Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bad web sites, genetic fitness, and choosing a service provider

The way I found the current swim schedule at a community recreation, fitness and cultural center was to find the link to the future schedule, guess what the current link would be, and hand edit the URL. This isn't a new problem; their web site has been awful for at least five years.

I've written about why automotive sites are so bad, despite their vast economic value. None of those reasons apply in this case. So why has this facility had such an awful web site for so many years? On the face of it they have a very simple task; they need to put up pages with contact information, maps, PDF schedules, etc. Why does it go so wrong?

I'll get to that, but first I'll inflict some wisdom of the aged. Feedback won't help. When something is this bad even kindly suggestions won't help. They'll only cause hurt feelings. The problem must have deep roots.

My guess is that this rec center has fallen prey to one of the institutional weaknesses of the well meaning non-profit. Maybe it's become the job of someone who likes it but is unsuited for the task. Perhaps this person can't or won't be moved. Maybe it's become the job nobody wants to do. Perhaps its a form of passive-aggressive self-mutilation.

Good leaders figure ways out of these traps, so the persistence of this organization's problems suggests deeper leadership issues. We can think of an organization's web site as the equivalent of a biological organism's "fitness displays" -- such as big muscles or symmetric features. Web site weaknesses are a good measure of deeper institutional flaws.

Which brings me back to our automobile purchase, which has been stalled for the past month (the 2010 Subaru models do not impress). I'll look for the best automotive web site to guide our next cycle of car purchasing. Likewise if we were looking for a new swim facility, I'd look for a well organized web site.

A modern web site has a lot of meanings. It's hard for a dysfunctional organization to create and maintain a quality web experience. It's not a matter of money, it's a matter of the sorts of things that have to come together and stay together, and the many mistakes that have to be avoided. Web sites can be an important fitness marker for institutions; the good ones are both smart and pretty.
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