Learning from the Feds’ Do-Not-Call Web Mistake

It’s so easy in hindsight to poke fun at the U.S. government for the lack of foresight it showed when it urged consumers to sign up for the national do-not-call registry, only to have the site crushed by more traffic than it could easily handle.

The people in charge really should have known better. Were they caught off guard? Surprised to learn that people really do hate telemarketers? I certainly hope not. That only leaves one possibility: They were shocked by how many people turned to the Web to register rather than picking up that heavy old telephone.

The best part is that the government can suffer the ridicule while the business world takes away a valuable lesson. Getting caught with your Web pants down, so to speak, is as bad as it gets these days.

Popular? Moi? will go down in history as one of the fastest-growing Web sites ever, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. The measurement company says traffic to the site from U.S. workplaces alone jumped some 26,000 percent to more than 3.4 million unique visitors on June 27th, the day it was officially launched, with almost as many hits from homes later that night.

Give the government planners some credit for foresight. They launched the site on a Friday, meaning that after one peak day, traffic would ease a bit before everyone returned to their high-speed, employer-funded Internet connections on Monday. That was a smart move. The rest weren’t so good.

Fast and Furious

According to Web performance measurement firm Keynote Systems, was getting as many as 1,000 hits per second at its busiest time. Any consumer site would love to have one-tenth of that traffic, but the government’s site couldnt handle it. From six of its measurement points, Keynote said, the site was “marginally accessible” for nearly two hours around midday.

If you were able to get through, it took more than 25 seconds to load a page, and the process of registering to block telemarketers required loading and completing several pages, meaning many would-be registrants probably gave up before finishing the process.

Of course, there are times when it’s good to be the only federal government in town. No one was switching to a competitor’s do-not-call list. There’s only one.

Bandwidth Aplenty

So, no harm done. Well, not much anyway. There had to be a few million frustrated citizens wondering why the U.S. government couldn’t buy itself enough bandwidth to get the site off the ground without a hitch.

The fact is, there’s no excuse for that. Mom-and-pop shoeshine huts can afford basic Web sites, so why can’t the feds afford one with all the bells and whistles? Surely, someone involved with the project saw the potential for falling short.

Couldn’t they have borrowed bandwidth or server space from some of the agencies that no doubt have it to spare? I mean, how many hits does the U.S. Department of Energy get on any given Friday?

But the U.S. government will recover. In fact, the site was up and running, quick as a bug, just a few days after the launch, as if nothing had ever gone wrong.

Not So Fast

Of course, any given business wouldn’t recover quite so quickly. Substitute a for-profit concern for the government in this situation, and it has Harvard Business School case study written all over it. Think of it: massive demand for a product or service — a business’ dream — that can’t be delivered because of a clog in the delivery stream.

Businesses have gotten much better about not getting caught unawares by Web demand, and early flubs like the shipping woes of Christmas 2000 have been largely forgiven, written off as a period of working the kinks out.

There would be no such forgiveness for a business this far into the game. The cautionary tale has been written, and now it’s been played out in real life. Here’s hoping the message is getting through.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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