2022-07-28

Research on misdialled numbers

I am considering if there is research on this, and even if I should do such research.

This is slightly relevant to things like W3W. I don't think they did any research of mis spoken, mis remembered, mis heard, and mis typed, random words, to be fair. Words work well in context and are shit when random from a huge dictionary (especially when beyond most people's vocabulary and available in multiple languages). Heck, even in "context" the classic game of "Chinese whispers" shows how shit this is.

But conveying numbers is a totally separate issue - a much smaller space to play with, except people "group" numbers internally. The whole concept of phone numbers in UK works well with area code (a familiar number sequence) and then number. People cope well with local numbers. They cope well with numbers in neighbouring area codes.

It has been long known that people can "transpose" digits, and this is why some check digit systems (like used on credit card numbers) specifically target digit transposition.

But people can also group sequences of digits in various ways. The ways they are presented with spaces matter. They create patterns. People are good with patterns.

I am well aware of two distinct misdials, and they are quite different.

One is seeing 0XXXX 400 000 and dialling 0XXXX 400 400. This happens a *lot*. We changed to not even publish 0XXXX 400 000 so as to avoid this.

One is seeing 0XXX 0 112 112 and dialling 0XXX 112 112 0.

This latter one is weird, in my view. I don't grasp why it happens, but it happens around 4 or 5 times a month. People misdial Screwfix's number and get me!

This is really not something I expected, which is why I wonder if numbers being mis handled is a topic for research.

We know W3W is crap, but can research make normal grid references and phone numbers better, if we understand how people get them wrong?

28 comments:

  1. I'm responsible for telephones at a company with a large amount of phone numbers. We find most misdials are because some random website has published the wrong number. The worst offender? Google. Their search engine adds one and one and sometimes spits out three.🤦‍♂️

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    1. Indeed, that is a massive factor, but I think both of these examples are not that. It is something to consider in any research though.

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  2. I used to be responsible for about a million numbers in the UK. None of them had ever been used when we got them and instantly we had many thousands of miss dials per day as soon as the numbers went live.

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  3. W3W can be really useful on forums/chat rooms that don’t allow you to post links and most people can’t deal with long and lat.

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    1. PlusCodes also solve that problem — as well as being open-source and standardised, supported by the built-in Google Maps app, designed to avoid digit/letter confusion, and usable without internet access.

      I see literally no reason to use W3W at this point.

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  4. I was allocated a mobile number that was something like 077n 077m 077. Fantastic, I thought, until I tried to tell it to people. Quoting it like that, they allways thought I was correcting myself!

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  5. I'm not at all surprised by 0 112 122 -> 112 112 0. It's easy: you remember "112 repeatedly" and "0" and forget what order the two are meant to go in. I do it all the damn time, on the rare occasions when I can remember any part of any phone number at all other than the one I used to have when I was growing up, which hasn't reached me for more than thirty years...

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  6. I wonder how long we're even going to need phone numbers. Clearly they made sense when phone calls involved transmitting numbers to an exchange using audio frequencies, but once everything is mobile/VoIP and there is no need to support legacy landlines, perhaps there will be a new system of human-readable phone identifiers similar to email addresses?

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    1. Well calling sip:sales@aa.net.uk works :-)

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    2. Traditional telephony is dying/dead. WhatsApp, Facetime, Zoom, MS-Teams, etc. are/have replaced it. Whilst the purist in me would love the world to standardise on SIP, the big players make their money by locking you into their platform.

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  7. Being slightly dyslexic I often swap pairs of digits, so I have to check myself, but I find that if I copy numbers in groups of 4 that I rarely make a transposition error.

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  8. I doesn't help that many web sites now insist you enter a phone number with no spaces in it (same with credit card numbers). It's so much harder to type and then check the number if you can't put the usual spaces in.

    Also mobile numbers are usually printed without adhering to the usually spacing. Landlines are 01XXX 123456 and people stick pretty well to that format. But for mobiles, where people put the space is all over the place. Personally I stick to the above format ie 07XXX 123456 but that seems to confuse a lot of people who insist the number part is 7 digits for mobiles. Other people try to format UK mobile numbers like they're US landlines with 2 spaces and that's not right either. It's a complete mess.

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    1. > Landlines are 01XXX 123456 and people stick pretty well to that format

      Except 02XX XXX XXXX

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    2. > Other people try to format UK mobile numbers like they're US landlines with 2 spaces and that's not right either.

