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Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Crap Calculator
DEFRA have launched their new online carbon calculator, as David Miliband proudly announced on his blog. I'll give you the link in a second, but don't all rush - because this has got to be a prime example of how not to design a user-friendly online tool.

Think irritating flash popup that does that thing where it fills your entire screen. Then takes several minutes to load due to the volume of gratuitous animation. Then every time you fill in a question, takes ages to move onto the next one, and even more time when you finish a 'section'. And an html version that runs even more slowly, if that is possible.

When all you need is a series of simple questions in html, with almost no graphics, running on a nice fast server so that you don't get so irritated that you stop bothering half way through and never do find out quite how much you are damaging the environment. I applaud the idea behind a good online calculator (this one includes a postcode function), but guys - this is really not the way to do it, when there are plenty of other ones out there that are, well, just a whole lot easier to use.

The link is here, if you want to experience the full horror yourselves. Oh yes, and it has possibly the least memorable URL known to man, just to top it off...

UPDATE: Adrian suggests in the comments that the server is simply overwhelmed by too many hits. I can't really believe that so many excited Britons are logging onto this website as to 'overwhelm' it. FYI, I originally wrote this blog post in between waiting for it to load the next question. Several hours later, I still haven't been able to finish the questionnaire. Surely DEFRA could have managed to host this on a server that would cope with the attention...and that they haven't done so is just sheer incompetency on their part.

(And now I can't load the developers blog either, so they must really be having problems!)

On the way they are calculating carbon footprint, there seem (at the halfway point that I've managed to get to) to be some questions that are more aimed at encouraging behavioural change than contributing to the calculation. If you have already entered the amount of electricity you use each month, questions about how much you use your washing machine are pointless. And other calculators that are available are more effective, showing the amount of carbon each particular element is contributing to the whole rather than simply a sum total. But all these points pale into insignificance alongside the fact that in nearly eight hours I've not managed to actually work through the damn thing to the end.


Anonymous Adrian McEwen said...

Well, the DEFRA calculator seems a bit overwhelmed at present, so I can't see just how bad it is.

However, there's a developer API available for the back-end service doing the actual calculations, so it would be possible to write a better UI...

For more details see the service's blog (which also links to www.carboncontrol.org.uk who, if nothing else, have a more memorable URL :-)

3:08 pm  

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