No *** please, we're British

Well it’s not just the British who are not very enthusiastic about ***. I guess it’s probably true for most world citizens.

The *** I’m talking about here are those little asterisks that you find around forms on some web pages. Usually there’s a single asterisk, often incredibly tiny, that indicates an ‘Obligatory Field’. In other words, you must put an entry in this field. If you don’t, then a reminder web page comes up that informs you that unless you insert the missing items you cannot proceed beyond this point.

Of course, there’s no check on whether you have made a typo in what was typed. All that is necessary is some entry. So why bother? It’s a needless hassle for the web page visitor and doesn’t provide any guarantee that useful information is being provided. Of course if a financial transaction is involved, then some information is an absolute necessity. In this case, the * is appropriate and useful. However in all other cases, little is gained by making fields obligatory.

It’s that usual two way table again: what do you win versus what do you lose for each of two alternatives. With obligatory fields, you do get entries for each of those fields, but you may irritate someone who inadvertently forgets an item. They may decide not to proceed. Without obligatory fields, you may or may not get entries for all the fields, but you’ll never irritate someone who chooses not to complete an entry. Through this, you may well get more responses. In neither case is the data obviously more correct.

It’s easy to specify obligatory fields in forms throughout any website, so there may be a natural tendency to specify at least a small number. This is probably unnecessary and may cause lower response rates. Most people will fill in as correctly as they can what they regard as reasonable data. So why not go with what they naturally provide?

In short, let’s keep *** out of our web pages.