I’ve been hearing a lot recently about how the party are using the web and e-campaigning to motivate the grassroots, so when I got an email today about how I could help in the local council by-election, I was interested to see what could be done. Clicking on a link about our exciting ‘eCanvass’ software, I get taken to a secure website.
After logging in, I see that the software is effectively a simple point-and-click thing, much like I used to use when I worked in call centres, which makes sense as it’s just asking you to call people listed in a database and then add their details into the same database.
The problem is, as can be seen from this page , that it’s clearly written in some Microsoft-only platform – my guess from the look of it is Visual Basic.Net .
Now, given that there is a large overlap between Liberal Democrats and users of non-Windows platforms (my rough guess from the Lib Dems I know is that only about 60% of them use Windows, with about 30% using Macs and 10% using GNU/Linux , but that’s obviously completely unscientific), this makes very little sense – it stops a significant proportion of the activist base from using the program at all (and even if the numbers are as little as a quarter of what I’ve stated, that’s still 10% of the party members who can’t use it – a significant number).
This would be OK if it were doing anything difficult that required platform-specific code, but I could knock something like this up in ten minutes (well, maybe not, but an insignificant amount of time anyway – a few days work at most including testing) in Java, and it could also be done in Python or Perl/Tk or any other cross-platform language (Java would be easiest as most people have Java on their computer anyway and there’d be no need for multiple binaries to be compiled or anything like that). All it is is a GUI interface to a networked database. In fact it could even be done – and this would be the obvious way to do it – as a web-based thing, with no need for anyone to download any executable code to their machine at all.
I tried to contact the team about this using this contact page . However, stupidly, I tried doing this in Epiphany, my browser of choice, and of course these people don’t know anything about writing standards-compliant web pages either. As a result, there’s a form with a ‘Human originator test’ field, but no indication of what’s meant to go in this field. The next field has “Your Name” before it and “Your email address” after, while the next field is completely blank (I’m assuming that this is actually the email address field).
So I fill in the form but, of course, I can’t fill in the ‘human originator test’ because there’s no indication anywhere on the page of what’s meant to go in there (there might well be if viewed on Internet Explorer, but of course I don’t have internet explorer) so the page refuses to send my query because it looks automated. This is, of course, even though I have earlier signed into the webpage with my name, postcode and party membership number, to look at the FAQs. (There are no FAQs – unsurprising if nobody is actually able to A the Qs in the first place…)
Also, when it tells me this, it reloads the page and shows my message in the text field where I typed – except my message is full of escape characters every time I use an apostrophe…
(ETA I later tried using IceWeasel (the version of Firefox that comes with my distro) to send the same message. The page still rendered as badly, but this time the message actually went through, even though I still had no idea what, if anything, was meant to go into the ‘human originator test’)
On top of that, the website just *looks* unprofessional, with badly-written CSS meaning that bars of colour go approximately half-way across the page before giving up.
The whole thing looks like the kind of thing I used to do with my band’s angelfire site back in the late 90s, and frankly wouldn’t have been up to scratch even then. If this is the best the party can do with using new technology then gawdelpus. I wouldn’t normally air this kind of thing publicly, but given that I have absolutely no way of contacting anyone who can do anything about it other than shouting loudly enough in public that someone might pay attention, there’s not much else I can do…
(For those of you wanting my review of Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D 2, you’ll have to wait til tomorrow. The interminable comment thread to my last post, while it has some very interesting stuff in it, has taken up all the thinking-and-writing-about-Grant-Morrison-comics part of my brain for the last few days. That and a BFAW will be up tomorrow.)