      Except that the two-digit method has been shown to be easier for people to remember.

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    3. No, there are several formats for landline, currently, mostly...
      02X XXXX XXXX
      011X XXX XXXX
      01X1 XXX XXXX
      01XXX XXXXXX
      01XXX XXXXX

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    4. Thank you Revk, really irritates me that people consider inner and outer london to be 2 different codes, they WERE, briefly, but now they're back together as 020. We suffer it here in southampton/pompey area too, with people thinking the code is 0238, 02380, or 02 380 etc... [the latter's generally people from elsewhere in europe where some countries routinely use 2 digit area codes]

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  9. Don't get me started on 01189, 02380 and 0203 etc.

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    1. Even BT can't get this right, the area code in my area is 023, with the number format for southampton being 8xxx xxxx, but 1471 and bt's own caller ID system calls it 02380 xxx xxx, resulting in people thinking that 023 81xx xxxx or 82 xxxx xxxx are different area codes, or even not valid numbers

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  10. In my experience, it's repeated digits which cause problems - callers remember the numbers but not the right order,
    My landline number ends with 5221. A local takeaway ends with 5211, a local school ends with 5121. I know I get their calls, I don't know if they get mine.

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  11. One of the few joys of a 10 digit number, everyone assumes its incorrect and some businesses often get rude about it when they insist it must be 11 digits.

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  12. I used to have a number that was 081 888 8xyz. It subsequently became 020 8888 8xyz (via 0181 888 8xyz). I received many calls intended for other people.

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  13. I think the French have the right idea - treat the phone number as a successive sequence of pairs - so 081 888 8123 becomes 'oh eight', 'eighteen', 'eighty eight', 'eighty one', 'twenty three'. This has the benefit of effectively doubling the storage of the short-term memory, which (iirc from my psychology lectures) is normally six items.

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  14. I'm good at getting numbers mixed up, but I usually tend to notice it and try again.

    I've had the number xy6660 for 17 years now. Cartridge World down the road is xy0666. When I moved here I used to wonder if I'd get any misdialed calls for Cartridge World, but to this day, I don't think I have.

    I have however, found that people struggle with having 666 in the number.

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  15. my colleague is 'dylexic with numbers'... he often transposes the 2 digit pairs. The screwfix one can be explained by people remembering it as 112 twice, and an 0 in there... I expect 112 0 112 also gets false calls

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  16. Many years ago I had an 0845 number that I used. Then a cinema chain decided to publish their new number which was 1 digit out from mine and i was inundated with calls. I asked them to change their number or at least try to make the number more visible but they refused.

    I got them to change it by redirecting my number to a hilarious service which had an angry couple arguing and then "making up" playing. I did warn them I was doing this and that they should look to change the number - they replied they wouldn't be changing....until they did

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  17. Most people aren't taught formally what the valid formats are, but will infer them from real-world examples. Two of these inferred formats are 1xx
    xxx (but number of digits is variable), and 01xxx xxxxxx (number of digits is fixed).

    112 112 0 can be explained by the fact that it looks like a valid number format, whereas 0112 112 does not.

    Re "One of the few joys of a 10 digit number, everyone assumes its incorrect" - it's well known (by humans) that all UK numbers starting with a 0 are now 11-digit. I propose that the humans are correct in this case, and the telco got it wrong by issuing a malformed number.

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    1. This is why the previous poster had issues - the fact you are convinced all UK numbers are 11 digits is a problem. There are 10 digit UK numbers - just looking at OFCOMs code list, 01726 numbers starting 6 are 10 digit, for example (allocated in 1994), as are 01744 numbers starting 2. There are plenty of examples. And then of course 0845 46 47, and 0800 1111 are examples of even shorter UK numbers.

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    2. I do know that, but I think it's a flaw in the design of the numbering system that these numbers exist. The vast majority of UK numbers that start with 0 have 11 digits, numbers are used directly by humans unfamiliar with OFCOM, and it's not unreasonable for them to generalise that into a hard rule and use it for validation. If I encounter a shorter number the most likely explanation is a transcription error rather than a valid special case; I can't remember the last time I dialled a shorter 01 number. The design should not add unnecessary hurdles; long strings of numbers are hard enough for most humans to get right.

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