Thursday, May 03, 2007

Do not call the do not call register

The Do Not Call Register has opened for registrations online. Telemarketers in Australia are required to not call numbers on the register from 31 May 2007. But the registration web site appears to have become overloaded as soon as it was made available and I have been unable to register after several attempts. The web site may not comply with Australian anti-discrimination law.

It took 22 seconds for the text of the web page to load, then another 78 seconds for the images. The registration form took 90 seconds to load. On the first attempt my registration failed with:
The requested URL /regNumber2.cfm was not found on this server.
It worked on the second attempt. The conformation email message arrived three minutes later. Spam Assassin rated the message 2.3, with tests:
BAYES_05 -0.207, HTML_40_50 0.496, HTML_MESSAGE 0.001,
This is a low Spam rating but higher than it should be.

Clicking on the requested link in the conformation message resulted in:
"The requested URL /regNumberActivate.cfm was not found on this server."
On the second attempt a blank white screen was displayed. The third attempt displayed the not found message again. The fourth attempt displayed the blank white screen again. AT that point I gave up.

Those responsible appear to have made several fundamental mistakes in launching the site. These are things I teach second year ANU web design students not to do.

The DNC home page consists of:
  1. HTML 6kbytes
  2. CSS 4kbytes dncr.css
  3. Images:
  • Commonwealth Arms 7kbytes: images/coatofarms.jpg
  • DNC logo 10kbytes: images/dncr_logo_padded_sml.jpg
  • Three ways 5kbytes: images/three_ways.jpg
  • Mouse 1kbyte: images/mouse.jpg
  • Phone 1kbyte: images/phone_icon.jpg
  • Evelope 1kbyte: images/envelope.jpg
  • Navigation bar background 2 kbytes: images/navbar_fat.jpg
Linked to the web page is a PDF media release (144 kbytes): /Media_Releases/english_applicationform.pdf

  • VALIDATE CODE: The DNC home page failed a W3C Validate test with one syntax error.
  • TEST ACCESSIBILITY: The DNC home page failed an automated accessibility test, with four level 2 (AA) errors. In addition no alternative to reading text in the security image is provided. As a result the web site fails a level 1 (A) test. The web site may breech Australian anti-discrimination law as a result.
  • ONLY SECURE SENSITIVE PAGES: All the pages on the DNC web site seems to use HTTPS secure protocol. As a result each copy of the text and images on the home page will have to be individually encrypted when sent to each user. As well as slowing down the server which has to encrypt, this may prevent the information being cached. This encryption should only be used for the pages containing sensitive data, such as the forms the user fills in.
  • MINIMIZE GRAPHICS: While the graphics used are small, there are a lot of them on the home page. The "Three ways" graphic contains text and should not be used. If the other graphics are to be used they should be highly optimized and ideally reused from a common Commonwealth server of images.
  • SMALL FORMS: The PDF form is 144kbytes for a one page document, which is excessive.
  • PRIME CACHES WITH PRE-LAUNCH PAGES: The web site appears to not have been placed online until the launch day. As a result none of the content will have been cached. Therefore there will be a large initial load on the system. The designers should have put a placeholder web site up in advance, announcing the site would be available. The images, style sheets and other material to be used would then have been cached on web servers around Australia. When the real site went live, only the changed text would need to be downloaded (which makes a small part of a web site).
  • STAGED LAUNCH: The register appears to have been launched nationwide. A staged introduction, allowing registration for smaller regions first would have allowed the bugs to have been shaken out of the system and for the caches to be loaded.

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