The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Oh yeah, those are my travel plans.
Oh yeah, those are my travel plans.

Airfare comparison websites like Kayak, Hipmunk, and FareCompare always show you a waiting screen for several seconds after you enter a search request. Electronic reservation sites have been doing this for nearly two decades.

You’d think that database management technology would have improved a bit by now. Google’s search engines crawl through petabytes of information in a fraction of a second. These travel websites only make you wait for your results to increase the perceived value of their service.

When airfare search results are returned immediately, users don’t believe that the site tried hard enough to find them the best deal. We want to think that during those five seconds of loading screen, William Shatner is personally negotiating our airfare, or the Hipmunk gerbils are frantically using Djikstra to traverse a graph.


This mentality began a long time ago, when customers would go to a store to look for something that was either out of stock or the store simply didn’t carry. If an employee told the customer, “We don’t have this,” the customer would leave dissatisfied. So they instead took to saying, “I’ll check in the back.”

Even today, the store manager who just offered to “check in the back” is almost certainly going to a broom closet to scratch their ass for a couple minutes before coming back out and saying, “Sorry, we don’t have it.”

How many times have you gone to a store to ask for something, only to have a store employee burst out from the back with “Surprise! We actually do have this in stock, except we were too stupid to put it on the shelf because after 30 years of business, we still haven’t figured out inventory management!”

The wait makes us appreciate the response.

Barnacle’s search execution is awfully slow due to suboptimal implementation. We’ve brought a Caltech PhD to the team to redesign our search engine. Because if there’s any lag for Barnacle to return search results, it should not be due to lame engineering, but because we’re messing with our users’ heads.

This post was inspired by conversations with Warren.


2 thoughts on “The Waiting is the Hardest Part

  1. You might be interested in Harry Brignull’s catalogue of “Dark Patterns” ( It’s not quite the same sort of thing: he focusses on interfaces that trick people into spending more money than they intended, rather than merely giving the impression that there’s more going on behind the curtain than there really is. But it’s in the same area.

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