The most taxing of Web sites

In my August 13 column, I announced that I, as Dr. Bob, was now offering a critiquing service. That same day, I read a newspaper article about how the federal government had hired a foreign PR firm to assess the former's Web site targeted to an international audience.

In my August 13 column, I announced that I, as Dr. Bob, was now offering a critiquing service. That same day, I read a newspaper article about how the federal government had hired a foreign PR firm to assess the former’s Web site targeted to an international audience. I immediately figured I was onto something good because it seemed critiquing was a service whose time had come. And when I read that the firm had grabbed $23,000 from the feds for a 50-page report, I figured I was onto something fabulous.

However, as I salivated dreaming of the Government of Canada becoming a client that would make me wealthy within months, I asked myself how anyone could find enough to say about a Web site to fill 50 pages? Then, I visited the site in question, www.canadainternational.gc.ca. Soon, I was wondering how the assessing firm could have kept their critical comments to only 50 pages.

Let’s say you’re a German businessperson or a Japanese tourist going online for information. What’s the first thing you’re going to want to see? How about a map of the country you’re looking to invest in or visit! But apparently it never dawned on the site’s creators that someone from a foreign shore might, early in the investigation process, want to know the geographic differences between Halifax and Hamilton, or Toronto and Tuktoyaktuk, let alone how close Canadian cities are to various points in the U.S.

According to the newspaper article, the critiquing firm found no map of Canada on the site. Now, I’m wondering how thoroughly they surfed it, because I eventually stumbled across links to maps. But what the government calls their ‘political’ map is cut off, so it appears our international border is barely south of Saskatoon. (There is a scroll bar probably designed to let you scroll south. But it doesn’t work.) Of course, that means part of New Brunswick and all of Nova Scotia are too far south to make it onto the map. The good news is that P.E.I. is there for all to see. The bad news is that ‘Prince Edward Island’ and ‘Charlottetown’ are in the same size and style of type, undoubtedly leaving some site visitors to conclude that both of them are cities or counties or provinces or something.

With no one in Ottawa paying me $23, let alone $23,000, to waste my time on this huge and confusing site, I’ve only visited a fraction of it. Even so, I encountered countless problem areas besides what I’ve already mentioned. Here are just a few more…

There’s an Arts & Culture section with a Major Games & Sports Events subsection. It makes no mention of the Grey Cup, Stanley Cup or any championships to do with such popular sports as curling or even our national sport, lacrosse. The Calgary Stampede? Nope. Ottawa figures no one beyond our borders would be interested in one of the largest rodeo-entertainment events in the world.

The section entitled Travel In Canada features 38 links to detailed information about travel in our country. No one thought it might be helpful to put the list in alphabetical order.

There’s an area for kids that features a home button. Midway into the area, I clicked to go Home but didn’t end up on the kids’ home page or that of the main site; instead, I was transported to the prime minister’s home page.

I tried the Search window for pages that I had already visited. Not once did it succeed in locating what I had asked for.

You can send a postcard featuring a visual from any of our provinces and territories…except Yukon. And after writing your message in the ‘e-mail greeting’ section, you’re asked to write something for the ‘message’ section. Don’t ask me what the difference is. And don’t ask me to mention any of the other shortcomings I encountered; it’s too painful both personally and professionally to recount them.

As someone who’s helped pay for the feds’ cyber-atrocity, I’d really like to know how much of my money and yours they squandered in producing it. Are the people responsible for it currently (we can only hope) collecting E.I.? I’d also like to know who in Ottawa was smart enough to call in a consultant to confirm that Canadians are the unfortunate owners of a Web site that should never have left its creators’ keyboard. But who decided to pay a foreign firm $23,000 when any Canadian one could have done the job for a fraction of that? (Dr. Bob would have required less than 10 words in his prescription: ‘This site sucks bigtime. Delete it and start over.’).

Former American president Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read ‘The Buck Stops Here.’ Having been introduced to the expensive-to-produce/costly-to-critique www.canadainternational.gc.ca, I wonder if our prime minister has one that reads ‘The Bucks Start Here.’

Bob Knight creates direct marketing, integrated and e-campaigns, including Web sites. His assessing alter-ego, Dr. Bob, critiques those created by others. He/they can be reached at b_knight@telus.net.