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Net Failure – The ARRL Modernizes right back to 1985… 13 - July - 2010

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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Working with the Internet, in all of its forms, to communicate well with a Public, a Membership and as a Reference Site certainly cannot be an easy task for any organization. Just the distraction of working through the amount of potential options for every aspect of a web presence can bring many groups to a grinding halt.

Importantly it is very easy to loose sight that in terms of web presence “Change is Just Change, and All Change Doesn’t Imply Improvement.”

The ARRL certainly has been changing its web presence, and unfortunately rather than creating a look-forward awesome web presence has in many ways gone backwards, in some cases 20 years or so…..

It is as if emotional and economic over-investment has clouded any web presence decisions.

As it is widely held that any web-transaction system needs to be simple, secure, robust, portable and user friendly there are a whole raft of lessons simply being ignored concerning the klutz ARRL Logbook of the World (LOTW) QSL database system. I’ve written about this clumsy system several times, most recently as part of my decision to drop participation in LOTW as having almost no benefit for me in comparison to the technical pain of dealing with an obsolete software model. LINK Simple Thoughts on a Complex Mess – LoTW, Run or Drop?

The “redesigned” commercialized ARRL website may feature some “gee-wiz” scripting, but is dull in both design and content. Now heavily advertisement ladened this website has dropped from my daily “look-see” bookmark list as I have found it preferable (and ad free) to only monitor the RSS feed. LINK Are we a League or a Internet Vendor?

The commercialization in both implemented web design (how can it be less costly to job out the website than do it with ARRL HQ staff, specially considering the less than subtle loss of control of a contracted-out web presence?) and in the large amount of space dedicated to Internet Selling (internal ARRL ads and Paid Vendor ads) has greatly diminished my interest as an ARRL Life Member in the organization’s website.

The sell-out decision  “to tart up” & “to add paid vendor ads” has been forced down our throats with the various ARRL email newsletters “going commercial.” Maybe Newington doesn’t understand the difference between communications and Spam? I’ve found that I have gone from a nearly 100% read of the former newsletter designs to almost never looking at these new noisy, vendor ad ladened versions.

Further web efforts into offering “exclusive” and “additional” ARRL content to those members willing to participate in the third-party social networking & noisemaking systems Facebook & Twitter, with the implication that the only way for a ARRL Member to get this addition exclusive content is to use these third party websites, shows how completely out of touch the Newington web presence effort is.

There is arguments enough on other Amateur Radio blogs and forums about whether Facebook & Twitter are “evil” and “trivial” that I will only offer than there is a much more serious issue the ARRL hasn’t gotten – that these are THIRD PARTY web sites that the ARRL has no control over, and most importantly that a significant number of ARRL Members DO NOT PARTICIPATE IN.

The simple fact is the ARRL has promised a superior information flow not from its own web presence, but only through third party conduits – they are “gypping” members who do not want, or cannot for technical reasons participate in these third party information conduits, while missing the important part that they are further driving “hits” away from the ARRL website (why look at that dog, when you can get it elsewhere) which will even drive down the advertising revenue for their commercialization through Paid Vendor ads.

In many ways the ARRL appears to be heading backwards – from a bright vibrant website that filled a page to a dull clumsy commercialized website – from newsletters than set the standard for amateur radio CONTENT to advertising glossy unreadable spam-letters – from a consolidated “best content is on the ARRL website” focus to a purposeful “don’t look here, but rather look at Facebook to get anything special” drive away from the main ARRL website – from a mainly ad-light or even ad-free web presence to a ad-ladened catalogue with some content – and of course head in the sand with a LOTW system that is a dinosaur for so many of us.

Maybe the membership needs to have a chat with Newington about the concept of “Signal to Noise” in web presence?

As usual “your mileage may vary” and I would like to point out that my web presence is no masterpiece, but I’m not charging you the reader a membership and haven’t promised anything for a goal on this web project to anyone other than a promise to self “to do my best.”

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Comments»

1. Martin Ewing, AA6E - 13 - July - 2010

Steve, thanks for your trenchant analysis, as always.

