healthcare.gov: A “crash” course for this week’s readings

"The system is down at the moment," from healthcare.gov. is not the sort of message digitallandfill is hoping to inspire in its "5 new rules of customer engagement" post.  Read the entire post at http://www.digitallandfill.org/2013/09/5-new-rules-of-customer-engagement-gd13.html

“The system is down at the moment,” from healthcare.gov. is not the sort of message digitallandfill is hoping to inspire in its “5 new rules of customer engagement” post.
Read the entire post at http://www.digitallandfill.org/2013/09/5-new-rules-of-customer-engagement-gd13.html

I would rather avoid a discussion of health care policy and politics, and I don’t plan to address those for the most part, but this week’s reading and the healthcare.gov. “hubbub” seem too convergent to ignore.Michael Salvo and Paula Rosinski remind us that “As soon as a design is out of the author’s hand and launched into the world, we see how effective that design can be in use … We make our information spaces, and then these spaces make us and impact our communication―always returning to the human genesis of the space, yet not always under the immediate control of the users (or designers) of that information space”  (In “Information Design”).

As Moore put it in “A Sea Change in Enterprise IT, “organizations are facing an avalanche of information” as they change from systems of record to systems of engagement and “Best practices in this new world are scarce.”

Well, they seem to be scarce this month for sure.

"We have a lot of visitors on this site right now.  Please stay on this page." From slate.com http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/bitwise/2013/10/problems_with_healthcare_gov_cronyism_bad_management_and_too_many_cooks.html

“We have a lot of visitors on this site right now.
Please stay on this page.”
From slate.com
http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/bitwise/2013/10/problems_with_healthcare_gov_cronyism_bad_management_and_too_many_cooks.html

What went wrong with Healthcare.gov?

But, back in the spring and over the summer, experts involved in the development and elsewhere were talking about the potential of the Website in much the celebratory tone of Qualman in Socialnomics, without some of the cautionary tones of Moore’s white paper.  Both are very clear about the speed of change, but Moore’s quotes from a number of CIOs in 2011 (“We are grappling with this”; “Nobody has figured this out”; and “whether we want it or not, it is coming in”) suggests more trepidation and is somewhat predictive of healthcare.gov.

As I’ve confessed and lamented often, I’m not terribly tech savvy, but from what I can gather, there were some missteps in creating the “information architecture” that characterizes the site. What the developers and designers were celebrating back in the spring was that the site would have a content management system-free philosophy that would make for a “completely static website,” using Jekyll and Github, which was supposed to result in an “incredibly fast and reliable website,” according to an April 10 post at the HHS.gov blog site by David Cole, one of the designers from Development Seed, one of the websites designers.

According to Brian Sivik, Chief Technology Officer at HHS who was quoted in an article in The Atlantic Monthly, its use of social coding is built in a way that’s “open, transparent and enables updates. This is better than a big block of proprietary code locked up in a CMS [content management system].” I mean, the very title of the Atlantic Monthly article is celebrating democracy: “Healthcare.gov: Code Developed by the People and for the People, Released Back to the People.” (See the full article at http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/06/healthcaregov-code-developed-by-the-people-and-for-the-people-released-back-to-the-people/277295/)

So, as I read through any number of articles trying to figure out “what went wrong?” I tried to keep my focus on the role of technical communicators, rather than policy makers, politicians, self-interested CEO’s and CIO’s, software developers, and code writers, but then I started thinking that my thinking is antithetical almost everything I’ve been reading in my classes for the MSTPC program: “We are not merely writers anymore.  Now we are editors, information architects, project managers, client liaisons, and more” (135) as Hart-Davidson reminds us this week in “Content Management.”  So, there are probably many technical communicators caught in this morass or, alternately, learning opportunity, depending how you view it the current problems at healthcare.gov.

