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PA Website Is A Joke

Original post made by Amazed, Menlo Park, on Oct 11, 2007

This past Monday, my kid had the day off for Columbus Day. Looking for something to do, I thought of both the PA Jr. Museum and the remodeled Children's Library that I recently read about in the Daily.

Not knowing if either was open, I went online to find out if they were. Putting each into a separate Yahoo search, I ended up with the #1 link leading into the City's website - and what did I end up with in both cases (after a fair amount of time)? - A "search results" page covering a whole bunch of categories, including soemthing called "Filebank Items") and ZERO matches - not even a phone number!

And looking back at the Yahoo search results page, that city website link was supposed to be the main link to each!

WOW - that's bad. And PA paid how much for this POS? And from what I read in the Daily, they're now trying to upgrade it (to respectability, I guess) in-house? That's of course a REAL cost to the city as well.

Shouldn't someone's head be rolling over this???

Comments (22)

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Posted by Alyssa
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 11, 2007 at 6:35 pm

If you want more debacles like the website, be sure and vote for the candidates who are endorsed by the Weekly and by the incumbent and ex-council members who gave us this one, the Storm Drain Wastefulness and our potholed streets - among others.

Things will not change unless we voters demand it by electing people from outside the establishment. Great thread here:Web Link

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Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 11, 2007 at 8:26 pm

Amazed, I'm with you on our city's pathetic excuse for a website.

The search engine is by FAR the most pathetic search engine that I have EVER encountered. It's unbelievable that this website made it past beta. Who on earth did they test it on, anyway?

I tried to use it again, the other day, to find something out about a few auditor's reports; it was nothing but frustrating.

People do make mistakes - me included, but how an entire website - representing a city, no less - made it this far, and turned out so bad, is just plain weird. I just don't understand how that could happen, especially since the city used experienced contractors.

The latter did NOT do their job, period. I would like the city to demand its money back, or sue the contractors.

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Posted by Couldn't find Frank's
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 11, 2007 at 10:06 pm

The city manager puts out a weekly email called Frank's Weekly Memo. I used the search box and typed that in, in quotes. Nothing.
I tried variations on those words. clicking clicking, then I just gave up.
There is lots of instruction on how to use the site, and how to search
written for people who are new to the web. Unbelievable.

Like this comment
Posted by Native Girl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 12, 2007 at 12:39 am

They know there is a problem and are working on it.

Perhaps one of the high tech residents in our city could do their civic duty and offer to help them for free. It would be a nice gesture.

If I knew how to do this, I would help them.

Too bad they didn't consult the Weekly on this.

Anyway, I just returned from a meeting (Thursday evening), and they know they have a problem.

They and are working on it.

In the meantime, the good old phone book is your best bet.

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2007 at 9:15 am

Thanks NG. Of course, the scary thing is that they didn't know they had a problem before they launched it - the gross problems were clear at first blush. Or that they could hire a vendor who would do such a poor job.

It is nice to think "we can all just pull together" - but in a city our size, where we elect representatives and hire a full town staff including a well-paid city managers to get things done - we should expect better than this. When my building contractor builds my garage in the wrong place, I don't roll up my sleeves to help him tear it down and rebuild it - that's his job. And if it was really such a gross error, I fire him and find another. We need more accountability, not sympathy.

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Posted by Robert D
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2007 at 9:28 am

Web Link
Web Link

Try these two for Benest's web site. It seems you have to know the answer first before you try a search. Ugh. Talk about karma, we must have done something very bad to get this level of incompetence.

Like this comment
Posted by Couldn't find Franks
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 12, 2007 at 2:27 pm

I just checked the city calendar. It seems that next Monday there is a study session at the city council but the calendar gives no clue about what. Clicking yields nothing.
Also, the Planning commission has met several times this month and there is no clue on the calendar. Unbelievable.

Like this comment
Posted by make sure you are heard
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 12, 2007 at 6:03 pm

I totally agree with all the above comments. But I urge every one of you to send your comments in to the City Council, asking them to take emergency action to fix this unacceptable travesty.

The powers that be in the IT dept have had since July to fix the problems that have been described over and over in excruciating detail, and only a few minor tweaks have been made. The vaunted search produces useless results and takes forever. And why are we being asked to figure out the distinction between "news detail" and "filebank items" anyway?

Each of us could fill pages of further examples of how the information that residents need -- or visitors, or people who want building permits, or business people -- is either not on the website or too hard to find.

But all the messages on this forum won't help. The people on the 7th floor on City Hall don't seem to be reading these posts and to date no one has apologized or taken responsibility for such a colossal mistake. City Council members will listen, however, and if enough residents speak up, maybe we don't have to wait until the 4 new council members take office in January.