As someone who had minor editorial input (as a Lab volunteer) to the new website, I understand and feel some of the frustration I’ve heard from the “user community”. On the other hand, as you point out, I’ve seen that it’s been a tough project for ARRL. It was a fair decision to use an outside vendor, because there wasn’t the competence and manpower in house, as they saw it. As a web DIY-er myself, I might have chosen differently, but I might have screwed up, too!

It is hard for the League, steeped in ~100 years of print publishing, and with a sometimes Byzantine structure and decision-making process, to make the transition to the new reality, despite a high level of dedication. But where is there a comparable organization that has done much better?

Personally, I hope ARRL can seed some pilot projects (not another big revamp) that will promote modern web community building. I like the Wiki model, and some kind of open (but edited?) web publishing with quick (but moderated?) comments. An on-line extension of QST and/or QEX, possibly.

These things take manpower, vision, and expertise. HQ does, I think, realize that many of these resources lie outside Newington in the form of volunteers. It’s a challenge to find ways to bring it all together under a League banner.

As to your point about excluding those who can’t access YouTube, Twitter, et al. What web technologies would you support on an ideal site? I agree there is a problem for those hams who still only have slow dial-up access. Big graphics and flash content are pretty hostile to them! Maybe we need a low-graphics if not a mobile access option. On the other hand, we need to know the demographics and not spend inordinate resources supporting a small user group.

Life is not simple.

2. Brent Robertson - 14 - July - 2010

Steve,

Thank you for your thoughts on the site. There are many topics you address, and some I can’t speak to, but some I can.

First, the advertising on the site has always been there, however the new site makes room for some bigger ads. I think there is a balance to be struck between serving the retailers and serving the members. Commentary from members regarding the amount/size of advertisements is shared by many. The decisions on the priority of advertising is not mine to make, so share your thoughts with ARRL and moving forward maybe a better balance can be struck.

Second. The new site, in no way requires the use of twitter, facebook or any other social media channel to have access to exclusive content. The content of the site, if you are a member, is accessible to all directly through the site. However, if you are involved in Social Media, which 500 Million (3rd largest country if it were a county) are on FaceBook alone, there are a lot of independent communities and conversations happening that people should be aware of. Ignoring these audiences is only going to hurt the Ham Radio community by not being open to where the next generation of members spend their time.

The new site represents so many things for the organization, first of which is a new, very flexible platform that can adapt to change. I look forward to more thoughtful conversations such as this one, and where this platform will take the organization in the future.

73, KB1PYY
Brent Robertson

3. k9zw - 14 - July - 2010

Gents – thank you both for your comments – much appreciated!

Martin AA6E – you’re on my list to buy a Beer or a Coffee if we ever get an Eye-Ball QSO – love your use of words (I hope I don’t come over as the “nasty” sort of “trenchant analyst!!”)

It is an honor to have Brent KB1PYY respond, as Brent is President of Fathom, the web design firm that designed the new ARRL site.

More on the topic in a few weeks,

73

Steve
K9ZW

4. Bob K0NR - 18 - July - 2010

Steve,
I agree with most of your observations about the new ARRL web site. My personal experience with the site is wondering how much of it is still broken, versus it was intended to work that way. I am trying to be patient.

On Facebook and Twitter, I think mostly people have their undies bunched up over nothing.

The one issue I will take up with you is advertising on the web. The ARRL is both a member organization and a publisher. Much of the revenue comes from dead trees publishing. If the ARRL loses that revenue stream over time, it is a big revenue hole. All of the dead trees media have struggled with how to deal with this change. So far, it seems that the advertising model is one of the few models that works. I’d be more worried if the ARRL didn’t have ads on its web site.

73, Bob K0NR

5. Richard Friedman AG6RF - 29 - July - 2010

When I first took a look at LoTW I couldn’t believe it.

I’ve been involved with computers since 1962, years before the internet. And one takeaway from all those years is that a good measure of a programmer’s personality can be gleaned by the complexity (or simplicity/beauty) of the code they write.

Same is true of websites as a measure of the internal structure/complexity of an organization.

So I can only believe that the internal workings of the ARRL must be as complicated (and ugly) as the LoTW website and process.

My first, second, and third impressions (I’ve tried many times to adapt to it and failed) has been: “They can’t be serious!?”

I gave up. Truly it’s a disaster. An expensive one, probably.


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