[Note added 30-May-2018: The website critiqued here is no longer the HOA’s website. Also, I’ve removed the name of the Board member with the conflict-of-interest, since my concern is with governance, not this individual.]
About a year ago the Gunbarrel Greeen HOA launched a new website, our third. Here’s the top part of the home page:
We have a useless welcome message, a photo of the Fatirons, and four facts inspired by a MasterCard commercial. If these facts were more interesting, they might deserve such a prominent positioning. Perhaps:
- Formation in 1870
- 31,500 houses
- 700 miles from Pearl St.
Unfortunately, the true facts are not only uninteresting, but seem to suggest that Gunbarrel has nothing of itself to offer (“7 miles to Pearl St.”). A photo of the Fatirons is as clichéd as you can get, and has nothing to do with Gunbarrel.
But the worst part is that the entire “above-the-fold” part of the web page, the most important part, is wasted. It’s importance is nicely explained in an article from the Nielsen Norman Group titled The Fold Manifesto: Why the Page Fold Still Matters:
The fold matters because what appears at the top of your page matters. Users do scroll, but only if what’s above the fold is promising enough. What is visible on the page without requiring any action is what encourages us to scroll.The fold matters because what appears at the top of your page matters. Users do scroll, but only if what’s above the fold is promising enough. What is visible on the page without requiring any action is what encourages us to scroll.
If the reader is somehow motivated enough to scroll down, here’s what’s next:
Apparently, photos of the board are the next most important thing, but, even though Sandi and Bev have been on the Board for many months, nobody was able to get any photos of them.
Next comes something that might actually be useful, some contact info:
On a smaller screen, such as a phone, things are much worse. Here are the first three screens:
So, you have to scroll past three screens to get to something interesting, and that’s only the contact information. With such an unpromising top part, not many will keep scrolling.
Suppose you want to see the Covenants, perhaps the most important item on the entire website. That takes three layers of menus:
Here’s a home page I put together in 10 minutes, which I would say is 100 times more useful that the actual site:
Starting out with a photo is pretty common on home pages, and is OK provided it’s not too high and has something to do with the web site. Here’s what I had on the predecessor site, the one that the current site replaced a year ago:
I took the photos and assembled the triptych, so I’m biased, but I think it’s pretty good.
There’s a lot more wrong with the site besides what I’ve said so far. A month ago, it was full of links that went nowhere and boilerplate left over from some earlier mock-up, such as this:
If the print is too small for you to read, here it is:
“Sed ut perspiciatis, unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam eaque ipsa, quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt, explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem.”
I wrote a long letter to the Board, and some of what I complained about has been fixed. But why did I even have to do this? Why wasn’t the site checked out before going live?
The overall design failure remains. To summarize it:
- Boring material that never changes doesn’t suggest that the reader should put more effort into browsing deeper.
- The Board seems to be enamored with their own photos, which appear not only on the home page, but also on the special Board of Directors page. Yet, they couldn’t even take time to snap photos of the newer members.
- It’s ridiculously awkward to get to the only thing useful on the site, which are the documents. Many readers looking for, say, the Covenants will give up in frustration.
Well, how did this travesty come about? Here’s some history:
Originally, when I moved to Gunbarrel Green, HOA President Chuck Simmons had a rough website that looked amateurish, but at least had the relevant documents. Chuck gave the job of maintaining the site to me. Janet Ruetcke, Chuck’s successor, asked me if I could come up with a way so she and other Board members could easily add text without requiring the services of a web developer. I changed the site over to Drupal, a content-management technology that is specifically designed to allow different members of an organization to edit different parts of the site. I also moved the hosting to save the HOA hundreds of dollars a year.
That was fine until sometime in 2016 when new Board member XYZ (not the real initials) took on the job of replacing the site. In his words, at the 2017 Board meeting, this was because the old site was “out of date.” (I now suspect that what he meant was “no spiffy graphics.”)
Who did the site? A commercial web development company called ABC (not their real name). I didn’t know that at the time; I thought XYZ was doing the work himself for free, which is how Chuck and I worked. I learned at the October 2017 HOA meeting that ABC was paid $5,000 for the work.
Why was ABC picked? Well, I have no idea, since I wasn’t at that Board meeting and haven’t seen the minutes. But, get this: XYZ works at ABC!
So, what do we know? This much:
- The web site fails at its most important purpose, which is to provide for efficient and up-to-date communication between the HOA and its members.
- The HOA paid $5,000 for the site, and looks forward to as much as $1,000 per year for maintenance.
- The money went to a Board member’s company. I haven’t yet been able to find out whether there was a written contract. I asked the Board about this, but they didn’t know.
At the last HOA meeting, the Board said that the $5,000 was a bargain, and that typically such web sites cost $15,000. In other words, a 67% discount. But, not really. You can get a shitty site for a lot less than $5,000!
Ordinarily, if the HOA contracts with an outside firm and gets poor results, they can go back to that firm and ask for fixes. Examples might be landscaping that fails to meet the specifications, or a “Covenanted Community” sign (see photo above) that has cracked. But, if the HOA were to do that in this case, XYZ would be representing the Board and the contractor both.
There’s a conflict-of-interest: Is XYZ suppose to represent the Board’s interests (getting the fixes and design improvements), or ABC’s (defending their work and minimizing the costs to make the corrections)? Board member or loyal employee?
I’ve communicated all of the above to the Board, the design failure, the bugs, and the conflict-of-interest problem. So far, not much has happened, except that, as I said, some of the bugs have been fixed. The Board is considering the conflict-of-interest problem, and two members seemed to understand it, but I’m not sure if anything will happen. As for the main problem, the complete ineffectiveness of the site, I very much doubt that anything will be done.
So, this embarrassing site is all we’re going to have for our $5,000.
I hope that the Board learns a lesson from this fiasco and takes their fiduciary responsibilities more seriously the next time they start spending our money. As the old joke goes, the site isn’t a complete waste; it can always serve as a bad example.
Petur Williams says:
23-Nov-2017 at 12:39 pm
If the story about a five thousand dollar homeowners’ association website that takes a thousand dollars a year actually gets worse with the addition of someone on the board who benefits from creating and maintaining it, this appears to be preposterous mismanagement and misuse of funds. If this is all true, I think the Board and the Homeowners’ Association are owed an apology and a refund. There are many almost no cost website builders out there for the asking.
Jamie Stroud says:
23-Nov-2017 at 8:15 pm
I guess this goes in line with their culture. I was asked to redesign the logo about two years back from the ugly musket. I gave the board a few ideas, in which I was going to refine one and create a professional look for our HOA. Instead they just took my rough and started using is without my knowledge. None of my phone calls or emails were returned. Since I was not able to finish it I have been conflicted over whether to mention it considering the cheap quality and not wanting my named linked to the work. But after reading Marc’s note I realize I am not the only one dealing with poor management.
[Note added 30-May-2018: Two member of the Board have a different version of Jamie’s involvement and the logo process.]