I’m surprised news agencies are spending so little time discussing the sheer difficulty of launching a massive website like Healthcare.gov. This is a monumental undertaking; and after three years of development the shaky rollout came as no surprise to me.
In fairness, I’ve been following tech and the web for an admittedly limited time compared to many other “analysts,” but I’ve yet to see a large website enjoy roll out without problems. In fact, most major websites are handled with great care in effort to assure it can handle the demands of millions of potential viewers.
Take Reuters for example. If you go to its homepage you’ll see its current design as it’s been for quite some time now. But you can also try a special link that takes you to a “beta” site. It features much, if not all the information found on it’s “old” website, but it’s all presented in a fresh, responsive design that aligns it’s web component with it’s apps on the iPhone and iPad.
This is standard practice on the web. Presenting the new site in “beta” form gives developers a chance to iron out any problems that occur when a website goes live. Developers grant access to a limited audience at first, before opening the site to all, then they urge people to leave feedback if they see any problems.
That Reuters is still working on the beta months after it went live is a testament to the difficulty of launching a major website in front of a potential onslaught of millions of viewers.
Consider this: Apple has been riding high for years now thanks to the success of the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. Those products have been so successful, it’s collecting so many hundreds of billions of dollars in cash that it can hardly figure out what to do with it all. Yet, everytime a major project goes on sale on its online store, its servers crumble under the wieght of millions of people trying to buy a phone. Just a phone.
Consider Twitter. The social media juggernaut enjoyed historic growth since it went live in 2006. Now, millions of people rely on it as the place to follow breaking news as it happens. But starting around 2008, it became known much for its historic artwork that appeared everytime the website went down.
The art was lovingly named the “Fail Whale” Twitter’s remarkably simple platform of collecting thoughts often took a backseat to the whale. Today, the “Fail Whale” is a distant memory, as Twitters servers have finally caught up with the damand.
Apply such thinking to Healthcare.gov. Being a product of the federal government, it opened it’s virtual doors with no such luxury shared by Reuters, or a small startup like Twitter in 2006. The federal healthcare exchange is expected to handle the load of millions of people doing some, if not all of the following:
- Visiting the site
- Shopping for eligible coverage
- Entering personal information
- Purchasing the coverage
All while millions upon millions of other people did the exact same thing. That, at least to me and my knowledge of the web, is an absolutely monumental undertaking. Should the website’s developers had known that beforehand? Absolutely. Could they have created a website that worked flawlessly on day one? I’m not so sure.