Free as in chicken, an experiment in terrible usability

So hey this is barely library related. I was reading library_mofo and saw someone complaining about Oprah. Yes Oprah the lady who seemed to have single-handedly revived reading in some circles. I didn’t understand the problem. Apparently somehow Oprah was telling people to go get a coupon for free chicken at KFC. This was a problem at libraries for some reason. I investigated further.

Turns out, you go Oprah’s site and then to this page and have one day (now only a few hours, maybe not even okay anymore depending when you read this) to print up to four coupons to get a free meal. Actually now that I go there I get message that “Our partner, Coupons, Inc. is experiencing an exceptionally high volume of traffic to the site right now. Please check back soon to get your coupon. Sorry for any inconvenience.” Color me surprised.

That brings me to my next point. This isn’t just a coupon on a page that you can print, this is a coupon system which involves downloading… something … to your computer (mercifully available for Mac/Win, don’t know about Linux, I assume not). Once you have downloaded and installed the something, you can then click the “Print coupon” link which will load the coupon on to a web page as a PDF and allow you to print it with a special barcode. Photocopied coupons are, for some reason, not acceptable at restaurants. I could not get it to easily work with Firefox but it was a breeze with Safari and I assume the Firefox issue was mine alone.

So, people without printers head to the public library to get a coupon for a free meal. You can use a printer at the public library, yay for the library! They can’t do this for any number of reasons up to and including

  • They can’t download the application to a library computer because of library policy
  • They can’t download the program to the computer because the website is being flakey
  • Coupons Inc is down
  • They manage to download the application and get to the “print coupon” link only to wait forever and have no idea if their coupon is printing or not
  • The “you are limited to four downloads of this coupon” restraint is somehow per computer which means the first four people are lucky, the rest not so much

Yes that’s right, it’s the coupon so popular and so buggy they had to create a FAQ for it. Do people look at this fiasco the way I do, as an well-meaning but ill-conceived program that uses a lot of stupid middleware to prevent fraud that mostly managed to tank itself due to overpopularity and complicated implementation? No, they think the library isn’t the place to go for printing. Or that librarians can’t solve technical problems as easy as printing a coupon from a website, so the next time they have a coupon to print, they’ll go elsewhere. Or that computers are hard.

This system encourages cheating. It complicates what should be a fairly straightforward computer activity for no particularly good reason. What do you suppose happens if you show up at KFC with a photocopied coupon? What happens when you print more than four coupons? Thanks for reminding me that “Coupon fraud is punishable by law.” If I ever get this website to load again, I’m printing 100 coupons and you can take me to jail. The nearest KFC to here is 21 miles anyhow. Boy am I glad I’m not working at the library today.

note: If you did download the coupon printing software, please make sure to uninstall it (read more).
second note: here are all 4789 comments on the Oprah site about this promotion.
final note: if you think I am overstating the case, check the twittermachine for the KFC+library keywords and weep.

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