Here's how you can make an impact: post here if you want, but most importantly, send a detailed email right away to the City Council that avoids nasty attacks but makes clear that someone needs to be responsible for fixing all the glaring problems, and they need to do it now -- not wait until January.

Address for email to Council:

You might want to take a few minutes to check out a more functional city website:
Web Link
(Compare the logical, understandable terms used in the tabs under the header for Mountain View (City Council, Departments, About Us, Community Development, Public Safety, etc) as well as the "easy to find what you are looking for" drop down menus. And how about the box on the upper right, "How may we help you?" What a concept! )

Oops, it really is tempting to add example after example of how the city's new website was a giant step backwards and is irredeemable. But if you want to make a difference, send your comments to the City Council at the address above!

Like this comment
Posted by another easy to navigate one...
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 12, 2007 at 9:14 pm

Web Link

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Posted by Noah
a resident of University South
on Oct 12, 2007 at 9:34 pm

For what it's worth NG, I offered the council my services for free. They did not reply at all. Here is the email I sent on Aug 7:

Dear council members,
I am a Palo Alto resident, a voter of several years, and a software
engineer with 10 years of experience. Speaking as an engineer trained
in many aspects of usability, and with significant experience in web
software, the new website is beyond repair. Even if it can be made
acceptable to a greater segment of citizens, it will take a very long
time. Surely, your IT staff must have a full backup of the previous
site and could reinstate it in a matter of days if not sooner. Please
do so quickly.

The new site breaks all existing links on the web to vital pieces of
information about the city. It breaks search engines, bookmarks, and
other personal links.

The new site makes simple and common tasks difficult and cumbersome.

The new site consists largely of self congratulatory text with
little or no informational value, which is a net-negative as it
prevents citizens from accessing real information.

I am available to consult with the city council if needed (after
work, on my own time), to help find future solutions. For the interim,
I sincerely ask you to consider and implement a speedy reinstatement
of the previous website. I also ask as a taxpayer that you halt all
payments to the web contractor for several obvious reasons.


Like this comment
Posted by a
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 13, 2007 at 5:19 pm

Dear Neighbors,

That sorry excuse of a website cost $240,000.00

If that doesn't enrage you...

Like this comment
Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 13, 2007 at 9:37 pm

Noah, that's big of you. I suggest the city take you up on this offer.

What stuns me (I'm repeating, because this website is the most incredulous piece of municipal wab rtash that I have ever seen, or experienced) is that it ever went live.

If we cannot get our money back for this piece of trash, we have been robbed, period.

Many things happen in organizations that aren't perfect; people make mistakes (me, too) - but *this*?? A website is supposed to go through LEVELS of sign-off. Even if city staff didn;t know that, the contractors should have.

This is an EGREGIOUS failure, and ABSOLUTELY a considerable BREACH of any web contractor's terms-of-service with a client.

If we do not sue, or DEMAND our money back, a full investigation by the Weekly or Daily is in order.


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Posted by Native Girl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 13, 2007 at 10:11 pm

Noah, that WAS really nice.

Periwinkle, I agree too.

We have been ripped off. The company who developed the web site should be revealed. It should be made public since we paid for it.

Maybe they would fix it without further fees to our city to save their reputation.

It is so hard to believe that this has happened in a city that is known to be technologically advanced and home to Steve Jobs, HP, and now Google.

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2007 at 10:40 pm

I don't know what the contract was with the outside firm (you can search this site and find their name - I've seen in on earlier posts), but presumably they built to the specification of and the work was accepted by and approved of by the city staff. They also made the decision to go live with it when they did, with tons of info missing from it. Those are the people who should be held accountable.

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Posted by check this out
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2007 at 10:55 pm

For proof that none of the dozens of detailed comments on all the discussion threads related to the fiasco of the city's website have been understood by the responsible staff, see this information report included in the Council packet for October 1st:

CMR 371:07 (Informational) for the Council Meeting of October 1, 2007
Web Link

By the way, if you use Google to search for "CMR 371:07", it takes .21 seconds and takes you to the reverse chrono listing of all 2007 City Manager's Reports. Scroll down a couple screens to find the various reports for the October 1 meeting (or use "Find on this page") and there it is.
-- Guess what happens if you search for "CMR 371:07" or "UPDATE ON CITY WEBSITE REDESIGN PROJECT" using the search window on the city's web site? It takes painfully long, and the result is "No Matches Found."

If you don't think this report addresses the problems with the city's website, send your comments to the City Council -- they need to hear from the citizens on this.

Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2007 at 11:40 pm

CTO, the most disturbing thing to me is that there isn't any acknowledgement that there is a problem - it is more like there is a good thing and it keeps getting even better. The design, btw, I don't care so much about - I don't like it, but we can survive. But the usability, the horrible search feature, and the apparent lack of info - that makes it not really usable.

Have you sent just links or copies of these threads to the council members, city manager, and the people who signed the memo? I would hate for them to say "I didn't know."

FWIW, my guess is the content will improve (it can only go up); but the search is SO BAD as to be unusable. Delivering results by type vs. relevance or importance - it is like going back to 1997 search engines. If all they did was toss this out and just use Google search the site, it would at least be accessible. Then they just have to add a ton of missing info...

Like this comment
Posted by aboyd
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2007 at 1:30 pm

From Native Girl:
"Perhaps one of the high tech residents in our city could do their civic duty and offer to help them for free."

NG, in addition to Noah offering his services for free, I created a script that cleans up the Web site and makes it more readable. My script fixes it now, without waiting for the city to take action, but it can only fix cosmetic/readability issues. The script is here:

Web Link

Oh, it also fixes some broken links on their site. Anyway, the point is that my script is free, and the city is welcome to take that script and incorporate the fixes. But after reading the PDF someone provided (the one that provides an update on their Web work), I don't think they will. It seems that readability is for the "text only" version of the site.

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Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 14, 2007 at 5:10 pm

They could do one thing that would help a lot, and that is put a link to the old web site on the home page of the new web site. It is not unusual for companies making a transition to a new web site to do that.

It's just stunning how bad a job was done on the new web site and how unbelievably much money they wasted on this. How could anyone with the slightest web experience authorize that amount of money? Really whoever was at the top of the heap of this project should be out on the street.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2007 at 8:59 pm

Thanks aboyd. Your script is a definite improvement. There are two other extremely annoying "features" to the site.

1. The search engine is really, really bad. Presumably the content is within a database somewhere but it would be useful if we could get another search engine to index the database. Know of any deep internet search engines which we could use to provide an alternative search capability?

2. The color choice of lime green titles and white text on a gray background is hard to read and somewhat putrid. Can Grease Monkey automatically change these things or give the user the option to change them?

Like this comment
Posted by Louis
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2007 at 10:01 am

from check this out's web link:
Web Link

"Public launch of the new design for the City’s website was expected to generate a great deal of attention, and it has. Because the design is bold and unique, a text-only version was developed and a reverse-color print version made available prior to go-live. Staff anticipated, especially with such a major change in site design and functionality, that additional work would be required after “going-live.” For example, staff expected to further refine search results through keywords and content placement as visitors began to actually search for information. This technique is working well and helping to enhance search speed and number of results found. "

SPIN! There is simply no acknowledgement of how egregiously PATHETIC this website is. I don't want to let this one go. Who do they think they're kidding with this mealey-mouthed, half-baked excuse for a rip-off by outrageously overpaid web contractors?

This is a PATHETIC piece of work for $240K. It would have been a PATHETIC peice of work for $80K!! This website is AMATEURISH GARBAGE!!

This isn't 1999, when everyone who hcalled herself a web designer was commanding big bucks from ignorant, cash-rich Internet startups that failed in one fell swoop, a year later.

This is 2007, when BASIC useability issues shuold be ASSUMED in ANY release of a public website. There's no way something like this would EVER happen in the private sector - not today - without those responsible getting serious demerits, or outright fired. I don't want to see the latter happen, but hearing the above spin makes me want to see it happen.

There is simply no accountability.

IN case our City Council didn't realize, transparent access to information, in 2007 is made possible by the Internet. This piece of crap website compromises democracy, itself. Think about that.

Saying "we know there is a problem" is PATHETIC! Why don't we have the old site back, until this piece of GARBAGE is fixed?

Or, could it be that the contractor irresponsibly scrapped the old site, or broke it in ways that keep it from being fixed, or cobbled this one so poorly that a seamless transfer of archived information can't be accessed by the current website's structure?

Something is very wrong here, and it's WAY more wrong than anyone is admitting. We should not have to wait for a YEAR while this website "learns" from current web searches, or staff fills in content. how many more $$$ is staff time contributing to this fiasco?

Like this comment
Posted by logical
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2007 at 5:08 pm

In December, Administrative Services Director Carl Yeats retires.

I doubt we'll see any acknowledgment of the website's deficiencies until then.

Like this comment
Posted by paw
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2007 at 3:19 am

I'll bet they give him a big fat raise before he retires - if they didn't already. It's part of the Palo Alto Way.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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