Daily Archives: June 23, 2007

Web sites that suck: UK Gov carbon calculator

I just tried the UK govt’s “carbon calculator” (as reported here). In brief, it’s horribly broken, at the taxpayer’s expense. So I found the feedback link to email them a little rant.

I have three comments on this site. First, about the calculation itself, and secondly about the presentation.

The calculation makes no sense to me. First, it asks questions about the house, including energy bills, and tells me:

Your CO2 Result for your home is 0.42 tonnes per year.

It then proceeds to ask about appliances, and tells me:

Your CO2 Result for your appliances is 0.82 tonnes per year.

(Minor comment at this point: it completely excludes the effects of my shopping or working habits).

Now, my usage of all those appliances is *included* in the electricity bills, which were *already* part of the first calculation. Since the appliances in question are clearly domestic (e.g. fridge, cooker, telly, computers), it makes no sense at all to separate them from the total gas and electricity consumption figures.

This leads to my second point: your “FAQ” is hard to read. Firstly, it lacks an index or quick overview. Secondly, its author has failed utterly to grasp the basic principles of HTML markup, and consequently has produced text that is a strain to read – at least for my middle-aged eyes (though I expect it looks good on the author’s own PC).

In support of the above assertion, and before moving to my third point, I should perhaps briefly present my credentials to criticise the site at a technical level. I am widely acknowledged as an expert in a range of web technologies. I am a published author, developer of the “Site Valet” suite of QA and Accessibility evaluation tools, and for several years served as Invited Expert with the Worldwide Web Consortium in their Quality Assurance and Accessibility activities.

Having thus introduced myself, let me introduce the first principle of developing a website: follow the basic standards!

Analogy: If the electrician who wired my house had installed a system that would work with a Hoover but not with an Electrolux appliance, I would be rightly aggrieved. But of course, the electrician follows basic interoperability standards, so there’s no question of that kind of incompatibility.

Developing a website is exactly the same. But your calculator fails so badly as to make it completely unusable in at least two of my browsers, including my first choice (Konqueror; also known as Safari in Apple’s own-badge packaging). Even in Firefox it is extremely rude, messing about with my browser window.

This level of brokenness does not happen merely due to time and budgetary limitations. It takes an order of magnitude more effort to mess it up so badly than to produce a simple, working site (the calculator itself is very simple). Furthermore, there is a *separate* flash 8 version for those who might prefer to treat it as entertainment. The so-called HTML version I used is supposedly the simple fallback.

In brief, please get a competent web developer for a day, and stop pouring taxpayers money into some entertainment-industry wannabe’s self-indulgence.

A new-look government?

Gordon Brown is preparing a new government, for when he officially gets the top job in a few days time. And we hear he’s discussed offering government jobs to members of the libdems, but they’ve turned him down. Noone seems quite sure who suffers or benefits from this.

Looking up from an unedifying narrow view of the parties, what would be good for the country? Here the answer looks much clearer: if Brown can move away from the traditional notion of a government entirely from within one party, we stand to benefit. But he needs to be transparent and honest about it: giving power to “special advisors” through the back door has a bad press that’s not about to go away (even if it’s really just a modern variant of “Sir Humphrey” of the 1980s and earlier).

If Brown can appoint ministers from outside his own party, I for one will be well pleased. They won’t be libdems (at least in the short term), but they could still be Tories, other parties, or (probably best) no party. As is indeed fairly widespread practice in many other countries. Not only will he move away from traditional tribalism; he’ll also set a good precedent for future governments. It’s a natural followup to the ending of the class war that gave rise to the original Labour party.

And it’s a precedent I strongly suspect David Cameron will be happy to follow, if and when he gets the top job.

Next: do away with this absurd system where so much power vests in any one person. Regardless of who it is, or what party they lead. That includes leaders of opposition parties, too.