I’m not one to kiss and tell when it comes to clients’ or potential clients’
flubs in our dealings, but when my government is shirking its responsibilities
or misappropriating tax dollars …well, that’s different. I believe it’s
important to shine a light on federal irresponsibility.
To be fair, the individual I dealt with in working to define and set
up the program I was to deliver was, indeed, nice. He was enthusiastic
and seemed genuinely interested in doing something worthwhile. The Federal
Reserve’s Web developers group, on the other hand, was apparently
uninterested in doing or learning anything worthwhile. And they certainly
didn’t want their backward ideals or their irresponsible and
unprofessional work and practices examined. But what makes this situation
so laughable is that an examination of their efforts and methods is
exactly what they were asking for.
Careful what you wish for
The presentation that the Federal Reserve requested was to have their
primary educational site dissected, evaluated, and then re–imagined
in a more intelligent, responsible, and effective form. Their initial
idea was to concentrate on how emerging social technologies, “like
[those used in] YouTube, Flickr,
etc.,” could be utilized to improve their efforts to serve
I decided that while it’s fun to consider installing an elevator in an outhouse, it’s not such a good idea when what the outhouse needs is a door for privacy and a roll of toilet paper. You know, so that everyone can actually use it.
So I had a look at the site and its multiple components. What I found
was a site that was almost wholly inaccessible, completely unusable and
without any alternative way to access content. Additionally, the markup
is the worst sort of kludge one finds with websites developed a decade
or more ago. Apparently, the Fed chooses not to comply with federal
regulations. I believed it important that the Fed address these shortcomings.
After some digging, and some digestion of the information and the aims
of the Fed, I suggested that the first thing to do would be to create
a sound, accessible, and usable foundation for this vital informational
instrument. I suggested that the presentation could first deal with those
issues and then touch on some uses of the social technologies they were
primarily interested in learning about. This apparently made sense to
my contact, who then took these suggestions to his people. The response
was something very close to, “No, they’re not interested
in any of that stuff. They just want to hear about how social technologies
like those used with del.icio.us and Facebook can be implemented into
After some reflection, I arrived at the conclusion that it would be somewhat
irresponsible of me to help the Federal Reserve Web developers group ignore
their primary responsibility. Playing with cool Web 2.0 tools would sure
be fun, but it would be a distraction from what they really need to do:
their job. I decided that while it’s fun to consider installing an elevator
in an outhouse, it’s not such a good idea when what the outhouse needs
is a door for privacy and a roll of toilet paper. You know, so that everyone
can actually use it.
I’m left with one conclusion: The Fed employs unprofessional, irresponsible
people to produce its online education mechanisms. Whether or not I’m
correct in this assumption, I believe that neither I nor anyone else has
any business helping them to perpetuate their poor practice. Part of my
purpose here is to reveal their misguided practices and irresponsibility.
Another part of my purpose here is to, hopefully, bring some pressure
to bear upon them to refocus and reevaluate their work. One can hope.
One of the really sad things in all of this is that their site could
easily be redeveloped in a proper and professional manner (initially without
the social toys) for something quite close to the fee they were offering
to have me speak. It would be a quick and relatively inexpensive job,
but they’ll apparently not even consider learning about that.
I expect more from my government and I expect more from those who have
truly important information to share; and I told them as much in my letter
declining their offer. The Fed is failing many Americans. They should
fix their house and their approach to serving up information before they
play with embellishments. I hope someone there gets the message one day.