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Here Be Dragons. Not.

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one’s ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one’s own. [wikipedia]

Living outside the US, I am often frustrated by the evident lack of awareness to the existence of any other geographic location displayed by many US-originated web & mobile companies.

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You could claim that the North American market is so large that a company does not need to look elsewhere for potential customers. To this, I would answer:

  1. Manners. Yes, manners. As in being polite and respectful to other people.
  2. Read Sarah Lacy’s "Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky". Note where the American VCs money is flowing to. The global economy – and with it the source of innovation – could look very different in a few years. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  3. It will make you feel good.

To help our American friends with this challenge, I figured it’d be useful to create a check list. You will note that implementing most of the items requires a rather trivial amount of effort, one that can easily be justified by thinking about the 95.495% of humanity that lives outside the United States of America.


Implement a Countries list

This is the simplest of them all. When asking where I live in your sign up forms and check out forms, understand that there are other countries. I understand you do not want to lower your form conversion for the US audience. It’s perfectly ok to put United States as the first default item in the list, just make sure there is a list and that I can choose other countries from it. I don’t want to have to lie to you to be able to use your service.

You will find the HTML code to implement this here.

Not all Countries have States

Understand that not all countries have states. Do not force me to make up that I live in AZ or wherever. If I stated that I do not live in the US, do not make me enter a state. Or make it free form (and not a drop down list). Or present list of states only for countries for which it is relevant (see the full list here). But please, do not force me to lie to you to be able to use your service.

Zip code. Arghh.

It’s cool that you want to validate my zip code. I appreciate your sensitivity to data integrity. You’re most welcome to implement this validation correctly for each and every country. If you don’t feel like it, please do skip the validation if I stated that I live outside the US. Still not sure it’s worth the huge effort? Check your database, note how many users live in zip code 90210. If you force me to lie, I may as well use the only US zip code I remember by heart.

UTF-what?

Storing data anywhere? Say, a database or a file? Please, be sure to configure your data store to use UTF-8 for text fields. If you don’t, my data will be lost, and worse – when displayed on the screen it will look like bird droppings.

When storing English text, UTF-8 has no overhead compared to ASCII. So there goes your last excuse.

International Phone Numbers

I’d love to give you my phone number, all you need to do is ask. If I live outside the US, there will be a country code preceding my number, in the format +country-code and then the rest the number e.g. +972-99-9999999. Please take that into account in your mighty validation rules.

If you do not, I will lie. I do not want to.

Also, when extracting my phone number for use by software, please do not strip the + (Path, are you listening?). It *is* a valid – and very necessary – part of the phone number.

There is a country code for the US by the way, it’s +1. Just so you know.

US AppStore

There are very few things more frustrating for a person like me than reading a TechCrunch post about a wonderful new solve-all-my-problems app, clicking on the link, and then finding that it’s available only on the US AppStore, for no good reason.

Yes, I might switch my iTunes to my full-of-lies US Apple ID account to download your app, but I am lot less likely to give you any love back. Keep in mind, true love is the greatest thing in the world except for a nice MLT – and you don’t want to lose that, do you?

Shipping into the white spaces on the map

Please, if you’ve got something to say, like "we don’t ship outside the US" – do say it upfront, and not after I fill 3 pages worth of forms in the check out phase.


That’s it. Now that’s not that hard, is it?

[International readers - got more pet peeves? Add them in the comments, I will update the list]

For extra motivation, keep in mind what Bowman realized once he stepped outside of his comfort zone:

Oh my God – it’s full of stars!

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