Old Trucks and Websites

Thoughts on how to bring small government websites into the mobile era

When I used to work for city government, I was assigned a city truck. To say the truck was old was an understatement. It rattled and shook like a bad shopping cart. It only drove the speed limit while going downhill. The seats were torn and the cab smelled of damp towels and menthols. At least the air-conditioner worked (in the Texas heat, no doubt).

One morning, my coworkers and I met up to drive a city vehicle to a conference. Our boss was running late, and told us to leave without him. We all piled into his work truck and went on our way. He was a big boy, and could fend for himself.

An hour and a half later, we’re waiting at the conference, wondering where our boss was. He shouldn’t be this late, we thought. Finally, our boss pulled up in my old truck, spewing obscenities. He recounted the journey out of town in my work truck, sparing no curse word when describing the ride. He honestly didn’t know if the truck could climb some of the steeper hills. Later that day, ee told me how bad he felt about me driving that thing.

Within two weeks, I had a newer-ish ride.

Now let’s fast forward to today. I read the Spatial Tau newsletter provided by the talented James Fee. I usually get a good chuckle reading his take on our industry, but this newsletter made me think too hard. In fact, it set off a firestorm of neural activity in my brain that occupied my thoughts all evening. After reading the first point, I was so distracted, I couldn’t tell you what the other points were.

One of James’s points in the newsletter lamented about how many government websites are behind the times, and don’t use of responsive design. As a current web app developer contracted by goverments, I share his frustration. When I visit a website that hasn’t had its DotNetNuke skin updated in over 10 years, or worse, was built with Microsoft FrontPage, I want to just reach in and…

meme: Responsive All The Websites!I know it’s not that easy. Websites take time, money, and lots of agreements cobble them together at the government level. That’s worth at least another blog post.

I told you the first story to tell you this. One reason why smaller government websites aren’t as up-to-date could be because the key decision-makers aren’t feeling our pain. Those decision-makers could be viewing their local website on a Windows XP machine, using a moderately patched version of Internet Explorer 7. They use their smartphones for fun things, not necessarily for work.

We need to share with the our elected officials the struggles we face accessing government public information on the Internet. With more and more internet traffic coming through mobile devices, more people will get frustrated. Some bigger cities and counties are starting to move forward, but we need more.

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