John Pavley at the Huffington Post does see it as an opportunity for the “bi-directional” experience Moore, Qualman, and others have described. “If they want to live up to their initial promise and completely open-source the code on GitHub.com, I’d bet thousands of developers would volunteer to fix all of their bugs for them. That’s the power of open source and open government: Other people are invested in fixing your problems for you!” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-pavley/obamacare-website-problems_b_4057618.html)

Content Management Meet Up in Milwaukee

The Content Management System Meetup in Milwaukee began with  "Let's get ready to rumble!" Image from http://anything-digital.com/blog/events/what-cms-is-best-cms-showdown-results-after-milwaukee-meetup.html

The Content Management System Meetup in Milwaukee began with
“Let’s get ready to rumble!”
Image from http://anything-digital.com/blog/events/what-cms-is-best-cms-showdown-results-after-milwaukee-meetup.html

So, all that reading about the CMS-free healthcare.gov experience got me curious about what are considered “good” content management systems, so I tried to root out some reliable information and came across this CMS “Showdown” in Milwaukee in May.  It’s not an “academic” source, but I found it enlightening in that it shows how such providers think it’s important to talk about CMS. The showdown was between 6 CMS providers: Sitecore, ModX, WordPress, Drupal, Concrete5, and Joomla.

The Fight Club meetup metaphor was funny but not really typical of the communication, according to the write up by Jessica Dunbar at anythingdigital.com (May 14).  It seemed to me to be pretty communal, in a sense, with quick pitches for each product (3-5 minutes), perhaps a little tag line or branding (ModX – “Creative freedom”; “We like to say that WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time”; “Come for the software, stay for the community” [at Drupal]).

This was the only visual aid used at the CMS Milwaukee Meetup, which I found odd for a bunch of "information architects" who should be visual thinkers.   The article from allthingsdigital.com also includes a YouTube video for the Drupal Song.  I'm thinking those guys might want to keep their day jobs.

This was the only visual aid used at the CMS Milwaukee Meetup, which I found odd for a bunch of “information architects” who should be visual thinkers.
The article from allthingsdigital.com also includes a YouTube video for the Drupal Song. I’m thinking those guys might want to keep their day jobs.

A representative for Joomla declared, “Joomla! is a extremely customizable and adaptable for Enterprise, SMBs, NPOs and beyond.”  Joomla was the only representative to bring a comparison chart, so perhaps that’s why it won. At the same time the writer of the article declared himself the only judge, so maybe that’s why it won.

The good news for me?  I’m actually starting to understand what some of this means….

Posted on October 27, 2013, in Social Media, Society, Trust, Workplace and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. evelynmartens13

    Yes, enjoyed! They’re up to 3 “likes” lol!

    • LOL I know! Couldn’t believe how perfectly it matched your post! Excellent work on applying theory to a timely event!

  2. I bet you’re right that there are technical communicators caught up in the disaster/learning opportunity that is the mess with the healthcare.gov website. It seems that what was ultimately developed is a far cry from what the developers initially planned.

    I wonder if perhaps some of the problem stems from poor communication among developers, quality assurance, etc. If so, I wonder if technical communicators could have better facilitated the required communication. I don’t know about you, but I often find myself having to facilitate communication among developers, quality assurance, management, and others at work. Perhaps this is also one of the new roles of technical communicators?

    • Good points here about the need for better communication. I’ve often compared tech writers to translators and that certainly applies here!

  3. I have to say that I’m not really well informed on everything with the healthcare.gov site. I think it’s a perfect example of “you have to get it right the first time”. I haven’t had much time for current events but I’ve heard that people that have tried to use the site have had a hard time. Now everyone thinks the site is awful and useless. It really proves the point that if you don’t get it right the first time, people make an opinion and judge in a negative way.

  4. Here’s another entertaining video, this time comparing the time it takes to sign up on the glitchy healthcare.gov site with private insurance companies:

  5. You provided a great summary of the problem, which I’ll admit, I was pretty ignorant of. I heard buzz that there were problems, but I chose not to look into it. Usability testing, both for stability and also for general usage are such basic ideas, and yet sites still launch with major problems or poor and unintuitive design. It amazes me that it still happens to this extent. healthcare.gov really was an example of needing to nail it, or at least not outright fail. It wasn’t able to do that, and now it will have to try to live down a very bad reputation.

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