Saturday, November 11, 2006

The abysmal architecture of and election results

Ever since then-Governor Engler outsourced to an IBM datacenter running Vignette in Colorado, I've thought that our great state's Web presence was pressed into a misshapen cookie cutter.

Last Tuesday I tried to find out when the polls closed in Michigan. Fox News offered a vote tracking tool that claimed that the latest poll closing in Michigan was 9 pm. As a long time Michigan citizen, I was sure it was 8 pm.

So I went to to learn the scoop. There I found oodles of links including a nice way to look up myself (or anyone else for that matter) to see where I was registered to vote.

What I couldn't find was a simple answer to a very basic question: when do the polls close?

I challenged some friends on Ed Vielmetti's "Vacuum" list to tell me where the Michigan Secretary of State site reveals when the polls close. One old Michigan friend, Jeff Stuit, cheated a bit based on past experience and revealed that the answer was to be found in a PDF guide for poll workers. Ed, who thinks about such things a lot -- e.g. how late is the library open -- remarked that the most basic thing a storefront must tell its customers is its working hours.

This demonstrates yet again the hubris of the Webmaster. She or he publishes what the boss wants to say, and doesn't think about what customers need. She or he doesn't ask a sample of customers what they seek; let's just assume what we need to publish. Surely out of the millions of people seeking to vote last Tuesday, many thousands had a simple question to ask of state government: How late can I vote? Not many would-be voters would think to click on a link for poll workers -- especially not an Acrobat file.

Lou Rosenfeld and I are writing a book on search log analysis. Our mantra is that every Web site should include a search function, and every competent Webmaster (or searchmeister) should analyze search logs to determine what customers seek the most.

Having found it ridiculously hard to even find the phone book for state workers, my guess is that no one at the Secretary of State in particular, nor the Michigan state government in general, is doing search log analysis.

By the way, I concluded that the western part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula -- we call it the UP -- is in the Central time zone, and that their polls follow state law and close at 8:00 pm -- thus 9 pm Eastern. And Fox News, for once, was right.

Also by the way: Saturday, days after the cataclysmic 2006 election, offers a helpful link to election results. The only problem? It's the results from the 2004 election.