Not so sure fish

Dead fish
Photo by Tome213

When we got my Mum a PC a few years ago (Jane and I were still living in Inverness at the time) I looked around to decide on which Internet Service Provider (ISP) to choose for her. Those were the heady days of v.90 and v.92 dial-up modems and Pay As You Go accounts and there were so many options from which to choose. Broadband wasn’t available and unless you wanted to pay extra for an ISDN line you were pretty much limited to the million-and-one 54kbps narrowband connections on offer.


Needless to say I had signed up with a few ISPs, partly out of curiosity, partly to obtain as much free domain space as I could, and partly for resilience: if one network went down then I could still connect using another ISP account. We first signed up with the dial-up account that came built into our first PC: Supanet were Time Computers‘ own ISP. I then signed up for an account with a new ISP called Freenetname who offered a free domain name as part of the deal. We chose, which served us well. (The domain registration lapsed this year and has been bought by a company in Bavaria!?)

Freenetname are now part of the Madasafish empire. I had one of their accounts for a while too. And then Christian Aid brought out their own ISP called Fish, which was later changed to Surefish (for some legal reason, I think). I had an account with them too: was my catchy email address.

Whenever you dialled into Surefish part of the cost of the call was donated towards the work of Christian Aid. It was a good incentive to sign up: help out a Christian charity whenever you were surfing the web. So that’s the ISP that I signed Mum up for. She was one of the last to get the email addresses before they moved to

Tide turn

In the last couple of months Surefish appears to have done some kind of deal with BT Wholesale who it looks like are taking over the running of the network. This means that new dialers need to be installed and new passwords, usernames and email addresses learned. Which is fine … so long as the instructions that are given are clear, concise and user-friendly.

I’m sorry to say that I’ve not found any of that to be true for Surefish — even before the take-over by BT. Their website is infuriatingly difficult to navigate. Simple things like finding your account information is hidden, and the most obvious navigation paths lead you to a form inviting you to sign up. It feels as though they want other people to sign up more than they want to support those users who have already signed up.

Then there are little things like the drop-down menus that don’t work properly in Opera. Which means that if you accidentally move your pointer over the drop-downs you need to perform a page refresh (F5) before you can read on as once the drop-down menus have dropped down that’s the way they remain.

Smooth transition?

I’m meeting Mum in Edinburgh this afternoon. On the phone this morning she said that she’d bring up a print-out of an email she received from Surefish recently. It is detailing the steps she needs to perform in order to make the change from the Surefish dial-up to the new BT one. So I looked up the information on their website.

What a muddle!

On the homepage it says:

Confused about a recent email from surefish? Your questions answered: Click here.

“Click here”?! Have their web designers read NOTHING about good usability practices? But it gets worse. When you do click here you are presented with a mess of information, some of which contradicts itself:

One paragraph reads:

If you have a Mac, or would like to input the dial-up numbers manually, they are as follows: Pay As You Go is 0845 604 0362 and Flat rate is 0808 9933 542

while further down the page you can read:

I have a Mac/I’d like to manually input the new dial up information

We will be publishing that information in the next few days on the surefish website.

Do they not realise that they already have published that information on the very same page? Does no one audit the content that they have? Is there no editorial workflow?

Mum is concerned about how to upgrade the dialer (“whatever that means”). Users shouldn’t have to worry about these things — just given clear, unambiguous instructions on what to do, with the reassurance that their service will not be compromised and will in fact be enhanced by this important step.

So to help Mum out I downloaded the new dialer upgrade application. It comes as a zip file. With two files in it:

  • surefish-payg-Setup.EXE (582 KB)
  • surefish-payg-Installer.EXE (299 KB)

Which one does Mum install? When run they do different things. Does she install them both, and if so which one? They are different file sizes so they are obviously not the same file with different names. And they both imply that they are setup or installation files. Is there a difference between setup and install?

This is a perfect example of usability at its very worst. Surefish might be the most “ethical ISP” but it most certainly isn’t the most “usable ISP”.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

8 thoughts on “Not so sure fish”

  1. Did I ever say that? LOL

    And besides, I don’t work for “the internet”, I work for the University of St Andrews. :p In my day-to-day work I don’t have to deal with any of that sort of networking stuff — that would be an IT Systems task rather than Web team.

