpu time you estimate it will take to get at them.

What’s more disheartening though is that even if you somehow manage to find the names of the train stations you are interested in, and you fill in the details (as I did in the second image), the search results you will see are merely a continuation of the joke that started with the front page of the site:

search results at trainose.gr

Yep, you are not confused, stupid or insane. That’s all you will see. Try searching for train routes from/to any of the major cities of the Greek mainland: “ΑΘΗΝΑ”, “ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗ”, “ΠΑΤΡΑ”, “ΛΑΡΙΣΣΑ”, “ΠΥΡΓΟΣ” or “ΚΑΛΑΜΑΤΑ”. All you will get will be a mostly empty result page, with a nauseating grey background and one or two lines of unintelligible text:

ΠΛΗΡΟΦΟΡΙΕΣ:1110 ***** 210 5297777 from:

That’s all. No results. No indication of where or why something went wrong. Just a couple of phone numbers on a grey piece of goo. If someone actually paid to have this piece of crap installed on their web servers, I really pity them. If this same person paid for this mind-boggingly useless “search” engine with Greek tax-payer money, I want the web site removed from the Internet and my tax money back.

Google is the largest search engine today. The trainose website would be a LOT easier to search if the people who designed its current version scrapped it and replaced the entire site with static HTML tables of all the train routes. Then we would at least be able to use Google to search for specific cities using Google’s “Advanced Search” tab and a query string like:

http://www.google.gr/search?as_q=ΠΑΤΡΑ+ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗ&cr=countryGR&as_sitesearch=trainose.gr

Being plain HTML text, the new train route tables would be instantly accessible to several more millions of people too. They would be instantly translatable through online translation services, like Babelfish, or the embedded translation support of Google Chrome. Search engines, like Google or Bing, would be able to use match approximation algorithms to look for train station names. Web site users would be able to navigate to the table they want to read, copy interesting bits and save them locally or print them out as reference.

Now we can’t do any of that, of course. We have to rely on the “search” engine that sits between http://www.trainose.gr and the actually useful data; the “search” engine that has all the sex appeal of a term project by a 90’s student who has just discovered the “internets”.

Way to go trainose!

For all these reasons I succumbed to the temptation to whine about the web site in their comment submission form. My comments were not as scathing as I would really like them to be, but here they are:

trainose.gr comment form

A rough translation of the Greek text is:

From: gkeramidas@gmail.com
Name: Giorgos Keramidas

Get a random monkey from the zoo and have it rewrite the train route search engine. It will do a far better job… We currently live in 2010. The world has discovered dynamic content, auto-update of available options, instant result display for pretty much all searches (including train route catalogs, trains, alternative routes), and we have to MANUALLY type the name of train stations here, only to see an empty grey page containing a phone number and how much time your search engine spent NOT to find anything.

You should be ashamed. Take this crappy search engine down, because it does MORE harm by being here than it would do by not existing at all.

UPDATE (9 Jul 2010): Apparently, by sheer luck or coincidence, my blog post was uploaded at the Right Time(TM). Today’s http://www.ose.gr/ site is an empty web site, showing an “Under Construction” sign and pointing to a (still broken) link for route searches:

Apparently someone read my comments but took the wrong thing down: not the search engine but the site around it. Yay!

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Live Your Train Myth in Greece

  1. ale3andro

    “…Get a random monkey from the zoo and have it rewrite the train route search engine. It will do a far better job …”
    Simply epic!!!

  2. abbe

    And if they ask why a ‘monkey’ ? Then you can cite the following quote:

    “If you put a billion monkeys in front of a billion typewriters typing at random, they would reproduce the entire collected works of Usenet … in about five minutes.” —Anonymous (source: http://gigamonkeys.com/)

    And you should be happy that the feedback form at least worked :)

  3. Giannos

    Did you ever get answer to your comment?
    And if yes, can you post?
    I’m sure it would be fun!

    1. keramida Post author

      Not really, no. To be frank, I don’t expect a response. I doubt the people who installed the site are meticulous enough to set up a real email-handling system behind it.

      1. Giannos

        Or, they don’t know how to set up a real email-handling system!
        The bad thing is that I love to travel with trains…!

        At last,
        Thank you for this train-post.

    1. keramida Post author

      No, but does it include up to date schedules and time-lines for the current train network? Somehow, I doubt that…

      1. proastiakos.net

        It is the greek commuters social network. It provides info about everything that has to do with proastiakos. Even strikes about proastiakos are first published in proastiakos.net
        Take a look at it

Comments are closed.