Tech

Counterpoint: Nobody Writing About HealthCare.gov Has Any Idea What They’re Talking About

Our nation’s first attempt at politicized web development is not going so well.

Many, many articles have been written about the failure of HealthCare.gov. Some of them have been very good. And, to borrow the commander in chief’s favorite phrase, let me be clear: The launch of the health care exchange website was, in some real way, a failure. In its first days, HealthCare.gov did not do what it was supposed to do. Its design was not intuitive. It was something that was intended to make a process easier. Instead, it made the process hard. This is a simple assertion, a correct assertion, and an assertion many people have made.

The only qualification you need to confidently say that the HealthCare.gov launch didn’t go well is a pair of eyes and a laptop. To make claims about why this website launch didn’t go well, however, you need expertise in one of two areas: government tech procurement, or launching websites. This has proven to be a problem.

Tens of thousands of words have been written about this subject, but none demonstrate the mismatch of rhetoric and expertise better than these, from pundit, consultant, professional/serial thought leader, and New York University professor Clay Shirky, reiterating a common argument the he’s been making lately:

Clay Shirky

@cshirky

1/4 Everyone saying http://t.co/v3IRR3saAD is a hard problem is really saying they don’t understand how big http://t.co/98UZuS3oDo was.

/ Via

Clay Shirky

@cshirky

2/4 Narwhal had 1000x more data, its ship date was *less* flexible, and it was *harder* to test than http://t.co/fKxbKqE0sY. It worked.

/ Via

Clay Shirky

@cshirky

3/4 Everyone blaming procurement should read @ftrain: http://t.co/9kiCgq0y7X The front end didn’t fail. The back end didn’t need to either.

/ Via

4/4 And anyone who thinks "the process" means you sometimes have to launch without caring enough to test doesn't understand testing.

— Clay Shirky (@cshirky)

Clay Shirky

@cshirky

4/4 And anyone who thinks “the process” means you sometimes have to launch without caring enough to test doesn’t understand testing.

/ Via

Narwhal is the code name that was used for the platform that powered Barack Obama’s campaign. It was complex for software of its kind, and worked well. And this is the guy whose team actually built it:

@knowtheory @RyanK me too. And I know only one. Narwhal was small compared to http://t.co/ma2kutmpQ0

— harper (@harper)

harper

@harper

@knowtheory @RyanK me too. And I know only one. Narwhal was small compared to http://t.co/ma2kutmpQ0

/ Via

@RyanK @knowtheory isn't that what I am saying. That they are so different it isn't worth comparing?

— harper (@harper)

harper

@harper

@RyanK @knowtheory isn’t that what I am saying. That they are so different it isn’t worth comparing?

/ Via

What's happening today? Is @cshirky still trying to convince the internet that narwhal and http://t.co/ma2kutmpQ0 were similar sized?

— harper (@harper)

harper

@harper

What’s happening today? Is @cshirky still trying to convince the internet that narwhal and http://t.co/ma2kutmpQ0 were similar sized?

/ Via

I suppose the problem is that convoluted government IT contracts and botched web development are very, very hard to make interesting as anything but generic black holes of incompetence and malice, which is how they’ve been characterized by critics on the left, like Shirky, and on the right. This has resulted in a remarkable streak of zero-content partisanship, which leaves readers and viewers both more angry and somehow less informed about how the government deploys technology, which, it turns out, is something genuinely worthy of criticism.

But, Jesus:

Our tech expert underlines the point that neither glitches nor kinks accurately coveys the seriousness of website issues

— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper)

Jake Tapper

@jaketapper

Our tech expert underlines the point that neither glitches nor kinks accurately coveys the seriousness of website issues

/ Via

Whatever the case, this is a punditry failure of an unprecedented scale! Or is it a pundit procurement problem? Eghgh. Partisan web development: Let’s do better next time.

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