Web Communication Across the Pond

Yes, they still adore their queen and no, they don’t care much for wearing bright colors, but Britons are not entirely different from us Americans. I spent the last semester studying abroad in London and throughout those three months had some interesting experiences, both good and bad, with UK websites.

My first (good) experience was with the Transport for London website. TFL is in charge of all of London’s public transport and this site is an absolute LIFESAVER for any Londoner who wants to get anywhere in the city. The London Underground is a very comprehensive system but is not without its quirks. Many tube lines are shut down on the weekends for upgrades (due to the upcoming 2012 London Olympics, mostly) and stations can close on any given day for reasons that range from a bomb scare to someone throwing up on a train.

So if you’re new to London (or not, really), all you need to figure out the best way to get somewhere given the current tube conditions is plug in your start and end points into the handy Journey Planner (conveniently found on almost every page of the TFL website). A few seconds later, multiple travel options are at your fingertips. Even better, if you’re sick of taking the tube every day, you can narrow your search down to only buses and the Journey Planner will tell you which buses you need to take from which stops. Any information you need about using London’s top-notch public transportation system can be found on this website. Fares, maps, live travel updates and more, all in one place. Fabulous!

For transportation outside of London, one must browse over to the National Rail website. Unfortunately, I found this site to be not as good as the TFL site. The basic search engine requires you to put in your start and end destinations, your date of travel and the time you’d like to depart. This will pull up the relevant timetables for the train(s) you need. You can then check fares and purchase your tickets ahead of time through any National Rail line. Yes, this doesn’t really make sense – why purchase Southern Rail tickets on the First Great Western Rail website? – and this is where my problem with the National Rail website begins. The site has another seemingly great feature, one that myself as a college student made great use of: the cheapest fare finder. But it’s not consistent – sometimes depending on the specificity of my search, different fares would pop up. And once I found the fare I wanted, it was not always available on the specific line’s site.

For example, I wanted to take the Southern Rail service to Brighton Beach one day and found a decent rate on the National Rail site. But when I went over to the Southern Rail site to purchase my tickets, my lower fare could not be found (also, my US credit card was not accepted). But when I used the First Great Western Rail site, I could purchase those Southern Rail tickets at the low price (and on my US credit card) just fine. Totally weird and confusing. And on that note, I definitely recommend using the First Great Western site to purchase your train tickets after you find your fare on the National Rail site – the lowest price was always available and the site was fairly easy to navigate. (And on a completely different note, I am still not sure why Southern Rail’s current advertising campaign features a Mexican man, when Mexico is south of the US, not the UK, and the Mexican culture essentially cannot be found in the UK.)

My web experiences in London heavily relied on these transportation sites more than anything else, but here is a quick run-down of other handy sites if you find yourself across the pond.

  • TimeOut London is a weekly magazine you can purchase that features current, fun things to do in the city. Or you can pop on over to their website and get a lot of the same or at least similar content for free.
  • One of my must-do’s while in London was see Phantom of the Opera on the West End. Unfortunately, I found the theatre’s website left a lot to be desired, and it’s been re-done since I was there and I still feel that way.
  • And finally, there was Midnite Cookies, a cookie delivery service that was down (and doing a web re-design) for most of the semester and now looks awesome. The service comes highly recommended, for anyone over there having a late-night cookie craving!