Wednesday January 10, 2007

More adventures on

screengrab of a horrible online tool nobody should have to use

Sooner or later, you’re going to run into a Genious of Despair, and he’s going to ask you if you know who your county commissioner is. Time to get ready . . . except that the website doesn’t make it easy. There’s a list of commissioners, and pages for each of them, and, hmm.. ok those link to maps of the districts, but where’s a map of the whole county? Wait for it . . . and nope: after five minutes of furious clicking and searching, I can’t find the answer. There’s a “Who is my Commissioner?” link, but that takes me back to the Firefox now allowed page. The site is borked in other ways, too — expanding menus won’t stay expanded, links launch new windows and mysterious “applications,” and I just know there’s a hidden link to a PDF lurking somewhere ready to crash my computer. Let’s play a game: I’ll give you safe Jpeg links to the district maps, and you try to figure out which one you live in with the fewest possible clicks (give yourself a pat on the back if you get it in six or fewer!). Then return to this page to decode your answer. Ready?

Nope, that didn’t work either. The URL’s to the district maps are not consistent, and some of the Commissioners’ pages don’t even give a link to the map. Surrendering, I fire up Internet Explorer, and go to this horrible contraption, what appears to be a Java-powered nightmare from the latter part of the 20th century. My computer wheezes, groans, and chuckles as I tried to pan and zoom on the crappiest of little maps.

Seriously, though, if it’s wrong for the WLRN website to be inaccessible, it’s 10 times worse for the county (annual budget: $6 billion+) government website. (Ways in which it’s inaccessible #4080: the commission map is color coded. Plus, what’s up with 13 commission seats and only 8 zones on the map?) Hello, is anybody out there listening?

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  1. Dave    Wed Jan 10, 09:01 AM #  

    Its not that hard. I think it took me a total of 2 clicks. First i went to the site, then clicked on “County Services Near You”, then you put your address in first on the left and who your commissioner is is one of the peices of information that comes up. I never had to deal with the map.

  2. mkh    Wed Jan 10, 10:11 AM #  

    I had just sent them some ‘constructive criticism” last week, based on my difficulties in doing some research for a story. I haven’t heard anything back, but a couple of years ago they were inviting web-savvy folks to participate in usability meetings. (I’m not certain, but I think a usability meeting is an oxymoror. Asking someone what’s wrong never results in useful data; only observation is worth anything.)

  3. alesh    Wed Jan 10, 05:53 PM #  


    Thanks. That may very well work. Not in Firefox, though.


    I don’t see that they need meetings or observation or any of that. I mean they do, but it’s not the most pressing aspect. All they need to do is google “standards” and “accessibility” (or walk into any bookstore and grab the first pink-spined book in the web development section) and the most basic of those principles. That’ll get them 90% of the way there.

    Make your website work like the rest of the internet. It’s NOT too much to ask.