In an industry that changes as often as ours, it's easy to lose sight of just how much has happened in such a short period of time. Fortunately, with the help of our good buddy Dan Hanson (the Great Lakes Geek), Dave and I had the opportunity to sit back and reflect on many of the major web-related stories from 2013. Throughout the process, we share our insights about how you can learn from these stories to better promote your business online.
Up first (and please remember we're talking about websites, not politics): What went wrong with the initial launch of Healthcare.gov.
We'll be posting these videos regularly over the next couple of weeks, so make sure to check back often!
Dan: Okay, the big news in the last few weeks has obviously been the rollout of the Healthcare.gov website. No matter what your political persuasion is, whether you are a fan of the Affordable Healthcare Act or ObamaCare, or whatever. I think both sides – everyone – agrees that the roll-out of the website has been pretty much a fiasco.
So today, we're talking with two pros in that field. We've got Matt Mesenger, the Director of Web Marketing at Aztek, and Dave Skorepa, the Chief Creative Officer. Aztek’s been around for over 16 years, got 600-something clients, thousands of websites. These guys know what they’re doing, and I think it'd be interesting to get their perspective on the roll-out of this. It's really an international incident here; the failure of this website to do what it should have.
Guys, give me your overall perspective. Dave, let's start with you. What happened with Healthcare.gov?
Dave: I don't know if it's easier to boil it down into one specific thing, but with any website, there are so many things that can trip it up, especially a bigger, more complicated website. The bigger it is, the more public it is, the more visitors that are coming to it, the greater the chances of something going wrong. Something as simple as, "Gee, we didn't think that many people were going to come to the website," is enough to sink a ship.
You add any of that kind of stuff up: an error, a page not being able to load, a server not being able to handle the requests, and it's just going to build up and crash it.
Dan: Now, Matt, here at Aztek, what would your process be with a project like this? I have to think there would be some kind of testing or soft launch, or more robust due diligence before something of this scale got launched.
Matt: Exactly right. In addition, I want to elaborate on another point that Dave had made in his comment. It's more than just about handling the amount of traffic and sites crashing. There's also a user-experience component to this. As I've been keeping up with what's been going on with Healthcare.gov, one of the things that I've been hearing about from people who have even been able to get through the process – the lucky few; they’ve been having trouble just understanding the usability and the functionality of the website.
It's really kind of a dual-issue in terms of the site crashing. If you are fortunate enough to get onto the site and complete the process, just understanding what the next step is, how many times you have to click a button to get to that next step...So really, again, as you had mentioned, there would be a lot of testing, a lot more testing that could have been done or should have been done on the site, not only to handle the amount of traffic, but from a usability perspective.
Dan: Yeah, and that's what it seems like. The errors were made in the two major areas. You've got to have the robust and scalable back-end, which, a database is a database but when you get that big, you have a lot of issues to deal with. But that front-end, both areas seem to be – the user-experience wasn't what it should have been or could have been. For something of that magnitude, it doesn't look good for those developers.
Dave: It's a shame, but it's important to remember, too. I mean, it's not like the government isn't capable of doing things right. It's a shame it shut down for budgetary reasons, primarily. But they very successfully launched a site awhile back called Data.gov, which was an incredible idea. It just was one of those things, it was like, "Well, it's not really a necessity," and not that many people were taking advantage of it. But it was a really cool idea and was really well-executed. But nobody comes out and pats them on the back and says, "Hey, that's really cool. Good job." It's easier to say, "Oh, you really screwed this one up and we're going to vilify you for it."
Dan: So if you got a call from the Administration [who] said, "All right, Dave and Matt, we need some help with Healthcare.gov here." What would be a few things that you would just say, in general, for developers, and for this site, or any major site, that you have to do before you have a launch of this magnitude?"
Dave: Test, test, test. I mean, the adage that "Anything that can go wrong will," has to be accounted for there, because there's too much pressure. They had to anticipate that opponents of ObamaCare were going to be looking for anything, anything to just trash this and demonstrate it as a failure. That's one luxury here, I guess, that we have. That we don't have an entire army of political opposition just waiting for us to screw something up, or hoping that... you know what I mean, wishing ill on us? In a pressured situation like that, you've got to have things so buttoned-up that you are bulletproof going into that site launch and have backup plan, after backup plan, after backup plan and, clearly, they didn't.