My First Experience

Oct 3, 2013

Whatever you might think of the Affordable Care Act, it's now live and people are signing up. I thought I would check the site out even though I have a job and insurance (for now).

Since the signups are down at the moment, I checked out the prices page. This page is basically a big design fail.

Some widget called a "Socrata Social Data Player" presents a huge spreadsheet of every state and county with many columns of prices for some sample people. It looks and feels like a database dump. The "player" scrolls across a fixed width table like view. There is a bizarre search widget which is actually a filter that seems to filter on every column, so you can enter TX or TARRANT or GOLD or BLUE but no matter what you do you wind up with a still long list of items you can't even see entirely on the screen.

People live in one county from one state. Why not just a simple search form which lets you pick your state and then your county? This could show a nice synopsis that tells you everything you might want to know. Instead we have a data browser from hell. I could even imagine some kind of map interface, or just about anything but this.

The red Menu is interesting. One item is "more views" which results in ... an empty list saying "No Results". I guess I could download the data but why? I only care for my state and county not all the data. Who thought this was useful? It even offers me the option of embedding the player in my own web site! I have no idea why this seemed like a good idea. Maybe they ran out of time?

I wasn't able to get into the signup section so maybe more interesting features await.

The site was built on an open technology and hosted on github which is commendable but that doesn't mean it couldn't be better. After all this site is going to be used by a lot of people with little web or computer experience.

The data is apparently available in a JSON API so maybe someone will do something useful with it or at least look to improving the pricing page.

An detailed article on the development

It will be interesting to see whether this approach makes things better in the future for other government projects. Assuming the government ever starts running again.

The site is built in Jekyll which looks cool but it's hard to see at first how you could built interactive sites with it. Maybe that explains the odd data browser. I guess I will have to take a closer look at Jekyll.

Update: After reading the many stupid comments on the article it's clear people can't distinguish between the static information site and the dynamic registration site, which have nothing in common with each other. I had no trouble wandering the static pages which is exactly what should happen. The part that doesn't work is that part that was done the old fashioned way (I thought by Deloitte but I am not sure). I felt sorry for the poor guy who wrote the article and tried to be nice to the morons who visited.