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Archive for September 2012

The worst documentation experience ever

written by jacob, on Sep 7, 2012 6:27:43 PM.

I have worked for a while on setting up Paypal payments for two of my companies. It has taken ages.

The main reason for this is that the documentation sucks raw eggs and that the user interface for setting up your merchant account is really horrible.

Paypal has many different ways of handling checkouts. There is Paypal Website Standard and Express Checkout. Both come in multiple variants. You can have one-time payments, subscriptions and recurring payments. You can make refunds and discounts, and you can pause subscriptions. Then there is special support for invoicing, eBay and mass payment.

The actual documentation of low level features is quite reasonable, but the structure of the documentation is a catastrophe. The technical documentation is totally separate from the business documentation and both are big piles of web pages with no logical structure to them. The descriptions of how to set things up have no links to the APIs and the APIs are not linked to examples. There is no “if you want this, go here and do that”. When I implement a Paypal API I have a concrete business case. I expect Paypal to give me a list of things I may want to accomplish and then show me how I solve each case.

My other annoying experience is the user interface for changing settings in my account. If I want to add another checkout method, I don’t go to the account profile, which is fairly easily found in the toplevel menu. I go to “My Business Setup”, which is only available from the “Overview” page. However, there are lots of things that are reached from the “Profile” menu selection. A few of them show up as a dropdown, the rest are reached from a page that is reached by staying on the “Profile” selection. This brings you to a different web page with 4 subpages of things that can be changed. Each subpage has a list of stuff that can be modified by following yet another link. Each list is incomplete and fairly misguiding about what can be changed by following the link.

It is a total mess, and that is still putting things kindly.

I tried to activate the Express Checkout (Digital Goods) feature. I go to “My Business Setup”, and click “Start Now”. I get to a page with 6 choices. I select “Add product” from the one I want. This brings me back to the “My Business Setup” page without any comment whatsoever. If I’m not eligible for the product, I should be told. If there is a bug, it should show. Now it is simply frustrating. I have no clue what is happening.

In another company we developed support for recurring payments. It was all working in the Paypal Sandbox when we wanted to launch our payment system. After a month and multiple emails to Paypal, where Customer Support had no clue what we were talking about, we got told that recurring payments are only supported for customers in the US (have to be both incorporated and resident), and that there are no current plans for allowing it elsewhere. 6 weeks of work down the tube.

If it wasn’t for the high fees for people with small turnovers, a company like Braintree would eat Paypals lunch in very short order. Paypal had better watch out.