Monday October 8, 2007

10 ways the new miamidade.gov website sucks

miamidade.GOV

“OK, we’ll show those bastards. We’ll re-design the site, top-down, make it all Web-2.0 looking, throw every widget under the sun at it, and be damned if they’re not blown away.”

Uh, sorry, Judi. You blew it. Big time. So much so that a comprehensive, methodical analysis would take weeks, of which I ain’t got. But let me give you some highlights:

  1. You’ve got five (oh so slick) tabs running across the top: ‘Home,’ ‘Service Center,’ ‘County Agencies,’ ‘County Hall,’ and ‘Calendar.’ With the exception of the first and last one, do you really think anyone who doesn’t work in a county government has any idea what those things mean? You get paid for obfuscation?
  2. It’s a non-standards-compliant mess of HTML tables. I sympathize: web standards have only been globally accepted since around 2002. Nobody would expect you to get up to speed when building a website for a body that only governs 2.4 million people.
  3. Some of your links launch new windows . . . some don’t. This would be annoying enough if there were some rhyme or reason to it. There ain’t. Speaking of links, about half the links to existing pages have broken.
  4. What’s the single worst method for delivering online video? Windows Media? OK, let’s use that exclusively. (I’m letting the random links to PDF’s slide.)
  5. Here’s another great idea: let’s have as many sections of the site look and behave as completely differently from each other as possible! OK, you’ve got the main page. Compare the following: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . . . ok, I’ll stop. Those last two aren’t technically even on the same domain (btw, is there a reason for that?). This takes the cake, though, right? No navigation for you! (What makes this particularly fun is that all these pages are a just a single click off the main page. Imagine what we could find if we dug a little.)
  6. With the possible exception of the Luminati, every other website in the universe that requires registration has the registration button on the login page. I searched like crazy for the registration button, and after a long search was informed that “Due to our recent upgrade, however, registration is temporarily suspended.” Ah — so this is one of the new “features.” Got it. Curious about why I was trying to log in?
  7. because the “My Calendar” thing seemed like the only hope for getting useful information out of your otherwise hopeless calendar page. Speaking of the calendar, if a sane rethinking of the whole thing is out, can we at least have the events open to real pages, instead of crappy popup windows?
  8. On the “Information for . . .” menu, residents are #9 on a list of 11. Thanks for making it abundantly clear where we rate.
  9. Extra poke in the eye to Firefox (or any non-IE/Windows) users: home page opens scrolled down a random number of lines, “intro” video distorts into its letterboxed shape, and of course none of the previously mentioned FUBAR has been addressed.
  10. . . . all of which brings me to the sad conclusion that this is nothing but a shitty new skin on the same shitty old mess. We think these people are going to implement county-wide wireless internet access? They can’t even get a website working right.

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  1. mkh    Mon Oct 8, 04:44 AM #  

    Before I even clicked through I read your comments and realized they must still be using IBM Lotus WebSphere for the back end. It isn’t inherently evil, but IBM’s portal reps and trainers play up the “give every department full access to the CMS tools” aspect, perhaps because it sells more licenses. It also plays well with management types who don’t want to have in-house web teams, and are easily sold on the “drag and drop portlet” design.

    One look at the addresses and source code and lo! My suspicions are borne out.

    One quick (ha!) note. In reference to your #5, the Circuit Court site isn’t a county site, but a state site. (That doesn’t really excuse its own millennial styling, or the repeated use of “American’s With Disabilities,” though.) And as a guess, perhaps the IG site is maintained by a different team to enhance the appearance of distance between the IG and the county.



  2. alesh    Mon Oct 8, 08:24 AM #  

    mkh~

    I was wondering what CMS they’re using, and yes, I suspected it was the same one as they had before. I wonder how WS compares to open-source options like Joomla ?

    The problem with the CC and IG sites is that they’re under the “County Officials”, which mixes sub-sites with outside domains. That’s just wrong.

    BTW, the IG site proudly displays a “This site is ADA compatible” badge, of which the test reveals that . . . it’s not. Oops! (Of course Miamidade.gov isn’t, either.) I note with some interest that Target has a class-action lawsuit pending against it for not having an accessible website. You’d think at least our government agencies could get this right.)



  3. mkh    Mon Oct 8, 08:49 AM #  

    Ah, then I misunderstood,and agree on the odd location of the outside links in the navigation. At the very least there should be a “external link” icon or descriptor. Most users won’t care, though, as they lump them all into the “gummint” category.

    I’ve never looked at Joomla, so I’ll check that out. WS, to be fair, is very extensible, and for intranet usage has a lot to offer, provided you ignore IBM’s own advice on how to use it.



  4. ines    Mon Oct 8, 11:57 AM #  

    Alesh….thanks for the laugh. The worst part is that county employees are so proud of their new look. WHAT?



  5. alesh    Mon Oct 8, 12:17 PM #  

    mkh~

    I find that, with all these “high-powered” CMS’s, that the resulting websites belie the architecture of the CMS application much more then the needs of the site’s users or even the owners.

    Whether it be Joomla, this Lotusnotes, or whatever else. I can’t usually identify which one they’re using, but I usually instantly know when I’ve landed on one of these sites, and I’m always left scratching my head. Actually, Joomla’s home page is a perfect example. (Dreamhost has it on a 1-click install, which is how I originally got interested in it.) I honestly failed to get a decent idea of what it does from the site!

    In part I suppose it’s because of how much functionality and complexity these systems have built-in. But it seems like in 90% of the cases they’re rolled out way under-customized, and you get something that looks much more like a skinned version of the default install then what’s needed for the application.



  6. Mr. Mark    Mon Oct 8, 04:38 PM #  

    “Residents” is listed number 9 because the list is alphabetical.

    The site is a huge step up from what it was. I’m sure it’ll take a little while to fix up the domains and bad links. Otherwise, I’d say it’s not bad. I found what I was looking for quite easily using the “Top Searches” frame.

    I work as an administrator for a website that has gone through similar criticisms. I’m sure it’s discouraging when a perfectly functional yet complex site gets criticized by someone posting on a WYSIWYG site like blogger.com

    BTW, what’s the best way of delivering online video, after all? Please enlighten me because I like my porn in WMV. It’s flash, java, and quicktime that always has me dumbfounded. Youtube is nice, but it’s not like I can save the file to my hard drive without using firefox extensions.



  7. Lawrence Salberg    Wed Oct 10, 12:19 PM #  

    Amazing. We just published a piece" on the mishaps of the new redesign for the City of Palm Bay’s website (in Brevard County- about 3 hours north of Miami, with about 105,000 residents). And on the same day as your piece here. Apparently, Floridian governments are botching website redesigns and overhauls at not only a stupendous rate, but trying to trumpet them simultaneously as hot new web 2.0 goodness. I guess the lesson from this is that we Palm Bay folks ought to be happy that as bad as ours is, at least it isn’t as bad as the new website for the biggest metro area in the state. We feel for you guys down there. Windows Media…. wow… what a flub!