Selecting the country where you live is a task you have to perform from time to time when registering for web sites. This often sucks, as it is often implemented in a way to make the life of the programmer easier, and not the one of the user. In this article I will discuss the problems of the usual approach, and two ways to make the country selection user-friendlier.
The usual approach is to have a drop-down box filled with all countries. That’s easily implemented: get a list of all countries from somewhere and put them into the drop-down box. To select a country with this solution, the user has to select the drop-down box and either scroll to the country or enter the first letters of the country, e.g. for Switzerland you would have to enter “s”, “w”, and “i”. That means it often requires more effort to select a country than entering directly the ISO 3166-1 country code into a two-character input field…
The previous solution can be improved without much effort by putting the most used countries at the top of the drop-down box. Which countries that are depends on the focus of your site (and your site statistics). If you have for example a german site, most of your users will be from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. By putting those countries at the top of the list you will make the country selection easier for the majority of your users.
The best solution would be, of course, a “convention over configuration” approach where the site automatically selects the correct country (at least in most cases). The implementation of such a solution requires a bit more effort on the side of the programmer as you have to determine the country somehow (e.g. by using a web service like hostip.info), but on the other hand it will make the life of most of your users a little bit easier :)