I was going to write an article this morning about cheating, cheating and cheating, although i’ve lost the third page i was going to link to through the red mist decending on me after seeing this piece of laziness.
The new Number 10 site launched a few days back. I didn’t immediately visit the site, as I’ve not been online a huge amount recently for browsing purposes, but I fired it up this morning after reading another post about its launch, and oh dear.
I’m not going to comment upon their approach to using social media, as many already have.
What has infuriated me is the ‘beta’ logo they’ve plopped on the masthead, which seems to be used as a ‘sorry we haven’t quite finished testing yet’ get of jail free card. NO NO NO!
The current fascination with launching betas confuses me a little. I am a big supporter of releasing early and often, smaller simpler offerings to test the water, and then expand and enrich from there on. Its agile, it means you can get your community feeding back on what they like and what they don’t like, and quite often helps in just getting content out there.
A beta does not mean public release, its an early release for testing purposes. Betas are designed to be opened out to a smaller population than your usual audience for feedback, testing and review. Many ‘startup’ type sites or web applications launch in private beta in this way, as well as public beta to gain feedback, and it can be a useful approach if you haven’t yet ‘launched’ your application or site.
However, a beta release and a phased release of functionality over time are not the same thing. You can, very succesfully, launch a site with a percentage of your eventual vision for the long term, providing it passes certain acceptance criteria: is it enough for the audience, will it achieve what we need it to in the first release, and so on. Twitter is a good example of this. They launched with just simple messaging, then layered in IM, then added replies, etc. etc. That isn’t a beta. A beta isn’t your first public release, waiting for added functionality, a beta is for testing and review.
What Number 10 have done is released an incomplete and broken website, and sticking a beta label on it doesn’t justify or excuse this. Number 10 is a substantial government landmark, the mouthpiece of the PM, not some 2 guys in their bedroom startup app.
Firstly, it doesn’t validate against XHTML. Why not? It really isn’t that hard to get content validating against XHTML Transitional (they’re not even using strict). As a government who support legislation and penalties on companies who don’t adhere to accessibility guidelines, I’d say this was pretty hypocritical, but ultimately downright lazy.
Secondly, the layout doesn’t work in Firefox. You might have heard about Firefox, it is a pretty popular browser. I’m assuming it was developed and tested on another browser (although assumptions on their testing are foolish). I wouldn’t mind so much if the design was half decent, but wow, it looks like they’ve literally just grabbed the first wordpress theme they found, and vomited it up on the server.
Thirdly, on the day it launched, there were 404 errors all over the shop. A BBC article explains:
A Downing Street spokeswoman denied the site had crashed.
But she said users on some servers might experience glitches “for the next 48 hours”.
“It is just what happens when you launch a new website,” she added.
No, it isn’t. I’ve launched hundreds of sites without layouts breaking and 404 pages on topline navigation. Sure, i’ve had the odd bug crop up which wasn’t spotted in testing, but not topline navigation, and not basic layout issues.
I guess I’m just really disappointed in an organisation as important as Number 10 could launch something without basic checks and balances from purely a technical perspective. I understand that getting social media is a harder nut to crack, and I’m actually glad they’ve started making inroads to that sort of technology, but the fundamentals still apply, and hiding behind a beta label doesn’t not excuse ignoring the basics.
I’d email them, but they haven’t set up their contact page correctly yet. The only option seems to be to write them a letter. How very 2.0