Practical International Data Management Online

On Website Country Lists –Why So Ignored a Problem?

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On Website Country Lists – Why So Ignored a Problem?

By grahamrhind External

One world, how many countries?

World expert on data quality, Graham Rhind, a member of the Global Address Data Association’s External Advisory Board, has thoughts about website drop-down lists of countries inspired by a particularly confusing example. Links to some of his terrific resources that help deal with this problem. Read here, or download in pdf. (Editor)

One World How Many Countries (13) External

Maintaining a country code list is not as easy as it sounds. It requires attention to change and awareness of political and cultural sensibilities. It is by no means the hardest thing a data manager has to do, but it does require attention.

That is doesn’t get the attention it requires is very obvious if you look carefully at the country name drop downs you are often faced with when you are filling in online forms. Many follow standard rules, but a large number contain highly idiosyncratic country names lists.

Charles Prescott (http://prescottreport.com/ External) pointed out a great example at http://www.futuredigitalstrategies.com/page.cfm/Action=Form/FormID=1/t=m External . As the company concerned knows I am on their case there is a good chance that they will alter the list soon, so I have reproduced the list at the end of this article. As it contains a great number of the issues commonly found in country name lists, it is worth close examination.

There are around 240-250 countries and territories in the world. The exact number, and those countries you choose to include, will depend on who your form is aimed at and how you will use the data. Should you intend to mail the person who fills in the form, for example, then it would be a good idea to include Kosovo, whose postal code and addressing system differ from those used in Serbia. Should you wish to measure differences between mainland and offshore residents in some countries then it might be worthwhile including Canary Islands and Madeira as well as Spain and Portugal. That said, one would expect most of the list to be standard.

The country code list at http://www.futuredigitalstrategies.com/page.cfm/Action=Form/FormID=1/t=m External contains 244 names, so at first glance it appears to fit the norm. A second glance, however, shows how many rules the list breaks:

Inclusion of countries which no longer exist. This list contains

As in each case the country that these historical entities became part of are also in the list, this has produced duplicate entries.

Duplication. If an entry is duplicated, so that customers can choose either entry, this would need to be taken account of in any analysis which is being made of the data gathered. In many cases in this list it looks like the duplication is by accident rather than by design:

Including regions which contain many countries as countries:

Using unfortunate abbreviations, some of which may change the alphabetic listing:

Using outdated or incorrect country names:

Not being consistent. Why include the Crown Dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey but not the Isle of Man? Why some offshore islands like Crete and Sicily and not all the others? Why Curacao (or, rather, Curaçao) and not Aruba? Why Tasmania and no other Australian states? Why U S A but US Virgin Islands?

Declaring independence for some regions. Some of the names of the list are of parts of countries which have never been independent, or at least not in the modern era, and there is little rhyme or reason why they should be included, and little chance that an inhabitant of that region would go looking for that name in the list:

Making spelling errors: rarely forgivable.

Confusing the customer: the customer should be able to find their country quickly, easily and in the place they expect to find it. The list contains some entries which will have many of us scratching our heads in puzzlement:

Wha … where?

So, taking note of the number of incorrect, duplicate and imaginative entries to the list, the final problem suddenly become very clear:

Missing countries. This list should contain at least also:

You don’t have to be a geographer or a political historian to find the problems in lists like these. You just have to live in one of the countries which is not on the list, or in one which has been so strangely labelled or located on the list that is takes many frustrating minutes of scrolling to locate it. And for the companies concerned, any frustration with the form will lead directly to a reduction of response and a reduction of the quality of the data being gathered.

Paying attention to your country list will bring rewards. It’s worth the effort.

There are two free resources from the author (really free –there are no forms to fill in!) to help you get the most out of your web form and your country list. The e-Book “Better Data Quality from your Web Form – Effective International Name and Address Internet Data Collection” can be downloaded from http://www.grcdi.nl/book4.htm External, and a list of countries for use in web forms (after modification) can be downloaded at http://www.grcdi.nl/countrycodes.htm External.

About the author

Graham Rhind is an acknowledged expert in the field of data quality. He runs his own consultancy company, GRC Database Information, based in The Netherlands, where he researches postal code and addressing systems, collates international data, runs a busy postal link website and writes data management software. Graham speaks regularly on the subject and is the author four books on the topic of international data management.

Web: http://www.grcdi.nl External

Email: graham@grcdi.nl

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/grahamrhind External

The country list in full:

Aden, Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, America Samoa, Andorra, Angola, Anguilla, Antigua, Antilles Islands, Argentina, Armenia, Ascension Island, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, B F P O, Bahamas, BahraiN, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bolivia, Borneo, Bosnia Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Burundi, Byelorussia, Cabinda, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Canary Islands, Cape Verde Island, Cent African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comores, Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Crete, Croatia, Cuba, Curacao, , Czech Republic, Dahomey, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican, Ecuador, Egypt, Eire, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Fiji Islands, Finland, France, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Gabon, Galapogos, Islands, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Gibraltar, Gilbert & Ellice Isles, Greece, Greenland, Grenada, Guadalcanal, Guam, Guatemala, Guernsey, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Hawaiian Islands, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Jersey, Jordan,

Juan Fernandez Island, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kirghiszistan, Kiribati, Kosovo, Kuwait, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Leeward Islands, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Macedonia, Madagascar, Madeira, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldive Islands, Mali, Malta, Martinique, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldavia, Moluccas Islands, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Caledonia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Ocean Island, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Papua, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Port Guinea, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Reunion, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Sabah, San Marino, Sarawak, Sardinia, , Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sicily, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, St Helena, St Kitts Island, St Lucia, Sth Georgia Island, Sudan, Surinam, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tadjikistan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tasmania, Thailand, Tibet, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tristan da Cunha, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Turks & Caicos Islands, Tuvalu, U S A, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uruguay, US Virgin Islands, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, West Indies, Western Samoa, Windward Islands, Yemen, Zaire, Zambia, Zanzibar, Zimbabwe.


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