The first article told us about the ramifications of the High-Speed Rail Authority changing its website including breaking of thousands of current links in a myriad of state government agency documents, websites and articles as well as risking legal repercussions because of court documents with old website links. Article one: usedview.com/article/rail-program-s-new-website-could-cause-legal-pr…
This article is a deeper look at the differences in attempting to find the exact same documents on the new site vs. the old site. The old site: www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov. The new site: www.hsr.ca.gov. The old site is scheduled to going away May 28th so hurry if you want to do your own analysis. No doubt some searches will work better than others but the examples provided below are active searches for materials needed for reporting and articles and were not great examples of the “efficiency and transparency” the rail authority promised.
Navigation is not always efficient
One of the promised features of this website is that it would take fewer clicks to get to the content. Let’s try looking for that infamous addendum to the Design/Build bidders’ package: Addendum 4 change log. This is in regard to research about the bidding formula debacle.
On the old site, this is a two-step process: Click on ‘Construction’ in the main navigation panel on the top of the page, then scroll (a lot) down to the last link under RFP Addendum No. 4, labeled Addendum No. 4 Change Log. Click, and you’re in.
On the new site, this is a five-step process: hover over ‘Programs’ in the main navigation panel and sweep over to ‘Construction of High-Speed Rail.’ On the right menu, select ‘RFP HSR11-16: Design-Build Contract for Construction.’ Now scroll down and select ‘ADDENDUM NUMBER FOUR: RFP HSR11-16.’ Now select ‘Addendum Number Four Change Log” and then select CP01 Addendum No. 4 Change Log. If you’ve made it this far, you’re home.
New Website –search not user friendly
An alternative to navigating is to use the site’s search button. Oddly enough, the web designer has made the website “challenging” to search. In an email to the HSRA’s Communications Director, Rita Wespi of CARRD (Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design) wrote that “some content seems to be missing, and other items are simply hard to locate. However, the overarching problem is that the new design is not searchable.”
For example, Wespi described the results of searching for “rail” on the old and new websites. The old site produced 4400 hits, while the new site produced only 460. “Either all the content is NOT moved over, or the new website design is not conducive to searching,” she wrote.
Another problem she encountered is that links don’t necessarily lead to the document as described. One example she gave was a search result, which described a meeting agenda item in some level of detail. The link led to a general page title “2011 Board Meetings.” with nothing more than a list of months. Presumably the link was to one of the files hidden behind one of the months, but where do you begin?
The result was the link gets you in the neighborhood of the document, but not to the actual document. Links should not work like a game of horse shoes or darts, that is getting you near the bull’s eye but not actually hitting the target. With todays technology a bull’s eye is possible and what you’re after.
Another example is a search for “Stipend Agreement.” FYI this is the agreement that losers to the bid on Construction Package #1 must sign in order to get $2 million dollars for their proposal work. The new site gives you one hit and not a direct hit, after 5 minutes, I gave up finding it. If you go to the old site it gives you 18 hits and on the second page of the inquiry, choice 11, brings you to Package #1 and then it’s up to you to find the stipend agreement in the 150 pages.
After going through a public records request (PRR) and after waiting a week (a perfectly reasonable response time for a PRR) the HSR Rail Attorney sent me the link and a very helpful path to find it. It was on page 71. How many people will do this? We don’t know how long the actual response will be from the promised technical assistance the rail authority said it will offer the public if they can’t find a document but time will tell.
Unless all the data has not migrated over to the new site, the first impressions of the new, improved and more transparent website does not hit the mark. Plus, the very change at this time could land the Authority in legal hot water.