    … but you do have a point. 🙂

  2. Having had so many threads on the surefish forum deleted I thought I’d Google and found you. I’m lucky in that I have 2 fish addresses but use BT as my ISP so have not had to make changes (yet) but of course can’t get mail either. The instruction emails are a nightmare – please give your mother my sympathy!
    Why/how do I know your name? It’s annoying me – can’t think.

  3. I shall be visiting Mum today, and will check to see if her Fish account has been sorted out yet. I’m not terribly hopeful, to be honest.

    As to where you might have encountered me before, here are a few arenas:

    • Selkirk
    • National Youth Choir of Great Britain (1987-1997)
    • University of St Andrews (1989-1993)
    • Shaftesbury Society Homeless Services (1995-1997)
    • University of Edinburgh, New College (1997-1999)
    • St Andrews Cathedral, Inverness (1999-2003)
    • I’m in the book “Join Me” by Danny Wallace
    • Church of the Good Shepherd and St Salvador’s, Edinburgh

    Are you confusing me with the Gareth Saunders who was on the Channel 4 (T4) show Shipwrecked? Or the Boston City Councillor of the same name?

  4. Allow me to clarify a few points. The suffix was available after the change to Only now have we had to close it off to new users.
    We have sent emails to all users explaining the forthcoming change to BT (it’s being done as I write and should be finished by a week next Sunday) and so because of the change we have removed account management function and sign up functions as we don’t believe it’s helpful to allow people to sign up and then change their settings a few weeks later.
    I thank you for pointing out the problems with the FAQs which I have asked to be changed. As for the dialler program, if you launched it you would see that it is a step by step guide to installing the new dial up number which is how Christian Aid raises money – and for all of your comments, don’t you think that’s the most important point? If you want hotmail then go to hotmail. If you want to help defeat poverty and injustice, then you use us, and to some extent, realise that we’re not hotmail!
    Andy Jackson

  5. Hi Andy,

    thanks for the clarifying points. It’s refreshing to find an ISP with such a commitment to responding to user’s problems. I do appreciate it, thanks.

    I quite understand why the account information has been moved, but perhaps something on the site that explained that would have been helpful — it would certainly have meant that I didn’t have to search for 5 minutes for something that was no longer there. Sometime simple in its place that explained why it was not available and when it would return would have been great, and more user-friendly, in my opinion.

    I stand corrected on the domain name — that was my impression at the time, so thanks for clearing that up.

    Regarding the dialer download I still stand by my comments about it being confusing that there were TWO files in the same Zip file, with no explanation as to which to use. Even if they eventually do they same thing, why offer two with different names?

    It confused me, and I work in an IT-related field; my Mum hasn’t even run them yet because she is scared of what they’ll do, and she needs to read the instructions about what to do and what she should expect BEFORE she runs it. Users shouldn’t have to make a choice: it should be obvious.

    If we weren’t committed to Christian Aid and trying to help defeat poverty and injustice then I’m sure we’d have looked elsewhere. As it is we believe in what you are doing.

    I still just wish that the information on the site was laid out a little easier to both navigate and find, and was a little more user-friendly. For example, links called “click here” are considered bad practice, as they aren’t helpful for users who scan pages, as most users do these days.

    In other words, I think what you are doing is great, but there are a few areas where a little improvement would go a long way.

  6. No I’m not confusing you with anyone else – know now who you are. Just strayed into your website looking for lessons for Wednesday (St. Francis) after made mistake of searching on Scottish Episcopal site. Our priest recently retired and muggins has to do these things for now. Why is life soooo complicated? Bad enough trying to deal with fish and surefish without worrying about saints who aren’t in the Lectionary.

  7. Hey,

    As a dial up user your may be interested in this new service that is being launched in the UK in March 07. Netfury is a compression tool that makes dial up access up to 5 times faster, and you can stay with your existing ISP, which I can tell is important from your post.

    The Netfury site is still being devloped but you can read a bit about the service on the site of this free isp, but you wouldn’t need to switch to it.

    Anyway hope this may be helpful to you in some way.


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