Source_ Robinson Meyer / The Atlantic

The Secret Startup That Saved the Worst Website in America-The Atlantic

The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer has an excellent piece on Loren Yu, Kevin Wang, Rohan Bhobe and the Marketplace Lite team [MPL], working as a startup within the US Government to “retrieve” the first iteration of a bloated and apparently unfit-for-purpose roll-out of the online environment. This is a complimentary piece to the one WIRED published in 2014.

Loren Yu
[Source: The Atlantic]
Taken together, these provide detailed insights in to the changes in project design, costing, implementation and operation of major customer-focussed online environments that “schooled”  their government patrons.

Governments closer to home should look VERY closely at these structures. Consider the fate of such things as the Victorian Education Department ULTRANET and the Victorian Police IT Infrastructure, just to name two.

Consider some of these “advances” from the MPL group:

  • replacing contractor-made apps with ones costing one-fiftieth of the price.
  • almost DOUBLING user completion rates from 55% to around 85%
  • reducing response times from 2-10 seconds [an eternity] to 30 milliseconds
  • The old login system cost $250 million to build and would have required another $70 million annually to stay online.
  • The new system cost about $4 million to build, and its annual maintenance cost is a little less than $1 million.

Meyer says:

Yet it’s hard to overstate just how dismal the website was.

The site’s login system—the software which accepted usernames, passwords, and was used by every health insurance applicant—had a 91 percent uptime rate. Imagine if randomly stopped returning search requests for two hours, every day, and you would be imagining a more reliable website than the one that the Obama administration introduced. On’s first day, six people successfully used it to sign up for health insurance.

The spectacular failure of at launch led to the creation of what came to be known as the Tech Surge, [and many suggested at the time, this TOO would fail ] a group of Silicon Valley developers who rescued the website from disorganized contractors and bureaucratic mismanagement. That group gave rise to the U.S. Digital Service and, to a lesser extent, 18F, two government agencies now working to improve the state of federal technology.

You can read the full piece here.


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