Last week, Mitt Romney's campaign unveiled what it intended to be the deciding factor in a hard-fought presidential race. Project Orca is a web application designed to eliminate traditional get-out-the-vote paper lists and give campaign volunteers and staffers real-time data on who was voting and where additional human resources needed to be allocated. It went live at 6 a.m. on Election Day and was plagued by problems from the start.
1. Volunteers didn't know how to access the application. According to published reports, there was widespread confusion about how to get the web app, with many frustrated users trying to download it from the App Store or Android Market. "This was billed as an ‘app' when it was actually a mobile-optimized website (or 'web app'). For days I saw people on Twitter saying they couldn't find the app on the Android Market or iTunes and couldn't download it," says web developer and Romney volunteer John Ekhdahl in his blog.
To further compound the miscommunication, the web application lives online at a secure HTTPS address, but users who only typed in HTTP followed by the address weren't redirected to the secure site and instead merely came up with a blank page, creating the impression that the application was unavailable. "Setting up forwarding is the simplest thing in the world and only takes seconds, but they failed to do it," says Ekhdahl. "This is compounded by the fact that mobile browsers default to "http" when you just start with "www" (as 95% of the world does)."
Although most enterprises likely wouldn't encounter this kind of situation, it's important to communicate clearly with end users. Give users precise instructions on where to locate a new application and how to use it.
2. Volunteers weren't familiar with the technology. Because the application went live so late in the game, volunteers had little time to familiarize themselves with the technology -- and there was little, if any, time to work out any kinks. According to reports, many users had trouble logging into the app with the usernames and passwords they'd be given. Says an anonymous campaign staffer, "Then at 6 p.m. they admitted they had issued the wrong PINs to every volunteer in Colorado, and reissued new PINs (which also didn't work)."
If the campaign had built in enough time to let users try out the application and ensure login information was working, volunteers likely would not have encountered such difficulties on Election Day.
3. The application crashed. Zac Moffatt, digital director for the Romney campaign, told CNET that the development team failed to properly test the app. "The primary issue was we beta-tested in a different environment than [headquarters Boston Garden]," he explained. "There was so much data coming in — 1,200 records or more per minute — it shut down the system for a time. Users were frustrated by lag, and some people dropped off and we experienced attrition as a result."
The takeaway: if at first you don't succeed, test, test again. Be sure to vet applications against real-world scenarios, and plan for the unplannable.