While scanning Google News, I saw an article that mentioned the re-launched Republican National Committee web site, gop.com, and decided to take a look at it. The verdict, in short: if they are the party of new ideas, they are also the party that makes the same old stupid mistakes on their web sites.
First, let’s look at the problems.
Problem #1: A database error message is my first experience. Granted, the site is probably getting hammered by all the excited young Republicans, but that’s still no excuse for getting the following message on my first request: “Database Error: Unable to connect to your database. Your database appears to be turned off or the database connection settings in your config file are not correct. Please contact your hosting provider if the problem persists.” Come on, is it that hard to write a friendly error message?
Problem #2: Hearing someone talk as soon as the home page opens. Having sound play automatically on your first visit to a web site is bad enough. Having that sound being someone’s voice is worse than that. In this case, it’s RNC Chairman Michael Steele telling us about the new web site. I bet that the majority of visitors who don’t immediately hit the BACK or CLOSE button probably spend more time looking for the MUTE or STOP button than they do paying attention to what Mr. Steele is saying. (I know I did.)
Problem #3: Doesn’t scale to 800 pixels. Sure, 800 pixels is so yesterday, and many developers (myself included) don’t bother supporting it. But this web site is quite clearly aimed at the general public, and roughly 4% of the general public still have monitors that display at 800-pixel wide resolutions. Considering the Republican party needs all the support it can get, it shouldn’t alienate these people by forcing them to scroll horizontally.
Problem #4: Branding a face that has no brand meaning. You can’t miss the “faces” in the GOP logo on the top left of the web page. Each refresh loads a different page. (See A Children’s Treasury Of ‘GOP Faces’ From The Hot New GOP Website.) Why are you focusing so much of the visible screen, and so much of your user’s attention, on faces that have no brand value? Shrink the damn header to no more than 120 pixels high and give people what they need: functionality and information, not a bunch of meaningless faces.
Problem #5: It just doesn’t work. I refreshed the home page, and now all my connection attempts are failing.
I’ll say more if/when I can actually re-connect. Why such a problem? It’s not like launching new web sites is something new.
A little digging identifies the hosting provider for gop.com as Smartech, and they seem like a reasonably sound hosting company. So, is it a hosting issue, or a software architecture issue? I’d bet on the latter.
Hey, finally got back in! I’ll continue the blog post now.
Sorry, got kicked out of the GOP web site again. I’ll continue this post when I can reconnect…
Ah, back in… sort of…
Problem #7: Republican Faces doesn’t work. Apparently the focal point of the web site (or, at least, the faces described in Problem #4) is “Republican Faces.” Go to that section of the web site for this error:
PHP has encountered an Access Violation at 7C82A38B
Hmpf. Well, until that’s fixed, let’s see what else we can find.
Problem #8: Dropdown menus that are longer than the height of the screen. I’m looking at the site on a relatively mainstream 768-pixel height laptop screen. Due to the excessive height of the header (Problem #4) and the excessive length of some of the drop-down menus (one has 10 items), I can’t see the entire menu without scrolling. One positive: the menu is “sticky” – it doesn’t disappear when it loses focus – which makes such scrolling possible. Still, I wonder how many people will never go to the Research Briefings or Future Leaders pages (among others) as a result.
Sorry, can’t continue: Service Unavailable. Fortunately, while waiting, the Republican Faces site came up.
Hey, RNC, if you need to hire a web guy who actually knows how to make web sites work, drop me a line!