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.

Posted on June 23, 2007, in accessibility, environment, politics, rants, uk, web. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for comment.

  2. Just had a go at this one, since you’ve drawn my attention to it.

    I found it worked ok on Firefox with all the graphics etc enabled, but it was a bit slow. Yes it has been designed for entertainment but, if it draws people’s attention to the issues, then I suppose that’s a valid approach.

    I tried the HTML version too, and that worked ok for me (also on Firefox) and was faster and preferable to the graphics-orientated version. I agree that the text is not all that easy to read. To my non-technical mind they should try using a black font, not light blue, for starters.

    As far as the calculations themselves are concerned, you’ve spotted the obvious flaw, namely the double counting of domestic fuel usage and appliance fuel usage. After all, most domestic appliances are powered by electricity, and we’ve counted that already!

    Another obvious flaw is that the site appears to omit public transport commuting, even though this is probably the dominant method for many people in the London commuter belt. Rail and bus are a lot greener than car commuting, but still have emissions impacts. Thus the site would appear to favour those in the home counties by ignoring their public transport commuting habits, whilst penalising us hicks-in-the-sticks where the car is sometimes the only realistic mode! Admittedly there are general questions about public transport usage, but no detailed mileage calculations, which suggests that the impacts of these journeys are not calculated as rigorously as car journeys (if at all).

    This is a trial version of the calculator, so hopefully feedback will inform later developments. I’ve given them mine, as set out above.

    Finally, I note they are using some form of unspecified open source software to drive the thing, which is a good start given the government’s fixation with all things that emerge from Redmond!

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