The United States Embassy in Wellington was a clear winner of the Brainstrain award for the worst web site: People's Choice. For this category, members of the public nominate the worst web sites, and the judges pick a winner.
With all finalists in the Brainstrain web site award, the nominator was enraged by a single factor - so enraged that they entered the site for this dreaded award. In fact, the other two finalists were good web sites apart from one frustrating problem. That's a sobering thought, isn't it?
On the Embassy site the offending page was about fiancé(e) visas. Here's an example of its impenetrable prose:
To apply for K-1 visa classification for an intended alien spouse, an American citizen must file a petition, Form I-129F, with the USCIS Regional Service Center having jurisdiction over the place of the petitioner's residence in the United States. Such petitions can not be adjudicated abroad.
But the entire Embassy web site is a worthy winner, being absolutely riddled with problems. Take a look at the site and this is what you'll see.
- Links to news pages on the same site open in new window: annoying and unconventional.
- Ambassador bio starts with 168-word paragraph: overwhelming and unread on a web site.
- Underlining of non-link phrases.
- Breadcrumbs donâ€™t always match the page: many apparent home pages.
- Making Of U.S. Foreign Policy page consists of Introduction, circuitous structure, no other subheadlines.
- "The content has moved. It can now be found here."
- Justified text.
- Long pages with no subheadings.
- Inconsistent design and navigation.
- Menu items that would open but not close.
- Too-small font making links almost invisible.
I mustn't waste my whole day here. But here's another small example of incompetent, hostile, negative web content. Believe it or not, the final word in the following quote, "this", is a link.
Failure to turn in your I-94 (or I-94W) when you leave the U.S. could create serious problems for you when traveling to the U.S. in the future. For information on how to rectify this, please read this.
The amateurish design and writing on the US Embassy site gives a strong impression that they couldn't care less about their readers. This is the non-verbal message I get: We're frightfully big and important. You aren't. So why don't you Kiwis just go away and stop bothering us?
By the way, the official judges' comments are much more polite than my intemperate ranting, which is strictly personal. We just stated that confusing government-speak gave its website an unfriendly and impersonal tone.
The Brainstrain prize is a rubbish bin full of sour worms. The judges are not competing for the honour of delivering these to the Embassy. However, in the best scenario, the winners say, Fair cop. We will fix this problem and do better in future.
Now, on a brighter note...
New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) won the premier award of $10,000 for outstanding progress in creating a plain English culture within the organisation. That's no mean feat with 1000 employees scattered around the world. As WriteMark leader Lynda Harris said, "We deliberately make this award extremely hard to win."
See all winners and finalists on the WriteMark web site.
Prime News: First at 5.30: only on Sunday 14 September see the Plain English Awards video coverage. Starts around 6.26 mins.