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  1. Provide sample entries, pull-downs, and formatting hints to ensure clean data
  2. Explicitly state limits to characters, number of entries, and so forth
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Explicitly state limits to characters, number of entries, and so forth

Too many sites give speeding tickets without ever posting speed limit signs. If there is only a narrow range of acceptable characters or entries (for example, a text box with a limit of 20 characters or a field that allows a maximum of 10 emails), make sure you clearly explain the limit. Frustration is sure to ensue if you're not upfront about the limits visitors need to conform to in order to succeed.

Yahoo!: Then How Many?

Figure 18Figure 4.18

Yahoo! Mail won't send my message because the "Bcc field contains too many addressees." Unfortunately, Yahoo! doesn't tell me how many addressees I can submit. I have to guess and guess again to get the right number. It's a frustrating process that takes too much time to figure out. Obstacles such as this make me want to find a new group mailing list provider.

As If

Why is this bad? It's as if I try to buy 20 tickets to a sporting event but the ticket office refuses me. The reason? There is a limit on the number of tickets an individual can buy. The really frustrating part is that the ticket office won't tell me the actual limit! Instead, I have to keep guessing until I hit a number below the maximum.

A similar process occurs when a site requires a limit to the number of characters in a form field. Customers carefully word their entries, so it's essential that you communicate, at the point of entry, the allowable amount of text.

CDNow: What's the Limit?

Figure 19Figure 4.19

CDNow tells me my "Address Exceeds Maximum Allowable Length" but doesn't tell me the actual maximum length I can use. As a result, I'm left with the tedious trial-and-error method as the only way to determine how much text is allowed. Plus, who uses language such as "exceeds maximum allowable length?"

Your visitors need to know about these sorts of restrictions before they waste time crafting unacceptable entries. Be forthright about any limits and place this information at the point of data entry.

It's also a good idea to offer a countdown feature and use the "Maxlength" tag (more to follow on this) to cap the number of characters that can be entered in the field. If customers do enter too much text, make sure you clearly explain the problem and how to fix it.

Google: 25 Max

Figure 20Figure 4.20

Google helpfully informs me of the maximum number of characters I can enter. On top of that, the site uses the Maxlength tag, so I'm unable to enter more than 25 characters.


Use the Maxlength HTML tag to specify the maximum number of characters a text entry box can accept. This ensures that a customer won't be able to enter too many characters. Here's an example for how to limit entries (to 50 characters in this case):

<input type="text" name="fieldname" maxlength="50">

Head to Head Comparison on Message Limits: Paypal vs. SprintPCS

At Paypal, my message is too long.

Figure 21Figure 4.21

Paypal tells me my message is too long and asks me to enter a shorter message. Unfortunately, the site waits until after I submit my entry with too much text before even telling me a limit exists.

Then, the site neglects to tell me the actual limit. The only choice I have is to guess. I remove a few words and submit the text again. Still too much. I remove a few more words and try again. Still too much. Finally, I give up.

Figure 22Figure 4.22

On the other hand, SprintPCS tells me there is a limit of 160 characters for messages. As I start typing, the number in the "Remaining Characters" box counts down to zero. When I hit the maximum, the site prevents me from entering more text and displays a JavaScript alert that says, "Maximum message length reached. Your message has been truncated at 160 characters."

What's nice is that SprintPCS is upfront about the maximum message length and clearly tells me the limit. The helpful countdown feature also gives me instant feedback on how much additional text I can type. Finally, the site stops me when I reach the text limit and tells me why. This approach prevents mistakes and keeps messaging quick and efficient.

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