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Lessons learned from the Obamacare website launch

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

In case you missed it, the new Healthcare.gov website was a spectacular failure.

Immediately after launch, the site was swarmed with hundreds of thousands of visitors. The traffic rendered the site useless for most people trying to enroll for health care, delivering a message like the one seen below:

Untitled
(Sarah Kliff / Washington Post)

Other reports indicating the cost of the website have drawn more scrutiny to the buggy site: CGI Federal Inc., a Canadian-based company, won a $93 million contract to build the federal healthcare exchange.

Services like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have served millions of users before those companies even had that kind of funding. So how could such an expensive website fail so badly at launch time?

While the code to the site isn’t open-source and no one outside the Healthcare.gov IT Team knows for sure, a developer gave a few possible explanations for why the site has had trouble.

If you think about it, most web apps aren't immediately released to millions of users. Facebook and other huge services roll out new features over weeks and even months just so they can fix bugs along the way.

And in the case of Healthcare.gov, there are a ton of moving parts - grabbing data from other data hubs and sites to be able to determine whether the user is eligible in his or her state. If just one of those connections goes down or a server outside the realm of Healthcare.gov gets bogged down, it can seem like Healthcare.gov is at fault.

Does that make it OK for such an expensive and important site to fail from the start? Probably not. But it’s good to be aware of what happened, and you can take action for your own website and development projects to prevent similar failures.

What We Can Do

Obviously we don’t have huge traffic spikes to worry about, but we can prevent other bugs and site issues by doing plenty of testing beforehand. Make sure you spend quality time fine-tuning your website before sending it out to all your users.

This doesn’t mean NEVER launch your website – there will always be bugs – but just be conscious of the experience you’re giving your users. Remember, your website represents your brand and the type of company you are.

Finally, it’s important to remember that websites are living, breathing things. You shouldn’t just “launch it and leave it” – keep iterating, evaluating, and making changes based on what’s working and what’s not. Even with a limited budget, you can make a huge difference to your audience and your website users by continually improving things here and there – whether it be content or code.

Tweet me your thoughts at @interactivekate!

--Katie

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