Warning: This article contains personal opinions.
A newsletter reader wrote today to tell me of a recent update to a very popular genealogy web site. In short, the web site reportedly has been converted from a very useful genealogy resource into something that is nearly unusable. I won’t mention the web site but will quote a few sentences from the message (with minor editing for readability reasons):
“The old account information won’t work, you need to establish a new account which means anything you had stored under an old account won’t work. They won’t let you put in a full first name on a basic search and the “narrow search” function is awful. The documents fly around the page so fast it is hard to zone in and read about person you are researching. To contact them with issues etc. is difficult. The contact page on the web site is limited to 200 characters, so you cannot send them much of an email message at all.”
I guess I have been in the computer business too long and have heard similar stories far too often. Yes, I suspect this complaint is valid, as are hundreds of other complaints I have heard over the years about other web sites, software applications, and more. My experience is that such problems usually get fixed although never with the speed that customers expect. Here is my response to the person who wrote me today:
Poor web design has a history of correcting itself. However, that normally requires six to twelve months, occasionally longer.
Historically, here is what happens time and time again:
1. An organization “updates” its web site to “improve it” but users quickly find the new version is much worse than the old.
2. Users complain. Web site management usually ignores the complaints.
3. Over the next few months, web site users start using the site less and less. Sales generated by the web site start dropping significantly.
4. After a few months, financial reports are delivered to the mangers who suddenly see they have a problem. They wake up.
5. Managers start running around and perform “studies” to identify the cause of the problem. (Had they paid attention to the initial complaints, the managers could have skipped this step. However, that rarely happens.)
6. The problem is “identified.”
7. A study group is formed to find a solution.
8. The study group spends months and dollars to identify the problem and to create a report identifying the fix. The report is generally identical to the complaints created by customers months earlier when managers were not listening.
9. New programmers are hired.
10. Over a few months, the new programmers are trained and become familiar with the site and with the problem(s).
11. A fix is created. (This is usually the shortest part of the whole effort.)
12. The fix is tested.
13. The fix is released to a small group of beta testers for their analysis and feedback.
14. The beta testers report “the fix is worse than the original problem.”
15. Go back to step 5.
16. Repeat over and over.
Eventually, the problem gets fixed, despite the efforts of management. However, it takes much longer than it should have. In the meantime, users are dissatisfied and leave in droves. Revenue drops and probably never recovers to the levels it was before the “new and improved” web site changes were made. In the meantime, management spends a lot of dollars fixing the “new and improved” web site.
The above scenario has been repeated thousands of times in the business world.
The bottom line is: “This, too, will pass.”